D’Arcy Drollinger’s livelihood is about bringing people together. When the coronavirus pandemic forced the actor, writer, and director to shut down Oasis – his San Francisco cabaret and nightclub that has been home to more than 100 drag queens and kings since it opened in 2015 – he had to get creative.
Drollinger has launched a YouTube channel and produced a weekly drag parody show that turns his club into a soundstage. And he’s been crowdfunding to support some of his part-time workers.
But perhaps its greatest success story from a strenuous stretch is “Meals on Heels”, where customers are offered dinner and drinks for delivery or pickup with a lip-synchronous performance of a drag queen or a king.
“Some days I feel like the biggest idiot and other days I feel like the last person standing and holding this space open for the community when it’s the last thing I do,” Drollinger said in one Telephone interview. “It was intense, but every day feels exciting and rewarding when you feel like you are influencing other people’s lives.”
Meals on Heels was supposed to be a one-time deal, a fun way to give some of the club’s regular artists who have been out of work since March a chance to make money. When the drag-on-demand service became popular, so many people called to request a performance that Meals on Heel became a weekly offer.
Drollinger contacted his good friend and fellow actress and director Cindy Goldfield. Goldfield felt useless after the shows she had planned for the summer were canceled. After buying far too much groceries on a frenzied trip to Costco, Goldfield started a grocery prep and cooked meal service in April with her partner, Chef Willi Nordby, Martha Avenue Home.
“I’m a person who needs a sense of use and this has given me a real sense of connectedness with our community and a sense of purpose,” said Goldfield, who also works as an event planner.
The special menu “Meals on Heels”, which Nordby and Goldfield created for Drollinger on Fridays, offers everything from Mediterranean barbecues and Provencal cuisine to Mediterranean and Pan-Asian products.
“It’s about eating … something that feels comfortable and grounded,” Nordby said during this chaotic time, referring to the wildfires that struck northern California this month. “I think fresh pasta and ragu give people a little hope gives me hope to make it anyway.”
While meals are almost always secondary for customers paying around $ 100 for the experience, Drollinger says the quality of the food contributed to the service’s regular customers. Every Friday since Meals on Heels started in June, around four or five artists have made more than a dozen stops in town to deliver meals and give three- or four-minute performances.
Actor and dance instructor Paul Renolis, whose drag name is Juhnay Arabesque, met Drollinger shortly after the Oasis opened and has played drag there ever since. Renolis auditioned for various roles through Zoom and recently booked a commercial, but said drag was its biggest source of income prior to the pandemic. He has delivered twice for “Meals on Heels”.
“It felt exhilarating,” said Renolis of his first socially aloof performance. “You could tell from the faces of the guests like, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t seen a drag queen in a long time. ‘It was great to share that energy with each of them. We have a lot of regulars at Oasis so I saw some familiar faces which was great. “
Renolis, who lip-synced Janet Jackson’s “Made for Now” and Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” said the performance was “an interesting design challenge” on some of San Francisco’s particularly hilly sidewalks.
The delivery service tends to draw a crowd, Drollinger said.
“Often the neighbors stick their heads out the window to watch,” he said. “Once a driver stopped in the street, got out, tipped the queen, and then got back in the car.”
Oasis opened its roof of limited capacity for socially distant food and drink this month. Drollinger said it will likely take a while for the club’s entertainment schedule to return to its pre-pandemic shape. In the meantime, he plans to continue Meals on Heels for the foreseeable future and is even considering increasing service to two days a week.
“It’s not a gigantic moneymaker,” said Drollinger. “If I can only pay the rent and my employees now, I’ll be happy to weather the storm. … The joy for people to see live performances, even far away and on the street, really moved them. “
Drag performer Renolis added, “People know that artists are resilient. Oasis really blew it out of the park and I’m really glad they are trying to support the artists. “