Upscale Mississippi Coast Restaurant Hosts Brunch


Drag queens Ivy Dripp and Lexis Redd D'ville open the drag brunch at White Pillars in Gulfport, Mississippi on Sunday, December 19, 2021. Almost everyone involved in the White Pillars always sold out monthly drag brunch agrees on the set - up seems unlikely.  This is the Deep South, and White Pillars has been “an icon” on the coast for so long.  (Hannah Ruhoff / The Sun Herald via AP)

Drag queens Ivy Dripp and Lexis Redd D’ville open the drag brunch at White Pillars in Gulfport, Mississippi on Sunday, December 19, 2021. Almost everyone involved in the White Pillars always sold out monthly drag brunch agrees on the set – up seems unlikely. This is the Deep South, and White Pillars has been “an icon” on the coast for so long. (Hannah Ruhoff / The Sun Herald via AP)

PA

It was an hour after brunch at the White Pillars restaurant in Biloxi when Lexis Redd D’Ville lifted a white stiletto heel boot and stepped onto a solid oak dining table. Around the room, 100 people waved $ 1 bills in his direction.

The dining table the drag queen strutted and twirled on in her sparkling gold bodysuit (she had just taken off a festive red coat with white trims) was occupied by Steve Delahousey and his friends, a regular at White Pillars. While D’Ville was dancing, Delahousey picked up the special gold toy gun that he had purchased on Amazon for this moment. Delahousey leaned back in his chair, pulled the trigger, and threw $ 1 bills in the air around D’Ville.

“If you think about it, on a Sunday where else is this going on here? Said main server Dillon Wales, a 29-year-old native of the Coast.

Wales, who started working at White Pillars about two and a half years ago, said the restaurant’s regular brunch, which launched in 2019, was part of the draw for him. Wales is gay, and the drag brunch showed him the company respects and celebrates LGBTQ people.

Almost everyone involved in White Pillars’ always sold out monthly brunches, from queens to restaurateurs, agrees the setup seems unlikely. This is the Deep South, and White Pillars has been “an icon” on the coast for so long that Delahousey remembers coming there with his father, a Biloxi detective, as a child decades ago.

“I will say that I pride myself on taking risks and opening doors that people never expected,” said Autherius Lawson, the Gulfport native who plays the role of D’Ville and hosts the event.

“I was a kindergarten teacher until May – a young, gay African American kindergarten teacher in southern Mississippi, hosting a drag brunch at the White Pillars of all places.”

Lawson lived on the coast until recently, but other artists were less familiar with Biloxi.

“For it to be such a rural town in the Bible Belt, I was shocked to see the participation of all demographic groups – especially the heterosexual community,” said Ladi Phat Kat, a 20-year-old queen of Shreveport. of experience in dragsters.

But in another way, it makes perfect sense. Long dependent on tourism, the coast has always been a place where rigid Mississippi notions of propriety tilt in favor of profit. At White Pillars, the drag brunch was a real bargain.

And there is no real mystery to their success, explained Ladi Phat Kat.

“We are very entertaining,” she said.

“I LIKE TO SEE HIM SUCCEED”

The queens arrive in Biloxi from neighboring corners of the Deep South: Shreveport, Mobile, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg and the tiny Cut Off, Louisiana.

Lawson’s path to drag began with acting, when he played Angel Dumott Schunard in a local production of Rent. The character was a drag queen (although many fans and critics believe she is a trans woman, and some actors have described her as such), and Lawson realized he loved the performance.

He started performing at Club Veaux, a now closed bar in Biloxi, around the age of 18.

Lawson says he came from “a very Southern Baptist background” and that his family did not immediately embrace his drag career.

“I cried,” her mother Evelina Brunell said in an interview with the Sun Herald. “It was just a shock.”

When asked to help her with makeup before church, Lawson said he knew she was back.

Today, she attends several of her performances, notably at the White Pillars. Her favorite numbers in Lexis Redd D’Ville’s repertoire are songs by Whitney Houston.

“He has a great entrepreneurial spirit and I love to see him succeed,” she said.

Lawson’s career grew with the expansion of dredging to the coast. Dragging is a staple of gay bars like Sipps in Gulfport and Just Us in Biloxi, but it’s not uncommon in predominantly straight spaces. Recently, Lawson performed at the Knock Knock Lounge in Waveland.

“I certainly never would have expected to drag in Waveland,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the corner of the woods where a 6’3 African-American man with a wig would do too well.”

From the bayou to Hub City, the queens of the white pillar cast claim the small southern town as their own.

When D’Ville can’t accommodate, Ivy Dripp, Miss Gay Louisiana American 2019, takes her place. Offstage, Dustin Gaspard’s home in Cut Off, Louisiana was destroyed by Hurricane Ida in August.

“I’m still homeless,” he says. “I am still rebuilding my house by hand. I’m glad I can escape and come and do this.

“A BRAND NEW DEMOGRAPHY”

For White Pillars, drag brunch is both a statement of values ​​and a business opportunity.

Co-owner Tresse Sumrall said it started with conversations with restaurant staff, about 40% of whom are LGBTQ. They mentioned that a group of local drag queens had followers on the coast. Why not organize an event at White Pillars?

The first drag brunch took place in 2019. It was full, like every other drag brunch since, except one.

Since she and her husband, Chef Austin Sumrall, opened the restaurant in 2017, they have emphasized that while they offer high-end food (Austin is a James Beard semi-finalist) and service, they are not an establishment of white tablecloths.

With its neoclassical facade, however, White Pillars can feel like a stuffy place, Tresse Sumrall said.

“But drag brunch really brought in a whole new demographic,” she said.

She encountered a certain setback. People would call to make a reservation on Sunday and would find the restaurant was closed for a paid event.

“’Drag brunch? We will never come back there again, ”she remembers hearing. “Okay, have a nice day.”

The event was such a success that the Sumralls have planned another full year of drag brunches, every third Sunday of each month of 2022.

Gaspard pointed out that brunch can be a more accessible event for people who might be curious about dragging but don’t want to stay late at a bar.

Lawson believes that exposing someone to hanging out can have consequences after the show ends.

“The clientele seemed to really appreciate it, which they are not used to, which was also one of my goals: to put the trail in front of people who have never seen it before, because I have the firm belief that ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred, which leads to a society we cannot live in, ”Lawson said.

DRAG BRUNCH TO DANCE PARTY

On the Sunday before Christmas, the public begins to arrive shortly after 10 a.m. They take a seat in the dining room and sip mimosas while the queens get ready upstairs.

The logistical choreography required to achieve an immersive dragster experience has already been underway for weeks. Lawson schedules openings and closings and occasionally makes changes to the song lineup at the last minute. (Gaspard is bringing additional outfits in case that happens.)

A few days earlier, Tresse Sumrall went to the Regions Bank to collect $ 1,500 in $ 1 bills.

The money is loaded into a messenger bag carried by manager Michael Sigafoose. Some people, like Delahousey, arrive prepared with a lot of their own bills, but others have to exchange $ 20 and $ 100 for the $ 1 in Sigafoose’s bag.

Upstairs, production manager Lenora Norman helps the queens get dressed.

Lawson’s mother, Evelina Brunell, sits down at his table with a few friends who have told her they want to see Lexis Redd D’Ville play.

At 11:40 a.m., Lexis Redd D’Ville and Ivy Dripp walked into the room to cheers and applause. D’Ville asks how many people are at their first drag show. About a third of the audience, most of whom are young or middle-aged white women, raise their hands.

“Fear not, your friendly neighborhood queers are here,” she announces.

Soon Delahousey is putting money into D’Ville’s wide cleavage.

Ivy Dripp, channeling Marilyn Monroe in a white dress, delicately snatches the tickets from the outstretched hands of the adoring audience as “Santa Baby” plays.

Aariyah Sinclaire, dressed in a fashionable pink tulle coat that she herself made (each outfit is handmade by the performer or by someone she knows), bends over backwards and twirls in his stiletto heels. When she takes off the coat with a dramatic fanfare, a young man named Trent, who works with Norman, rushes out onto the dance floor to pick it up for her.

Trent is one of two young men tasked with collecting the dollar bills, which often requires crawling across the floor to grab handfuls of money. He wears a Christmas tie decorated with pugs and carries a wicker basket for the money.

“They make me sweat, I tell you what,” he said.

As the room fills with the smell of coffee, other drinks still flow. Spectators leave their seats to dance. Some servers join them.

“I have no idea where to pick up the dollar bills,” Trent said, watching the crowded dance floor from the sidelines.

For the final number, each queen returns to the room. Lexis Redd D’Ville drinks a bottle of prosecco. Three spectators climbed onto the bar. The line between performer and audience blurs as the show becomes a party, queens and mortals trembling together.

There is a final call for the performers and a round of applause.

Ivy Dripp tells the audience they can keep putting money in her chest.

“We appreciate this.”

About James Almanza

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