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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We Took a Tour of Oasis, San Francisco's New Drag Club

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 2:49 PM

click to enlarge homofiles.jpg
It's true that San Francisco has been standing by watching on average two gay bars per year close its doors, with the most recent one being the Lexington Club. But all this loss has inspired some good news on the corner of Folsom and 11th Street. Drag performers Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger will be opening Oasis to the hordes on New Year’s Eve, working on Christmas Day in order to get it done.

The duo, who have been friends and colleagues for 25 years, has been working with two other partners to start a new drag club for the last two years. “We looked at many venues, all over the place,” Drollinger said, “and although each of us looked good, as a group we had never run a club or a business like this, so we were outbid at a lot of places.”

And the search for a new spot turned out to be the easy part, because the rest became a “reality show” as the drag performers faced the pangs of bureaucracy which involved zoning changes, deals falling through, and ugly red tape. “It was looking like it might be a year before we could get it rezoned, but [Supervisor] Jane Kim stepped up,” Drollinger said, noting that the permitting process only concluded last night, and quite favorably at that. “It’s unheard of that new owners would come in and get after-hours immediately,” Heklina said.

So how’d they do it? “It’s called 20 years of putting a wig on and throwing events without incidents,” Heklina said. Having friends on the Entertainment Commission probably didn’t hurt, but showing up well-informed and in drag mollified even the SFPD, who had initially wanted them to hold off another six months.

V for Victory upon receiving both a liquor license and an after-hours license, on Dec. 16. - HEKLINA
  • Heklina
  • V for Victory upon receiving both a liquor license and an after-hours license, on Dec. 16.

Settling on a space that had been vacant for five years (but was most recently Caliente), they decided to call it Oasis because both knew that it had once been so named, and Heklina had even hosted a night there, but the history went much further back. “They had a plexiglass dance floor over the swimming pool, and a retractable roof,” Drollinger said. “And before that it was a bathhouse. It had a lot of different incarnations: Dirty Sally’s, the Plunge, Covered Wagon. Before that, it was the Drummer Key Club, a sex club. The admission was $1 and a six-pack. It was a very different reality.”

While a vintage poster from Plunge's heyday will hang behind the bar, it’s otherwise going to look very different from when patrons were required to BYOB. Interior designer “David [Marks] has been awesome to work with. We’ve been batting around what call ‘Brooklyn meets Berlin,’ like industrial design with this vaudeville, Barbary Coast feel. Lush red curtains surrounded by steel walls and 150-175 seats, at cabaret rounds.” Standing room capacity, while substantial, has yet to be determined, and not just because of outstanding business with the city. The space is still a long way from completion, with plywood piled everywhere and workmen busy drilling. It's exactly two weeks before opening, but the principals agree that the job will be done.

Oasis' showpiece will be Heklina’s marquee night, Mother (née Trannyshack), which will shift from a monthly drag bonanza to a weekly event, and in January, D’Arcy will be bringing back her show Shit and Champagne, with Sex and the City to return after that. Heklina said they’re in talks with numerous performers, both local and out-of-town talent. Dina Martina is already scheduled, with Coco Peru and Lady Bunny in the wings; Honey Soundsystem and Swagger Like Us may follow.

And there will be no bottle service. “It’s the most tired thing ever,” Heklina said. “It’s douche-y.”

“It cuts people off,” Drollinger added. “All of a sudden, you’ve got these little parties and nobody hanging out. I don’t want to say that we want to be the gay Cheers, but Heklina and I will be here most nights, hosting. We’re all about inclusion.”

They’re a complementary pair, and not just because they occasionally finish each other’s sentences or flip each other’s phones over so as not to get distracted during interviews. Drollinger, a playwright, choreographer and director, comes from the theater world, whereas Heklina’s background is in drag, but with a business eye. Heklina freely admits to learning a lot of technique from her partner, but “I’ve also tried to teach D’Arcy how not to lose money.”

click to enlarge While Oasis is undergoing a near-total renovation, some amazing details from past incarnations (such as this enormous tufted chair) will remain. - PETE KANE
  • Pete Kane
  • While Oasis is undergoing a near-total renovation, some amazing details from past incarnations (such as this enormous tufted chair) will remain.

So will Mother, which will be held on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m, be all that different from Trannyshack, which used to pack people into the Stud every Tuesday at midnight? Not really. “Apart from the whole tranny controversy, I felt the need to change the name anyway,” Heklina said. “Trannyshack was so huge for a long time, and going from monthly to weekly, it didn’t feel right. It felt like time for a rebrand. But the formula is very much ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’”

“So it’ll be back to the crazy themes we had at the Stud, but more polished like when it was at DNA Lounge. More of a punk rock drag show, but better produced than the Stud. And at DNA, I had to appeal to a huge mass audience because it was so expensive to throw events there. Now, there’s freedom to do whatever I want as far as themes, with no pressure to bring 1000 people in.”

Lest anyone think Oasis will be home to the arena rock equivalent of drag, there will be a smaller room where they plan to nurture local talent. “We’re going to put a small, six-by-ten-foot stage in, so we can do a happy hour called Hot Topic, talking about the things that are trending that week,” Heklina said. “Like Joe’s Pub in New York, we want to help everyone create a following. You can put them up there and as it grows and grows, move them into the main room.”

And unlike clubs that merely happen to host drag shows sometimes, this one is built from the ground up with queens’ needs in mind. It’s not just soundsystems, video, and easy stage access for people fumbling in the dark while wearing giant wigs. “We’re creating a dressing room with enough outlets for queens to plug in their mirrors and curling irons,” Drollinger said. “It’s a dream come true, being able to do that.”
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About The Author

Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Bio:
Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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