In Nashville, drag queens thrive despite being targeted by discriminatory legislation.
Many of the city’s most fabulous queens can be seen and tipped at Play Dance Bar, where there’s a drag spectacle every night of the week.
Co-Owner Joe Brown tells GayCities the nightclub has featured drag since it first opened in 2004, and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
As it stands, the governor signed a bill banning drag shows in public spaces or where children are permitted, but a federal judge has temporarily blocked it. Regardless, the city’s gay bars remain safe spaces for drag.
When asked what makes Play Dance Bar special, Brown replies earnestly, “It’s a [gay] dance club…”
And clearly, he’s justified to believe that their uniqueness should be evident; the bar employs over 150 people and has been voted best dance club for eighteen out of its twenty-year existence. It stands as Tennessee’s largest LGBTQ+ nightclub, with a world-class dance floor and a medley of resident DJs.
“The shows that we do are top of the line,” says Brown, “I’ve moved entertainers from all over the country to work for us. I reinvest in the facility, keep it up to date, and make it feel like it’s something special. Something people there can be proud of.”
Play Dance Bar’s reputation attracts many gay and straight celebrities alike when they visit Nashville and lust for a good time. Hayley Kiyoko went out to Play Dance Bar the night before her tour performance was scheduled on May 1st, 2023.
As any diva does, Kiyoko made friends with other divas, Ivy St. James and LiberTea. The drag queens brought the pop star on stage, so Kiyoko wanted to return the favor. But an undercover cop warned her during rehearsals that it could result in legal trouble because the concert was for all ages.
A queer pop star and two drag queens slaying homophobia sounds like a great movie plot, but unfortunately, that warning came from law enforcement in real life. The three divas mutually agreed to take the stage in defiance of drag bans.
Details came to light during a media frenzy, and Kiyoko aired the situation with an Instagram reel. Celebrity heroes! They’re just like us.
The unexpected trio rose to the occasion and became a national symbol of protest. They reassured Nashville that drag queens would continue to exist in excellence. You can still find Ivy St. James and LiberTea performing at Play Dance Bar a few nights a week.
Brown attributes Play Dance Bar’s success to building a place where people want to work. He learned the need to give back after years of working in the bar industry, watching others not do it. The bar has raised over $2 million in funds for community causes.
But still, it’s where queer people go to find community, dance, watch drag shows, and enjoy cocktails. A club shouldn’t have to carry the spirit of Mother Teresa to justify its existence as a boozy queer establishment. It’s creating human joy, arguably the most crucial cause.
“We all remember the first [gay] bar that we went to, and a lot of times, that first bar is also the first time that we got to be around gay people or see a drag show,” says Brown.
Pride celebrations in Nashville and states nationwide might look different due to one or many of the 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have swarmed Congress. However, these bills won’t intimidate queer resilience or fun, especially not in historically safe spaces.
Play Dance Bar’s drag queens are a reminder that gay nightlife has always served as a tool to fight and escape oppression, and the conviction: Drag will be celebrated.