‘A-List: New York’ returns in the fall

We already knew Logo was casting for The A-List: Dallas and Los Angeles, but word comes today that A-List: New York will return in the fall as well. Reichen will be back with Rodiney (still his boyfriend — I was at brunch with them in New York on New Year’s) as well as the back-stabbing Austin, and basically irrelevant regulars from last season Mike Ruiz, Ryan, TJ and Derek. Logo’s also promising some new faces.

Still no word, though on when the Dallas and L.A. editions will begin airing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sing like no one’s listening

Forget drag, leather contests and two-stepping — karaoke is the one night in gay clubs where everybody comes out

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A KARAOKE SLIDESHOW

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

One cold Tuesday night in December, the Round-Up Saloon’s parlor bar has a handful of people inside. Some are partaking in well drink specials; others are furiously texting, and one guy can’t seem to leave the bartender alone.

But in a few minutes, they will all be focused on the same thing: Whether to get on stage or just sing along as they settle in for a night of karaoke.

Despite public speaking being a fear on par with death for most Americans, the post-American Idol world finds a slew of gay clubs featuring karaoke nights — and they are among the most popular events out of the week.

Just what gets people to step up to a microphone on a regular basis — or have others turn out to watch them?

As it turns it out, it’s so much more than just singing a song you like.

“Although it doesn’t happen with every singer, it’s fun to watch someone be so uninhibited, whether they are good or bad,” says Andrew Phifer.

Phifer has done it once to, of all things, the theme from TVs Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Mostly, though, he prefers to watch others, usually at the Round-Up.

Last year’s Voice of Pride winner Mel Arizpe hosts karaoke at the club, lining up singers and songs for “Tittie Tuesday Karaoke;” in between songs, she points out the several regulars who have a certain uninhibited quality.

A prime example was the man singing Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” and trying to engage the audience by asking, “Who remembers the ’80s?”

“Karaoke caters to everyone,” Arizpe says. “Who doesn’t wanna belt ‘Pussy Control,’ with 30 other people singing right along? Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you really haven’t until you’ve come out to watch.”

Little Chalupa at Joe’s

Where the Round-Up gets progressively more crowded on a school night, Joe’s Place at Wednesday night karaoke, with host Little Chalupa, is a lighter bunch.

No more than a handful of people at a time are in the bar, but the enthusiasm is just as high.

Duets by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson are covered, and one man with a Michael Jackson fetish ad-libs the songs while Chalupa offers something else to the mix: Spanish-language songs.

Even one dancer in his undies from the Brick side of the club will sing.

Likely not by design, the stage at Joe’s on this hump day evening definitely has more than enough of its share of “serious singers.” The smaller crowd didn’t dissuade these vocalists from taking to the stage as if auditioning for American Idol. They want to assure that all 17 of us hear their talents.

Putting their vibratos to the test, the mostly male crowd signs on for fleeting stardom, if just for a moment — until their next song makes it to the top of the list.

“I think there are three types of karaoke singers,” says Josh Warr, a visitor to the Joe’s who is also straight. “The people who take it seriously probably had some theater and have this in them to do. You have people like me who’ve sung in a band and just do what we do for fun. Then there are those who can’t sing worth a damn and can’t help but be silly about it.”

Warr does a good rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” with some added humorous touches that go over like a, well, brick. Those gathered are clearly waiting their turns to be the next top diva.

Is it that one moment that drives them to almost over-perform? Ben Mitchell thinks so.

The local author has sung with the Turtle Creek Chorale, and although it’s been years since his last karaoke performance, he admits there is a surrealistic quality that makes being onstage a special moment.

“You get to be on stage performing in front of an audience, and it is the closest thing to being a ‘star’ that we ever get,” he says.

Arizpe agrees.

“Gay or straight, everyone wants to be a star,” she says. “Along with that, I think what attracts gay audiences is the environment — the lights, the stage, the showtunes … not to mention music from Lady Gaga and Glee.”

Save for Warr, the stars at Joe’s this night weren’t tongue-in-cheeking their performances. While the vocal talents aren’t the stuff Grammys are made of, they wouldn’t cause ears to bleed, either.

The guy covering Celine Dion couldn’t meet her key with his low register but impressively nailed a long note. “Michael Jackson guy’s” “Thriller” might be blasphemous, but his heart and ego are into it. His friend, though, chose Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” but sang it in the key of Beyonce.

At one corner of the bar, Little Chalupa sits at his laptop lining up singers and songs and even getting onstage himself for some Kid Rock. Hosting karaoke gigs four nights a week at Sue Ellen’s, Alexandre’s and Joe’s, he’s a pro at the game in the Dallas gay club scene.

Starting as a bartender at Woody’s, Chalupa began his stint as a host there and eight years later, he’s become the go-to guy for karaoke. Along the way, he’s learned a few things about the scene.

“Although every bar is having karaoke, it has to do with the host, and a supportive staff,” he says. “Spectators will really enjoy themselves a lot more and come back. The host has to make it fun and keep a flow. Sometimes I have 30 people waiting on my list.”

Chalupa reiterates the one popular reason people do this — simple fun. Whether he’s gigging at Joe’s or Sue Ellen’s, his crowds may be different, but the payoff is the same.

For him, it’s a bigger payoff when they really can’t sing.

“The ones who can’t sing and do it are having the most fun. I have a lot of bad singers, but that’s what motivates other people to get up there. I’ve devirginized a lot of non-singers,” he laughs.

He admits though, he’s not overly fond of the self-appointed divas, many of whom were taking his stage at Joe’s.

“The seriousness I don’t like. Some people do that because this is the time for them to show off — if they have talent, “ he says. “Or sometimes people walk in, put their song in and leave only to come back when it’s their turn. That’s not fair to people who are there. I’m there to make money for my place.”

Save for the few “talented” singers, Chalupa knows people are having a fine time. Whether it’s the ladies at Sue Ellen’s, an older crowd at Alexandre’s or his younger participants at Joe’s, Chalupa really just celebrates that spirit in someone to risk making a spectacle of themselves — and it mostly turns out well.

Barbara’s Pavillion

Barbara’s Pavilion in Oak Cliff is a popular spot for many reasons: Its gay friendliness, its neighborhood feel and its karaoke.

A diverse crowd lines the bar on this Sunday night. The place isn’t overly busy, but by 7 p.m. when the singing starts, the regulars are already at it. That’s proven by the married couple who gaze into each others’ eyes while dueting on Moulin Rouge’s “I’ll Fly Away.”

There are some familiar faces here from my recent night at the Round-Up. “Pussy Control” lady takes her turn with Blondie and later with Four Non Blondes. The employees even get in on the action.

Of all the clubs I visited, Barbara’s is the least intimidating. This is where everybody knows your name. They don’t know mine, but friendly attempts at conversation don’t go unnoticed.

And after every song, the crowd claps and hoots — even if a singer sounds like a pained animal waiting to be put out of its misery.

“I don’t really sing, I just like to scream my songs out,” says Angela Johnson. “Really, this is my therapy.”

Motivations run the gamut when it comes to karaoke. Arizpe says it brings confidence out in people, but I’m not so sure. Singing in front of strangers overall is one of the more vulnerable situations to put yourself in.

Natural singers who are good don’t have to worry, but the majority of us are up there to be potentially laughed at and — worse — judged.

It can be like a rollercoaster ride: Maybe it’s the thrill of danger while knowing you’ll finish safely.

Or you’re just haven’t had enough cocktails, like Justin Bradford who has had his fair share of mike experiences at the Round-Up.

“I like drinking the liquid courage that allows me to belt out whiskey-drenched vocals in the likes of Tanya Tucker,” he says.

“That allows me to momentarily bask in the spotlight of talent, because in reality, I have a terrible singing voice.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A KARAOKE SLIDESHOW

—  John Wright

Friends remember shooting victim as strong, generous

Police arrest homeless man for using Cheung’s debit card; no murder charges filed yet in gay man’s death

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Aaron Cheung
Aaron Cheung

Aaron Cheung was remembered this week as a strong, outspoken, caring person who was living his dream of owning a restaurant.

Cheung, 27, was found shot to death in the backseat of his car outside a condo in northeast Dallas in the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 12.

Dallas police say the motive for the crime was robbery, and they have no reason to believe Cheung’s sexual orientation was a factor.

On Wednesday, DPD arrested a homeless man who they say used Cheung’s debit card at a downtown 7-Eleven after the murder

Charles Edward Freeman, 58, is charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, a felony, and was being held on $50,000 bail. As of Thursday morning, Dec. 16, Freeman was considered a “person of interest” but had not been charged in Cheung’s robbery and murder.

Cheung was a founding member of Fuse, the LGBT young men’s group at Resource Center Dallas, according to his close friend Alex Ortega. Cheung also once served on the youth board at Youth First Texas.

But for the last few years, Ortega said, Cheung devoted most of his time to Bacon and Friends, his restaurant in Mesquite.

“That was his dream,” said Ortega, who worked at the restaurant last summer. “His passion was food. He was always talking about watching Food Network and then trying different things. He was just really creative and a real people person. He had so many regulars, and they all asked for him. … He was very meticulous about the food, and people just really gravitated to that, all the effort he put into everything. It was always busy.”

Cheung had just gotten home from work at about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and was retrieving a box from the backseat of his car outside a condo he shared with his parents in the 8100 block of Skillman Road when he was shot, according to police. The suspect ambushed Cheung from behind and shot him once in the head before making off with his wallet and several hundred dollars in cash.

On Tuesday, Dec. 14, police released surveillance video from a 7-Eleven on Commerce Street, showing a short, older black man with a limp using Cheung’s debit card to purchase cigarettes and chicken wings.

Freeman was arrested at the Bridge, a homeless shelter, after people there recognized him from the surveillance video.

Police say Freeman fits the description of a man who was seen by a witness fleeing the area of Cheung’s murder.

“It’s going to take some forensic evidence before they can list him as a suspect,” DPD spokesman Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse said Thursday morning.

“They’re still looking at him as a person of interest.”

Ortega said he was glad that police appeared close to solving the crime.

“He was the strong one of the people I knew and hung out with,” Ortega said of Cheung. “You’d never think anything would hurt him, so it was just a complete shock. He’s from the East Coast, originally from New York. He was really tough and outspoken.

“He had a lot of street smarts, and you would never think this would happen to him, ever.”

A memorial service for Cheung was held Thursday afternoon in Rowlett.

Ortega said Cheung was an only child and he hoped the service would help his parents cope.

“I think it’s a really good thing for his family to be able to see how many people he affected,” Ortega said. “He really did do a lot for people who were in his life. If he cared about you, he would give you the world.

“He would do just about anything to help you out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Hope & Gloria’s

You think you’ve got their number? Makeover aside, Gloria’s food stays true

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

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Gloria’s iconic Super Special
SUPER AND SPECIAL | Gloria’s iconic Super Special is a tasty sampler of Salvadoran cuisine.

OVERALL RATING 3.5 Stars

Gloria’s, 3223 Lemmon Ave. 214-303-1166. Open daily from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. (11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays).

A comforting mix of reliable Tex-Mex dishes and unique Salvadoran cuisine, the success of this Oak Cliff institution and expansion into yuppie haven hasn’t diminished the simple, satisfying, well-priced food.

Overall: 3.5 stars

Food: 3.5 stars

Atmosphere: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Price: Moderate

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I can still recall the first time I ate at a Gloria’s. It was at the original one on Davis Street, a diner-y looking box that was crowded with regulars and had typical Oak Cliff charm, i.e., fast service, no fuss and tasty, unpretentious grub. I probably ate the Super Special, a sampler of pupusa, tamal, yucca, plantain and a few other items, which cost $8. I came out to a co-worker that day, the first time I’d come out to anyone other than a guy I was hitting on. It’s been a favorite ever since.

It became even more of a favorite when the restaurant began to expand — first to Lemmon Avenue, across from Uncle Julio’s. That brushed concrete L-shaped space had (has) a smallish bar/waiting area, a patio and an acre of simple floorspace. Then one opened a few blocks from my house on Greenville Avenue. Again, cavernous but quaint, with a bigger bar area and roomier patio.

And all along, the food remained consistently, wonderfully the same.

Until.

A few years back, they tweaked the menu. Just a bit, but noticeably. You could tell the difference between some dishes depending on which locale you went to.

Then about a year ago, the Greenville Avenue locale underwent a makeover: An even bigger bar. Moody lighting. More TVs (a sad, inevitable reality of many restaurants, even fine dining ones). In style, you can hardly recognize it from where I ate that first coming-out meal. (The Super Special also costs $11 now — but is still a bargain.)

Now, the latest location — the company’s 13th — arrives, and the transition from neighborhood eatery to yuppie destination is complete. The deco urinals flush themselves. The hand dryers are Dyson-automatic-blown-air-thingies (I couldn’t even swear they had a toilet in the original all those years ago). The bar is humongous, with many hi-def TVs and elegant lacquered chairs and French doors that open onto an even more impressive patio.

All of which means everything we liked about Gloria’s is gone, right? Not at all.

As with Susan Boyle, a bit of lipstick and a fashion consult has altered the look but not the soul of the place. The seating is nicer, the finish-out more polished. But Gloria’s is still Gloria’s. At the new location, on Cole Avenue near east-bound Lemmon, service remains quick and friendly. (I spent more time looking over the newly designed menu, trying to decide what to order, than it took for the kitchen to send it out.) And the food is still the food.

I fairly judge most Tex-Mex restaurants by the quality of the complimentary chips-and-dip that accompany the menus, and Gloria’s has always stood above most. There are always two: The traditional tomato-based salsa, and a black bean puree that is so addictive, I’ve always just assumed its laced with black tar heroin. The chips are good, too — crisp and salty and sturdy enough to withstand a voracious scoop or two.

The redone menu card is another example of form over substance: It’s harder to find the old favorites, but they taste the same. The cuisine includes familiar Tex-Mex dishes, but among the best are the Salvadoran specialties. Pupusas (especially plain ol’ cheese ones) are still one of my favorite comfort foods: little pockets of grilled, filled tortilla goodness served, always, with a laconic tuft of slaw. Simple, delicious, satisfying. Likewise, the carne asada — grilled skirt steak served in a slab — is a meat-lover’s dream of hearty food.

The chocolate flan is another enduring highlight: Brown as a kid at the beach, sloshing lightly in a shallow pool of caramel.

Gloria’s version of a chile relleno is not as heavily breaded in a cocoon flour, but served, for want of a better term, open-faced, with bits of well-done steak swathed in cheese and spilling out. It’s a spicy concoction. Blander is the red sauce on one of their chicken enchiladas; the cheese enchilada, or one dressed with sour cream or salsa verde, is better. Their version of guacamole isn’t among the tops in town, either.

As with many Tex-Mex restaurants, combination plates abound. (Combo No. 2’s spinach quesadillas, beef enchilada and especially crisp chicken tostada hits the spot while watching a game and tossing back a margarita. On the other hand, there’s not much a la carte ordering — if you want a single enchilada or taco, you have to ask, and you should specify between refried, black or borracho beans with the platters. No recommendation there — all are good.

In fact, that could be the motto across Gloria’s: Old, new, yuppie or barrio, it’s still like home.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens