COVER STORY: Brunch meets nightclub

MIMOSAS AND DRAG | In gay culture, brunch is a major social and culinary event, where fancy eggs benedict (like that at Dish, above left) and bottomless mimosas are standard issue. But they are becoming more fun, with drag queens part of the morning’s entertainment at Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge in the ilume, and ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch (above right) serving up sparklers, DJs and girls dancing on tables. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE BRUNCH PHOTOS

Sunday brunch in Dallas’ LGBT community has evolved into much more than just a meal; it’s a way to keep the weekend party going

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Mad Men portrays the 1960s white businessman’s three-martini lunch. The Golden Girls ate cheesecake late night around a kitchen table. Carrie always sipped cosmos with the girls during cocktail hour while gossiping at the local club.

But in gay culture, the ritual of a Sunday brunch has long served as a social nexus, a place where all the major deals are made — and the arbiters of local society convene to hold court in the sobering light of day.

Putting together the right crew is part of the finesse that comes with planning the ideal brunch experience. “Not all my friends get along so I have to juggle it,” says one brunch regular.

“I usually have a herd of about five [regular brunch buddies],” says Joshuah Welch, who manages the ilume property where two tenants — the restaurants Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge — have recently initiated theme brunches. Today, though, it’s just Welch and one other friend: “I was in a coma until 15 minutes ago,” Welch said.

Nursing a hangover is definitely another purpose of the brunch trek: Where else can you have food and alcohol on a Sunday morning to satisfy the twin desires to ease your headache and fill your belly? But the hangover element can affect where you choose to meet your friends. A place with loud music isn’t necessarily all that welcome when you’re sound sensitive, one diner — wearing sunglasses inside — ruefully admits as the music strikes up.

And there’s definitely music, highlighting the latest local trend in brunching: Turning the traditionally staid eggs-benedict-and-mimosa chatfest into something more like a nightclub bathed in sunshine.

The glam world of the party brunch is upon us.

Gays, of course, have always made brunch more a social function than a dining one — at least in urban areas. (Out-of-towners visiting Dallas say the gay community in Northwest Arkansas does not gather routinely for brunch.)

While a hearty meal accompanied by some hair o’ the dog is a reason for brunch, it is by no means the only one. Sunday in the gay community can be akin to a war room strategy session.

“You meet to plan your week — decide what you’re going to do for Sunday Funday,” says regular bruncher Eli Duarte.

“Where else can you find our community gathered in the daylight?” asks Tim O’Connor, another diner, with a hint of sarcasm. “There are not a
lot of places to do that outside the Strip, though it can be a kind of continuation of the bar scene.”

That social aspect has caught on in the broader community, and has even been raised a notch of late in Dallas.

At Dish one recent Sunday, 200 to 250 diners are expected to enjoy the morning’s entertainment. It doesn’t come from a pianist playing songs from “Your Hit Parade,” but rather a dance-mix DJ spinning tunes louder than Grandma would probably enjoy. And that’s not the half of it: Midway through the day’s two brunch seatings (one at 11 a.m. another at 1 p.m.), Dallas drag divas Krystal Summers and Erica Andrews rend the control booth from the DJ to put on a full show for the Taste of Drag Brunch.

Taste of Drag doesn’t take place every Sunday — on special occasions like Mother’s Day a more traditional service is offered — but owner Tim McEnery says they try to do it once or twice a month. And it’s not just for the gay community.

“It really is for everyone,” McEnery says.

CHAMPAGNE | ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch serves up camp with their frittatas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Anecdotal evidence tends to bear that out. When I mention to a middle-aged straight woman that I am headed to a drag brunch, she excitedly asks where. “I need to know where I can see a good drag show,” she declares enthusiastically. At Dish, there certainly is a mix of gay and straight folks, though queerer heads prevail.

McEnery doesn’t claim to have invented the drag brunch, but he thinks it’s high time Dallas has one. It’s been a staple in cities like San Francisco and New York for years, but has only recently gained currency outside the coasts.

On this particular Sunday, the first seating already has a nine-top (including two women — one, a former New Yorker who notes that brunch has burgeoned as a social event since she moved to Dallas); across from it, five diners, including four well-appointed women in sundresses and espadrilles, their makeup and hair obviously fussed over, have taken a prime location to watch the shows.

A decent-sized crowd fills in the 11 a.m., which is generally less well attended than the later — not surprising in the gay community, several brunch regulars quickly note.

“Part of the point of brunch is to see and be seen,” acknowledges Welch, who is not at all surprised by the girls who turned up at 11 in full, flawless makeup. “People dress up to come here.”

Of course, gays and straights can mingle together or separately anywhere in town during brunch, though there is certainly a concerted effort at Dish — which is located along Cedar Springs — to make Sunday morning feel like an extension of Saturday night.

STEAK AND EGGS | Brunch is a social function, with friends attending in crews where they enjoy a little alcohol along with steak and eggs to keep the Saturday night party going like this group at Dish. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“Who went to church today?” asks Andrews of the Dish crowd. “I did, but I still smell like last night at the Rose Room.”

Doing the Taste of Drag Brunch, she says, makes performing on the weekend almost run together.

“It’s a different group than I see at the Rose Room,” says Summers. “And we tend to do different music on Sundays — more classic drag. But it’s a perfect time to catch up with friends, to talk about how your week went.”

Over at the Hotel ZaZa ballroom, the third Sunday of every month morphs into Sunday School Brunch, where staff dress as nerdy bookworms and sexy Catholic school girls for a prix fixe menu that comes with a bottle of champagne per couple.

But it’s not just the costumes and food that attract the crowd; indeed, many attendees pay the $10 SRO cover just for the entertainment: Around 2 p.m., the lights dim, the curtain pulls back and the brunch room turns into a naughty discotheque, replete with sparklers, women dancing on the bar, mood lighting and a pounding dance beat.

Today’s a mixed crowd — “about 50-50 [gay-straight] observes one regular, “though it’s often ’mo central.”

The crowd is up and dancing before long, with muscular men in surplus among the attendees as the music gets louder and the lights dimmer. The sunglasses stay on. Gossip can wait; for now, there’s still some partying left to do.

—  John Wright