Drag queens deliver home-cooked dinners for San Francisco club’s ‘Meals on Heels’ service
“It felt exhilarating. You could tell from the patrons’s faces, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen a drag queen in so long.’ Sharing that energy with each of them was awesome."
D’Arcy Drollinger’s livelihood revolves around bringing people together. So when the coronavirus pandemic forced the actor, writer, and director to close Oasis — his San Francisco cabaret and nightclub that has become home to more than 100 drag queens and kings since it opened in 2015 — he had to get creative.
Drollinger has launched a YouTube channel and produced a weekly drag parody show, turning his club into a sound stage. And he has crowdfunded to support some of his part-time employees.
But perhaps his biggest success story to come out of an exhausting stretch is “Meals on Heels,” which offers customers dinner and drinks for delivery or pickup, with a lip-syncing performance by a drag queen or king.
“Some days I feel like the biggest idiot, and then other days I feel like I’m going to be the last person standing and keep this space open for the community if it’s the last thing I do,” said Drollinger in a phone interview. “It’s been intense, but every day feels exciting and rewarding when you feel like you’re affecting other people’s lives.”
“Meals on Heels” was supposed to be a one-time deal, a fun way to give a few of the club’s regular performers, who have been out of work since March, the chance to earn money. When word got out about the drag on-demand service, so many people called to request a performance that “Meals on Heel” became a weekly offering.
Drollinger contacted his good friend and fellow actor and director Cindy Goldfield. Feeling useless after the shows she lined up for the summer were canceled, and after buying way too many groceries on a frenzied trip to Costco, Goldfield started a food preparation and delivery service in April with her partner, chef Willi Nordby, called Martha Avenue Home Cooked Meals.
“I am a person who needs to feel of use, and this has given me a real sense of connection to our community and to feeling like we have a purpose,” said Goldfield, who also works as an event planner.
The special “Meals on Heels” menu that Nordby and Goldfield created for Drollinger on Fridays has featured everything from Southern barbecue and Provençal cuisine, to Mediterranean-influenced and Pan-Asian items.
“What it’s about is eating ... something that feels comfortable and grounded" during this chaotic time, Nordby said, referencing the wildfires that have ravaged Northern California this month. “I think having fresh pasta and ragu gives people a little hope. It gives me hope making it, anyway.”
While the meals are almost always secondary to the heels for customers who pay roughly $100 for the experience, Drollinger says the quality of the food has contributed to the service’s repeat customers. Every Friday since “Meals on Heels” launched in June, about four or five performers have made upward of a dozen stops at homes throughout the city to deliver meals and give a three- or four-minute performances.
Actor and dance instructor Paul Renolis, whose drag name is Juhnay Arabesque, met Drollinger shortly after the Oasis opened and has performed drag there ever since. Renolis has been auditioning for various roles via Zoom and recently booked a commercial but said drag was his largest source of income before the pandemic. He has delivered for “Meals on Heels” twice.
“It felt exhilarating,” Renolis said of his first socially distanced performance. “You could tell from the patrons’s faces, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen a drag queen in so long.’ Sharing that energy with each of them was awesome. We have a lot of patrons who are regulars at Oasis, so I got to see some familiar faces, which was great.”
Renolis, who lip-synced Janet Jackson’s “Made for Now” and Beyoncé‘s “Love on Top,” said performing on some of San Francisco’s especially hilly sidewalks provided “an interesting design challenge.”
The delivery service tends to draw a crowd, said Drollinger.
“A lot of times, the neighbors will stick their heads out the window to watch,” he said, “One time, a driver stopped on the street, got out, tipped the queen and then got back in the car.”
Oasis opened its rooftop with limited capacity this month for socially distanced food and drinks. Drollinger said it will likely be a while before the club’s entertainment schedule returns to its pre-pandemic form. Meanwhile, he plans to continue “Meals on Heels” for the foreseeable future and is even considering increasing the service to two days a week.
“It’s not a gigantic moneymaker,” Drollinger said. “At this point, if I can just pay the rent and pay my employees, I’m happy to weather the storm. … The joy for people getting to see live performances, even far away and on the street, it’s really moved them.”
Added drag performer Renolis, “People know that artists are resilient. Oasis has really blown it out of the park and I’m really glad that they’re trying to support the artists.”