The finishing touch before Thursday’s deliveries begin is a stripe of purple nail polish on each finger; wigs are on, faces are set and someone might be hiding something in their cowboy boot. The sky, congested with ash, looms grey above as Qween (maybe you know them as Travis) and driver/coordinator/manager Lori Fowler leave the sidedoor of Oasis, San Francisco’s renowned drag venue, and pack six big, pink paper bags into the back of Fowler’s Volkswagen Beetle.
It’s time for another round of Meals on Heels.
The idea came to D’Arcy Drollinger, Oasis’ sole owner, in the midst of early pandemic chaos. After almost five years of hosting drag performances, competitions, sitcom satires, tribute nights, parodies and meet and greets for some of the biggest and up-and-coming queens and kings around, closing due to a public health crisis was “bonkers.” Not just for the audience and the club’s coffers, but the performers as well. So when the local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) office said it would allow Oasis to offer food delivery if they partnered with a caterer, Drollinger knew that “people need this.”
What started off as a one-time “Drag on Demand” became a twice-weekly system of economy and entertainment. Drollinger has even fielded calls about franchising the concept.
“Like everyone else, we were blindsided by (the pandemic). It was really clear people were starved for community engagement,” he said. “Five to six months feels like five to six years without seeing each other, let alone drag queens. Some of these performers, this is how they made their money.”
As many as three queens a night take up to 10 orders each to the drag-deprived of San Francisco. They also hit the East Bay once a month, and demand is growing. Customers place orders in advance with a weekly-rotating menu thanks to a partnership with Martha Avenue Home Cooked Meals. The catering and food delivery business, founded by actor Cindy Goldfield and her partner Chef Willi Nordby, has been delivering mouth-watering morsels and libations across the Bay Area three days a week since the pandemic began and Goldfield’s anticipated season of performances was put on hiatus. Nordby left his executive chef position at Picco Restaurant in Larkspur before the pandemic began. Drollinger and Goldfield go back over a decade, so when he called, she answered.
“No one was hiring at restaurants, I had no gigs or my side gig as an event producer,” Goldfield said. “So, after freaking out we thought, How can we stay connected and provide a service during this time?
“People were clamoring,” she said of the drag delivery concept. “It’s joyful, and you get a nice dinner.”
On Sept. 10, the catering service offered an assortment of European food, with dishes like pasta pistou, pavlova and a chocolate torte. The following week was barbecue.
Qween, the on-duty queen for Meals on Heels this particular evening, was furloughed from their serving job and a gig at American Conservatory Theater. This is their second week doing deliveries, and they’re excited despite the “tacky” quality of the air outside. They miss being able to twirl the curls of their wig and worry whether their ankles, untrained in the last few months, will be able to take six back-to-back performances. They’re wearing, rather sensibly, cowboy boots with tights, a white leotard and a shimmering, golden tunic. Their eye makeup is bright blue, and their mask will definitely mess with their lip liner. Tonight, they’re singing Jody Watley’s “Everything.”
“I was here the very opening night (of Oasis), New Year’s 2014,” they said while applying a topcoat to their purple manicure. “I love this place. I live right down the street. It’s just as therapeutic for me as a performer. There’s a catharsis to it in getting out there. I need their love and people need our love. I will put myself at physical risk to entertain someone,” they said.
“Qween had a picture of them twerking on a handstand in a courtyard in the ‘New York Times’!” added Fowler.
Seat belts and masks on, the night begins. But as Qween explains how they will use the oversized syringe to pantomime pumping Botox head to toe so as to be rendered immobile by the end of the number, Fowler, in the driver’s seat, has some bad news. The first delivery has asked Qween not to perform due to the air quality. Fowler, affectionately called “Lolo,” was brought on in the midst of the pandemic to help coordinate deliveries and corral the queens. She says her position is a “jack of all trades” and is not easily defined.
“I came on during the pandemic to help with administrative stuff. I’m a stage manager by trade. These are just little mini-productions,” she said. “I’m not a performer, but the shtick is my name is gonna be ‘Hamburger Larry,’” she laughed, as a riff on the drag venue Hamburger Mary’s.
“I think you’re holding out on me,” replied Qween.
Thankfully, the next delivery wants a show. Plugging into the Beetle’s sound system, Qween serenades Arun Apte and his partner in front of their Castro-based apartment. Apte says they used to go to Oasis all the time, and when they read an article about the service (in what could have been “People” magazine, the “Associated Press” or the “Times”), they had to support.
“We love Oasis, Sex in the City is my favorite (show). I did the ordering and surprised him,” Apte said as he referred to his partner. “We’ll probably do it again and call up a couple friends to join.” While the couple ordered a chicken dish and some drinks, “the main reason was the performance.”
For the next guest, Travis Nichols, “it was a birthday present to myself. I think I saw an article, and it was a good break from the news. I don’t even remember what I ordered,” he said, before adding, “We miss going to shows and being around people.”
“You’re Travis? My name is Travis. That’s so funny. The plural of us is Travi,” Qween said in parting.
Sometimes the food and show is a gift. Ingleside couple Nick and Carter were set up for a delivery by a friend to celebrate their engagement. They were definitely surprised.
“I read somewhere that [Oasis was] doing this. And as my friend was like, ‘Be outside in 15 minutes,’ we were thinking, Please be a drag queen!” enthused Nick.
As Meals on Heels becomes better known, the meal and a show service tends to have repeat customers. The final stop of the night is not a curbside serenade, but a courtyard performance in the center of a Dogpatch-based apartment complex where resident Rodney Turner has gathered his neighbors to watch, just as the sun starts to wane. So, would he order a third time?
“Oh yeah, definitely.”
You can preorder the dinner of your dreams from Meals on Heels for delivery on Thursday or Friday here, and from Martha Avenue Monday, Wednesday and Friday here.