“When I came to Canada, it was my dream that I wanted to perform as a drag queen,” says Jasleen, a drag artist who began performing on Halifax stages last summer. “My drag started, like, I think it was inside me from my childhood.” The self-described “first Bollywood drag diva of Halifax” is originally from India and performs dragged-up versions of traditional Indian dance with costumes and jewellery to match.
When Jasleen (who prefers to be referred to by name only rather than pronouns) first moved to Halifax in 2021, the performer didn’t know how to start doing drag and had to seek out other members of the community to learn the ropes. Jasleen found a drag mother in local queen Lucky Charms, and eventually started tearing up the stage at spots like Lot Six and Good Robot.
For Jasleen, performing in traditionally “straight” bars and restaurants has its perks, including introducing the world of drag to patrons who wouldn’t seek it out otherwise. It’s a way to “show that we are not aliens, we are part of the society as well,” Jasleen says. “People can see that drag is just a talent, nothing else. So I think in that way they can understand more, the drag art.”
But for the city’s drag artists, especially newcomers to the scene, having a dedicated queer space to perform, where one can explore with the safety of community around them, is crucial, Jasleen says. For over two and a half years, Halifax didn’t have that space. The city’s long-standing 2SLGBTQ+ bar, Menz and Mollyz, closed its doors when COVID hit, and then never came back.
The 2182 Gottingen Street space briefly existed as a non-queer nightclub called The Den from spring 2021 to spring 2022. Then in late October, the bar reopened as Indulge: a queer-run nightclub for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The space has already hosted a bunch of drag shows, one of which Jasleen performed in. “I think the space that Indulge is giving right now is very performance-friendly,” Jasleen says. “It's a very friendly atmosphere there—I think it's good for queer people.”
Vanity Station, AKA Connor McKiggan, has been a staple of Halifax’s drag scene since starting in 2016, so she knows what it was like to have a dedicated space, and then lose it. When Menz closed, Station says she fell out of touch with the city’s queer community. At
Indulge, those connections are being remade. “Now that we have a space it's just fabulous. It feels like there's been a door that was closed and is opening again.”
For Station, having a 2SLGBTQ+ bar again means the world. “It means that we have a home,” she says. “It's been so fabulous to see how the community came together to create queer spaces when we didn't have a dedicated space, but a lot of the times when you're in a space like that, you're a guest. It doesn't feel like you're at home. And while it's really nice to be at that guest’s house, you still know that it's not your permanent space. And you know, it's fabulous to know that there are other welcoming spaces around the city and that's huge, but to have a uniquely queer space is something very special.”
Station has already performed at Indulge a handful of times, and on Friday, December 2, she’ll be part of the first cohort of queens to grace the stage at Indulge Show Bar’s grand opening. The drag-focused performance space is an extension of the existing bar and will feature a big stage, dressing rooms and tons of seating. If you remember Menz, Indulge will be familiar, but a bit different, including new renovations and ones that happened during The Den era. “It's gone from more of a bar feel to more of a club feel,” Station says. “It feels like new life has been breathed into the space.”
Station explains that opening a 2SLGBTQ+ space entails much more than just welcoming the queer community, you have to take the actions to back it up. “You have to walk the walk if you want to talk the talk.” She says that the folks at Indulge have put in the work: all of the employees have received pronoun training, they have an inclusion policy, and all of the staff and managers are queer themselves.
“The bar has been so welcoming, and they don't just invite us to perform, they invite us to the table as well. So they've really been great with getting our input on what we want the shows to look like, what we expect of the space, which we have been so appreciative about because they're not just opening a space to make, you know, money off of drag performers. They're inviting us to be a part of this special space that they're creating,” Station says.
Kardia Diamanti, AKA Oliver, will also be performing at the Show Bar grand opening on Friday. Like Station, they were a Menz regular before the pandemic. “It's a huge relief,” they say of Indulge opening. “It's definitely encouraged me to want to start performing more again, which I'm really happy and excited about—this was what we needed after a few years of being really scared and confused and not knowing what was coming next.”
While Diamanti appreciates all the bars and restaurants in Halifax who host drag shows, performing in non-queer spaces always left them on-edge. “I don't like performing in those spaces. I don't do it as often. And it takes a lot more out of me just because I know that there are people who come to those places regularly, outside of the community, who might not know there’s a drag show going on that night and they will come in and not understand what's going on.” Diamanti cites one incident where a patron didn’t want to pay cover and was “being an asshat” and “got political.”
But what they missed most was Menz’s come-as-you are attitude. “They were just kind of like, 'Hey, get up there and do whatever you want’ and you're going to feel supported and part of something regardless of what you do.” Diamanti looks forward to being more experimental with their performances among a crowd more familiar with drag.
“In terms of my drag it changes and I kind of adapt it based on where I am so I feel like in shows in straight bars or whatever I'm not as crazy out there as maybe I would want to be,” they say. A queer bar “helps at least my performances personally, because I get to kind of do the drag that I want to do without having to worry about questions and things like that.”
Both Diamanti and Station are pumped for the Show Bar’s opening, as it will open up a world of opportunity for both new and seasoned drag performers. “It feels like we're creating a new page of history and well you know, I loved Menz so much,” Station says, “but it's really exciting to be part of a new chapter in the queer scene here.”