The blond-haired woman that screamed it, draped in an Oscar-worthy gown, lept from the glitter-strewn runway — landing effortlessly in a right split.
She strutted in a zig-zag formation past a 6-year-old with raised eyebrows — dollar bills tucked under a woman’s bra straps probably wasn’t a normal sight. She finally finished the loop and landed at junior Josie Lenger’s birthday party booth.
Laughing hysterically, Lenger placed a 10 down the performer’s bra and got a hot pink lipstick mark on her forehead in return.
Drag — the art of dressing up to sing or lip-sync while dancing — has recently stained the East community with more than just a lipstick mark. Hamburger Mary’s Kansas City has not only taught students of all sexualities to be who they desire, but has also given students a fun destination for everything from birthday parties to family dinners. Along with Lenger and her birthday party group, other students and parents have been driving down Ward Parkway to see how this elaborate restaurant differs from ordinary taverns.
“The first time my friends and I went, we were juniors,” senior Molly Winne said. “We put a bunch of videos on our Snapchat story and people swiped up and asked where we were. I remember seeing more videos on people’s stories later on. I think it’s just a fun and different place to go.”
Filled with bingo balls, sequined thongs and colossal food portions, Mary’s is nothing like BRGR or Salty Iguana. Through the string-beaded doorway, the land of flamboyant drag paints the room with sights very different from what they’d see at the Village, whether the queens are shoving a pink microphone into their mouth or giving lap dances to high-class businessmen. But it’s more than a night out — it’s where some people discovered themselves.
Four years ago, then 15-year-old Eric Vega walked into Sunday brunch at Hamburger Mary’s with a Bischop high school baseball cap on his head and a mix of bafflement and curiosity. By the time he walked out, he’d booked his first drag performance for the upcoming week. Three years later, his dramatically arched eyebrows and blonde wig still turn him into EV — his on-stage persona since sophomore year of high school.
‘EV’ finally let Eric express the self love and confidence he always knew he needed, but never new how to get. With his favorite moves being the one-handed cartwheel or the high-kick, he skips out as EV with an unseen kind of self-assurance.
On an arc from stealing bases on his high school baseball team to slaying the runway in his iconic homemade cheetah jumpsuit, Vega gained more respect for himself because of the bravery it took to live his truth.
“I [used to be] just an insecure little gay boy who wasn’t even out of the closet,” Vega said. “I feel like the reason I do drag is to be who I needed when I was younger. I don’t know where I would be without drag or without [the person] I’ve created. It’s made me love and respect myself more.”
Vega’s unapologetic way of life, inspired from his drag persona, has taught him to not care about the judgements of society.
For others, like junior Elisa Byer, drag is a form of inspiration to become confident in their own sexuality.
Byer came out as bisexual to her Instagram followers a few days after watching Mary’s performers, including Vega, confidently smooch the cheeks of audience members, sporting diamond-studded bodysuits and lacy purple lingerie sets.
She saw star drag queen Genewa Stanwyck call her boy-self hot and talk confidently about all the guys he’s taken home. The confidence in sexuality shown at Mary’s made her cut the pre-post second-guessing out of the process.
“[Mary’s] did change me,” Byer said. “I didn’t expect it going in, but a couple days later I decided to post something on Instagram saying I’m bisexual. When I walked in, it was just so accepting and there were pride flags everywhere. I was like you know what would be cool? Just to [come out].”
She dreaded telling her mom, though, because of the religious family she’d been raised in.
“[My mom] is Italian and her mom and dad were both super religious,” Byer said. “[But] when I told her she was like ‘oh okay as long as you’re happy.’”
Hamburger Mary’s isn’t just for the younger generation to experience — parents have also chimed in with thoughts and praises. But there are also concerns about safety, considering it’s a bar atmosphere with a sexual tint.
“I think the performers raunchy or inappropriate humor is probably not something I want my 13-year-old hearing,” Dr. Susan Leonard said. “[But] as an older individual, I think it’s hilarious and a fun place to go with friends and coworkers.”
Drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community have grown to be engraved in this generation’s culture — they’re plastered with Sephora products walking down the streets, strutting runways of high-couture companies like Chanel and Valentino and background dancing for Taylor Swift at the Billboard Music Awards. While high schoolers are putting on their “Better Than Sex” mascara, so are the drag queens.
“I think our generation has more platforms for us to express ourselves, which is making it easier for us to put ourselves out there,” junior Halley Vogts said. “We all are becoming more and more supportive of whoever people want to be.”
According to Vega, the unrestrained qualities displayed in Mary’s performances give both the audience and the queens a public place to express their personal truth.
“When you’re in the closet, you’re not really getting to experience the full elements of life,” Vega said. “When you walk down the street as a proud gay person, you’re not having a pride parade, but to you, being public is more liberating because you know you’re being yourself.”
Vogts has gone to Mary’s three times. She thinks that if more people got to see the confidence it takes for the queens to dance in front of strangers clothed in scandalous, size XL outfits, their own confidence could be impacted and foster a more open, unrestrained mind.
“I think if everyone had the opportunity to see the performance in a self confidence sense — where you can be whoever you want and you can do whatever you want — we would all be better off,” Vogts said.
The queens of Hamburger Mary’s bring more than just butt padding and one-handed cartwheels to the community of Kansas City — they bring anything from a confidence boost to inspiration, according to Lenger and Byer. They both agree that it gives a safe and exciting environment for people of any gender, sexuality, race or age to be who they want to be.
“The message that I’m trying to convey through drag is to do what you want,” Vega said. “Kansas City or beyond, you’re never too young or old to go out and live your dream.”