She wore a gold velour one-piece jumpsuit and introduced herself as Step Mother, “not a real mom, I just play one on TV.” A few minutes later she described her persona as “the cheeky mother whose basement rec room you want to hang out in.”
Then, she spun a wire-container full of bingo balls, picked one out and shouted into the microphone “B 12” followed by “B 13” and “Wow, they’re so close, now they’re bonded for life.”
A few numbers later, happy shrieks of “bingo” could be heard from the far end of the bar. Morgan Rancourt, 24, walked up to Step Mother and collected her prizes, a complete S’mores-making package, including graham crackers, chocolate bars and bag of giant marshmallows.
“I didn’t come here just for this, but it’s fun, and I won,” said Rancourt, sitting at the bar at Rhum Food + Grog in Portland on a recent Tuesday, during the weekly Drag Queen Bingo night. “I’m sure it brings in more customers.”
Drag Queen Bingo was conceived by Trevin Hutchins, a co-owner of Rhum, along with Step Mother, a Portland drag performer whose real name is Trevor Papsadora.
Hutchins said he was partly prompted by the closing in January of Styxx, Portland’s largest gay nightclub. That left a void in the city’s night scene in terms of a place for drag performances.
But besides giving drag performers somewhere to do their thing and a place for audiences to see them, Hutchins also wants to help make drag more mainstream. With another partner, Hutchins and Papsadora have formed a company, called Neon9, to stage drag shows at various venues around Portland.
“I think this kind of integration, bringing a drag show into a straight-bar setting, is going to be the new norm,” said Hutchins, 29. “Rhum is a family-friendly place, bingo is all ages, and we’re giving drag performers an outlet.”
On the Tuesday night Rancourt was there, Rhum’s second week hosting Drag Queen Bingo, there were more than 150 people in the restaurant and bar by 8:30 p.m. Customers sat at the bar, at tables or in curved couches. They sipped a mai tai or a Singapore Sling, nibbled on burgers or ham fries, and listened to Step Mother’s silly banter. Some watched their bingo cards like a hawk, circling numbers methodically. Others mostly chatted and occasionally laughed at Step Mother’s jokes. People cheered when prizes were awarded, including gift certificates, a monkey mug, beach towels and a giant jug of cheese puffs.
Drag Queen Bingo at a Rhum is a low-key affair – well, maybe gold velourjump suits aren’t exactly low-key – because the bingo game and the drag queen host are sort of extras. It’s free to play, so people can play along and watch when they want, but they don’t have to. They can eat, drink, socialize in the restaurant and bar with a retro Tiki lounge vibe, while bingo happens around them.
While hosting, Step Mother is assisted by Rhum’s version of Vanna White, Dana Rae (Kyle Carver). Instead of turning letters for Pat Sajak on TV’s “Wheel of Fortune,” Dana Rae hangs the bingo letters at Rhum. Wearing a blonde wig, gold jacket and gold shorts, Dana Rae hung each number on a giant green bingo board.
Sitting just 10 feet or so from the board, with a group of about a half-dozen people chatting and circling numbers on their bingo cards, Brian Stanley, 44, of Portland, was using a dauber like at serious bingo hauls, a little marker-type implement that lets you put a colored blot over your number. Dana Rae was selling the daubers for $1.
Sitting next to Stanley, Shawn DuRost, 40, of Portland, was sipping a glass of bourbon. He said he liked the idea of Drag Queen Bingo because it provided a fun diversion for people who want to go out and socialize, but who didn’t want to just drink or to stay out late dancing. He was happy it started at 8 p.m., early enough for him to get home at a reasonable time on a work night.
“It’s great to be able to go out and socialize and just have a little something extra that’s fun,” said DuRost.
Besides Drag Queen Bingo at Rhum, Neon9 is organizing a weekly lip-synch contest called Mouth Off on Tuesdays at Portland House of Music. It’s hosted by drag performer Cherry Lemonade (Conor Tubbs), who had performed at Styxx and was a contestant a on the Fox singing show “American Idol.” But contestants in the lip-synch contest don’t have to be in drag and usually aren’t. There are cash prizes for the best performer.
On June 16 at Portland House of Music, Neon9 is presenting a drag show featuring Thorgy Thor, a performer known for appearances on TV’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Dirty Money Dana (aka Dana Rae), Step Mother and Cherry Lemonade will also perform.
So between bingo nights, lip-synch contests and other shows, Hutchins and his partners are trying to make Portland’s nightlife more of a drag. In a good way.
WHEN: 8-11 p.m. Tuesdays
WHERE: Rhum Food + Grog, 98 Cross St. North, Portland
HOW MUCH: Free
WHAT ELSE: The same partnership organizing Drag Queen Bingo, Neon9, is also putting on a weekly Tuesday night lip-sync contest called Mouth Off at Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, portlandhouseofmusic.com. And on June 16 at Portland House of Music, there will be a night of drag performers including Thorgy Thor from the TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”