Dream Girls

When reality is too much and illusion is not enough, we find ourselves at Lips

Most girls dream of being beauty queens, but me? I've always wanted to be a drag queen. Probably because my attempts at glamour always feel like something of a joke, and there's nothing I love more than a good laugh. Plus, I've always shared the queens' more-is-more aesthetic.

I'm crazy for queens. Until recently, however, a person had to drag herself to the gay bars if she wanted to be in the presence of such royalty. The opening of Lips, a drag cabaret that caters to a primarily straight crowd, changed that. First in New York, then San Diego, and now in Oakland Park, Lips offers more to chew on than questions about where I fall on the gender spectrum. They've got a full menu ranging from oysters Rockefeller to rack of lamb, served by men in dresses who entertain both tableside and center stage.

It seemed fitting that I'd take my best friend Keely to celebrate the grand opening. After all, the place was targeting breeders, and she's a new mom who deserved a night out. At first, my friend was reluctant. Her three years in New York, though ages ago, had left her jaded. A concept like this was a novelty there over a decade ago when Lucky Cheng's introduced it. But I insisted she book a babysitter and dig out her party dress. By the time we were en route, we were like teenagers anticipating a first kiss: expectant, uncertain, and, soon, transported.

To enter Lips is to enter a candy-inspired, estrogen-induced dream. Everything glitters in confectionery color. Giant crystal shoes serve as chandeliers. Sheer curtains swag the room. And mirrors, mirrors, mirrors. Naturally, if one mirrored ball is good, darling, then a dozen is twelve times better. Of course, it all just sets the stage for a cast of queens of every dimension — even a few transsexual divas — who not only entertain but also serve (while servers perform, cute boys in black shirts take care of things).

We were ushered to the pink VIP "cabana," a semi-circular, semi-private table. With a pink crystal chandelier overhead and pink velvet and mirrors on its walls, we felt like precious stones nestled in a little girl's jewelry box. We looked, more probably, like semi-precious onyx, since we'd both taken the all-black approach to elegance; she in chiffon and beads, and I in velvet and lace.

Our server introduced herself as Martina. Her long auburn hair cascaded over the shoulder of her simple red, sleeveless dress. She was twice the woman either of us could hope to be, both in stature and meta-feminine abilities. With her peepers aided by the super powers within silver glitter and blue eye shadow, she sized us up quickly. "Celebrating a special occasion?" she asked.

Lips caters to celebrations. The New York and San Diego locations have been the scene of many birthdays and bachelorette parties.

"Just all of this," I replied, with a grand sweep of my hand, giddy with delight.

In truth, if anything, this was a bittersweet occasion for me and my friend. Keely had just returned from almost a month in California, and this was a brief reunion before we'd again be parted indefinitely. Hoping to drown the bitter and buoy the sweet, we ordered frozen cosmopolitans, the house specialty that delivers a pink, powerful punch.

Soon, Keely and I were snuggled together on the same side of the booth drinking it all in. We'd dallied so long (almost an hour) before ordering that eventually our server slid into our booth's empty space; we quickly settled on the scallops served with sweet potato risotto and wilted arugula.

"We really are being served by queens," Keely said, like it was all just sinking in. "It's cool that we get to see them so close."

I guess for all her big city experiences, she hadn't gotten this up-close and personal. To show off a little, I flagged down a beautiful blond whom I recognized as a local legend, the former Miss Illusion pageant winner, Diva. She's the Lips show hostess on Saturdays, when her wicked sense of humor gets its proper showcase, but on a Friday like tonight, she was "just a floor whore."

"Last week at the VIP grand opening, the mayor was on stage drinking frozen cosmos and dancing," she told us. "I think this says something amazing for Oakland Park. It's finally something that will put Oakland Park on the map," she said, noting that the Lips T-shirts weren't emblazoned with "Fort Lauderdale" beneath the logo but rather the name of the lesser known municipality.

After a leisurely hour of drinking, cuddling, chatting, and giggling, Keely and I were interrupted by a voice announcing Cashetta, our hostess for the evening. A Bette Midler on steroids took the stage in a floor-length sequined cape that, in the stage lights, nearly blinded us. Going table to table, she introduced audience members to each other as a spotlight followed. In the booth beneath the Warhol-esque triptych of Lips' founder and queen mother Yvonne Lame (present in the flesh as her "boy self," Mark Zschiesche), a family was celebrating its matriarch's 81st birthday. Beneath a similar composition of another queen, Lady Bunny, a trio of couples was celebrating a 21st. Even more birthdays abounded, including one woman of a certain age who would neither admit her age nor grasp that she could choose any number she liked.

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