A soccer bar may be the last place you expect to see a drag show, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.
The Black Hart of St. Paul, which sits right on University Ave., is a soccer bar by day and a home for the LGBTQ+ community by night. It hosts a multitude of queer events, including a special show called “Elegance.”
The drag show, which featured an all-black cast, was first hosted in 2014, back when The Black Hart was called The Town House Bar. A well-known gay bar security bouncer named Timothy Matthews had planned the event. The show became an iconic night in the memory of many Twin Cities drag queens.
“Sometimes it was hard getting booked for other shows around the Cities,” said Andre Reed, whose stage name is Andre 100 and has performed in past “Elegance” shows. “I think that's why that originally started.”
In January of 2019, Matthews passed away but the significance of “Elegance” lived on.
“A lot of the queens that I met in the community that were black and doing drag were like ‘Oh, I really miss the show, it was so amazing,’” said Kevin Billups, otherwise known as Lala Luzious. “When I heard about ‘Elegance’ I was like, ‘Oh, I wish I could bring that back.’”
Billups, who moved to the Twin Cities two years ago, contacted Matthews before his passing to discuss an “Elegance” revival. Billups felt it was an important night for black drag queens to perform pieces that meant something to them.
“First and foremost, this show is a way to honor him,” Billups said. “This is also really important for the drag community because there's not really another show like it going on in the Cities right now.”
Billups took the project on himself and stayed as true to Matthews’ message as he could.
“This particular project was different than anything else that I've done because I’m taking a part of a very, very rich drag history that Minneapolis has and bringing it back,” Billups said. “And yet at the same time, I wasn't here when the original show ran.”
The show was set to run on Nov. 30 but was canceled due to weather. However, if it did run, the drag queens didn’t want to put top 40 songs in their performances just because it’s what people know.
“We don't do things that are mainstream, we do things that mean something to us, and that feels good to us,” Reed said.
The “Elegance Legacy” show would have been performed in a much different social context than just five years ago. The first show ran before same-sex marriage had even been legalized nationwide in 2015.
“When we started, we got a lot of pushback from other show directors,” Reed said. “I think now, especially with the political climate in our country, you see that there needs to be a space for us.”
The Black Hart typically brings in a diverse crowd considering it serves two different functions. Shows like “Elegance” often bring those crowds together.
“It’s also good to get different people interacting with one another and different people enjoying the shows as well,” said the bar’s owner, Wes Burdine. “There are people who will come out just to just to see something new and see something surprising.”
“Elegance” has become a symbol for perseverance.
“When you are in two marginalized identities, you have struggled to find yourself,” Billups said. “But each of these entertainers have overcome that. Life is going to mess us up sometimes, but here we are, we're out here doing it.”