La Vie Bar d’O

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Legendary New York City nightlife never dies. Bars may shutter their doors. Parties can be indifferently shuffled around, or off some place’s weekly schedule altogether. But whether they’re stuffed with people who can barely make their way to the bar for another round or whether they’re filled with the enthusiasm of a chosen handful, those nights echo far beyond the last call that forces everyone to at least finish their drinks and amble outside. Sometimes that echo is so strong, it reunites those who started it.

That’s what happened last night at Indochine, when the original legendary cast of Bar d’O took the stage–well, a box in the middle of the restaurant–for their fifth annual reunion since Bar d’O closed to remind everyone why that club had lines around the block to get in. Mistress of Ceremonies Raven O (pictured above, at top and in triplicate) led the packed, enthusiastic crowd into the show with sophisticated and salacious wit. Her introductions were as poised as her singing. Raven ripped through both Etta James’ “At Last” and the crowd between her own and her sisters’ numbers. She thanked the Jewish table just behind me. She thanked the gays seated on the floor (me included) because we were so comfortable there. She told us that she was happy to see everyone last night because it was a family show. Her husband was there. Her son. Her boyfriend. Her girlfriend. Her lover. Her dealer. Her future boyfriends. It was indeed a special night. There was a star-studded audience, including Michael Musto, Project Runway‘s Austin Scarlett, and Amanda Lepore, whose seat by the stage put her in some of my pictures, like those of Raven above. Of course, as Raven explained, no matter who was in the audience, the only stars in the room were those onstage.
Before Raven passed the mic to Sherry Vine (pictured above and below), she explained that Miss Sherry was Queen of the Jews as well as her much younger-ish drag daughter whom she taught everything she knows. Later, she praised Sherry for choosing to work in NYC bars over more tony venues. Raven joked that when she’d call Sherry with job offers, she’d reply, “Why do Broadway when you can do Barracuda?
Between numbers, Sherry confessed that she looked forward to this reunion show each year because, finally, she is the young one. She rested her drink at the table to her right and flirted with one of the women seated there, a burlesque dancer (wonderfully) named Pandora. “Without the box,” Pandora confirmed. When the Jewish table laughed a bit too knowingly after Sherry offered, “Ah, burlesque, I remember that,” Sherry gently scolded, “Settle.”
After all, as she always tells us, Sherry is the nice drag queen. She praised the fantastical Amanda Lepore seated before her: “Looking at you makes me want to stop.” When Raven took the stage again, though, she lovingly joked: “Amanda reminds me of Tupperware. Perfect in every way. Just don’t put her in the microwave. She’ll melt.”
Raven wanted the white people in the audience to know once and for all that the next Bar d’O starlet to take the stage was not the star of Precious. She was Sade Pendavis (pictured above), who nailed John Waite’s “Missing You.” (Sade was in another movie, though; she roars through the Patti Labelle number at the end of Paris Is Burning).
Raven’s last introduction of the night was her best. She asked everyone seated at the tables to blow out their candles. The lights were dimmed. The mic’s echo was turned up. She set the scene with the catcalls from ancient times. She reminisced about vicious, hungry creatures–dinosaurs–who roamed the Earth before meteors killed them all. But one. Who lives now in Manhattan, roaming the West Side Highway for prey: young, uncut Puerto Rican boys. In the darkness, Raven welcomed Joey Arias (pictured above and below) to the stage.

The track started; she downed a tall shot of cognac; and Billie Holiday joined us. To say that Joey nailed her first number, “You’ve Changed,” would not capture the sublime pleasure of hearing, watching, and experiencing her. She’s far more than the Lady Night to Billie’s Lady Day, as Raven indicated. The opener was ironic, since I was struck by just how much Joey had not changed. I joked to Sherry after the show that it was incredible to see Joey still so wonderful after all these weeks, which were clearly, as Sherry quipped, my way of conveying drag dog years. For a taste of Joey, watch this clip of “You’ve Changed” taken on another night below:

Joey asked for another shot of cognac to deliver “All of Me” and duet with Raven O for “G-d Bless the Child” (pictured below center). Joey thanked all her fellow Bar d’O’ers, the crowd. I thanked all of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my Sunday night, which ended well after 6:00 a.m. into Monday morning, as a good Sunday night should. More on that soon.

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Seth Clark Silberman (PhDJ) is a NYC DJ and writer. For almost two years, he was Sherry Vine's DJ at the now-closed DTox in the East Village. His first NYC residency was at Boys Room, where he DJ'ed for Amanda Lepore, Cazwell and Gio Black Peter. He has also spun at The Cock, Eastern Bloc, Posh, Vlada, Arrow Bar, Lucky Cheng's and Formika's F Word party when it was at Club Rebel. Seth was the first junior faculty hired to teach lesbian and gay studies at Yale University. He has been widely published on literature and popular culture. His writing about music has been include in VIBE and Paste magazines as well as Creative Loafing Atlanta. Seth also goes by his photographer alter ego, Richard Appedon.

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