'Very unexpected': Drag show says goodbye to Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills

Carolina Drag Brunch, a group that brings drag performances to venues throughout the Carolinas, got its start at Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills five years ago. The troupe will no longer perform at the brewery, troupe founder Alan Domingo announced Tuesday on the Carolina Drag Brunch Facebook page.

He told The Fayetteville Observer on Wednesday that the monthly shows brought in about 1,800 unique customers over the years, and each show sold up to 200 tickets.

Dirtbag Ales management wanted to move the drag events to Dirty Whiskey Craft Cocktail Bar next door, which would reduce the shows’ capacity from 220 to about 70 and exclude adults ages of 18 to 20 because the venue is 21 and up, Domingo said.

Domingo and the other performers collectively decided to end the business relationship with Dirtbag Ales because a smaller venue would be a “substantial hit” to their revenue and performers’ tips, Domingo said.

Jan. 14 was the last Carolina Drag Brunch event at Dirtbag Ales. Shows on Feb. 18, March 11, April 22 and May 20 were canceled, and ticket sales were refunded, Domingo said.

Domingo said he was never given a reason why the brewery wanted to move the events to the smaller venue.

Dirtbag Ales owner Vernardo Simmons-Valenzuela declined to comment Wednesday and hung up on a reporter. Calls to operations manager Shannon Loper on Wednesday and Thursday were unanswered.

Domingo said the “very unexpected” change has a negative impact on performers’ income.

“Unfortunately, this is going to hurt the pockets of some of the queens that rely on these performances for their day-to-day lives and finances,” he said.

Domingo said that those interested in supporting the queens and vendors affected by the change can email carolinadragbrunch@gmail.com to receive their direct payment information.

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Ariel performs at the National Association of Out Professionals' Drag me to Brunch at Dirtbag Ales on July 6, 2019.
Ariel performs at the National Association of Out Professionals' Drag me to Brunch at Dirtbag Ales on July 6, 2019.

Drag brunch seeks a new venue

Domingo said he is searching for a new venue in Hope Mills or downtown Fayetteville and plans to resume shows within the next two months.

“Sometimes these establishments that are not gay-owned or LGBTQ-owned in any way, and they see a drag brunch and all they see is dollar signs,” he said. “We’re being cautious about where we go and making sure we’re not just a dollar sign to them.”

Domingo said drag artistry is a way to bring more visibility to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) community in Cumberland County, but the current climate can make relying on other restaurants or bars difficult.

"Many locations in Cumberland County have communicated they are safe spaces for the community, however, once the attacks began on the community they have slowly been pushing some events away due to bad reviews, or the potential threat to their business by protest," Domingo said.

After the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a reputation for violence protested an October drag show in Sanford, Domingo said, he and his crew began limiting shows to adults 18 and older in an effort to protect minors from “potential violence” from opposing groups. Before that, the queens put on family-friendly shows open to all ages, he said.

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Ariel performs at the National Association of Out Professionals' Drag me to Brunch at Dirtbag Ales on July 6, 2019.
Ariel performs at the National Association of Out Professionals' Drag me to Brunch at Dirtbag Ales on July 6, 2019.

Visions of a dedicated LGBTQ space

Within the next year or two, Domingo said he would like for Carolina Drag Brunch to lease its own space that would be an LGBTQ-safe entertainment venue and a “beacon” for the community. A fundraiser for the bar had raised $215 Thursday morning.

Regardless of where the shows are hosted, the Fayetteville native is adamant that the drag queens are not leaving the area.

“They can try to push us into the closet all they want to, but we’re going to kick and scream and fight like hell,” Domingo said.

Carolina Drag Brunch can be reached at carolinadragbrunch@gmail.com or facebook.com/carolinadragbrunch.

Reporter Taylor Shook can be reached at tshook@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Here's why drag shows at Dirtbag Ales in Hope Mills, NC were cancelled