There’s a bar in New York City nestled in among graffiti buildings hollowed out and trimmed with scaffolding.
It’s nothing special.
But if you showed up here on a Sunday night, back in the 1990s, you’d find the bar transformed.
To be honest with you.
It was a small dump of a bar, get it was like the East Village, you know, is nothing fancy.
If it was very packed.
It was Punk.
Rock, it was the kind of spot where guy smoked cigarettes and laughed over dirty Stein’s of beer or combat boots.
Stuck to the floor with every step and high haired menstruated around with their big bulging egos.
There was the spotlight on the stage and you could see the DJ to the right dancing away their headphones on and they’re tuning up the next record or CD.
Everything was Electric.
NG was knew everything was so bright.
The party was called Club Casanova.
Their tagline where everyone is treated like a king, their theme nights ruled like their famed Elvis night.
Like he had the leather daddy Elvis, you know, 50s 60s, and 70s all eras of Elvis from Bugle Boy to Vegas.
The bars stage and then we all came out and did the final number.
That was with me, we were all designed be Elvis, get it because he’s dead.
Hey, the tagline wasn’t where tact is King at every performance that little bar in the East Village, went nuts, but not literally, these kings were drag Kings after all and they brought the gender fucked Joy by carving out a much-needed party space.
That is until it all went away.
From gimlet media.
This is not passed it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
I’m Simone pollen in just days before New Year’s 1998 Club, Casanova, where the drag King Elvis’s all honed through the night was forced to shut down.
They stood no chance against a certain New York City politician, who seemed hell-bent on cleaning up the city, including the parts of it, that gave it life, will drag it all up.
After the break.
New York City in the 90s.
The big rotten apple were freak flags.
The street smelled like piss and the city was bursting with energy.
You could go out maybe an art opening somebody doing a show at this club, somebody else doing a show at that club or a dance party or whatever.
There was always something to do.
That’s Mo Fisher today.
She Sports a short pixie cut died, a purplish.
Shunta back then she had the typical Meg, Ryan do blond short cute and there was no air.
She’d rather be than among the performance artists of New York City.
Just so many connections and crossover between artists, performers, dancers singers.
Just everything was just so vibrant and Rich and Alive Mal moved to the Big Apple in 1993 to study at the new school.
She got a waitressing job and an apartment.
Apartment in Chelsea.
At the time.
She was meeting queer performers and artists that were bending the boundaries of gender and sex like she hadn’t seen before her mind was expanding what she thought was dangerous.
And strange became interesting and liberating somos, decided to try something out.
I got my haircut save, the hair clippings.
I went to a thrift store, found a bowling shirt that said dick on it and natural extension Moby.
Dick Moby Dick spell demo.
D, IC k, no copyright infringement.
Well, call me Ahab.
I don’t know.
I never read the book.
I got the pun though, Moby Dick clever.
Mo glued the hair clippings and manly places, face chest, you name it then through on the bowling shirt, Don, some baggy jeans stuffed her panties with a sock and when the dick was quaffed, Mohit the Mean Streets of New York.
I walk down the street on Avenue B, and there were a group of guys on the corner.
And I don’t know, shit.
And they said, hey and I went, hey, and I passed basically.
How do you walk that?
Same Corner as a woman?
I would have been catcalled.
I would have been harassed some way.
My body would have been acknowledged and I couldn’t be, in my own space.
Oh my God.
This is a feeling of safety and comfort in my own skin in my own body in New York City that I have captured by cross-dressing.
I couldn’t believe it.
Cue the Holy Light sound effects.
Moe had an epiphany as Moby Dick, she could take up space in a way.
She never felt she could and the feeling was intoxicating it was the first step in a journey to becoming a bona fide drag King.
She’d been putting together the look of this male Alter Ego.
The bowling shirt, the hair even a gold tooth next.
She needed to feel Mo out in a new venue.
One with an audience.
That was slightly more Discerning than the average dude on the street.
I went to Meow Mix the East Village punk, rock lesbian bar.
I almost couldn’t get into the bar because they said, oh, you have to be accompanied by a woman.
I was like, yeah, I had a blast but that was just the tip from their her drag turned into an obsession.
So she started seeking out shows where women performers dressed up as men lip-synced to their favorite dude, songs.
And Get out, campy skits on stage.
And if you think it’s kind of weird that New York in the mid-90s of all places might not have had enough drag spaces for up-and-coming drag Kings.
Well, that’s what was happening in the Big Apple at the time.
The city had just witnessed the AIDS crisis and the early 90s recession.
It had decimated, artsy joints because of rising costs and fewer customers.
So there was no permanent home for drag Kings.
There were these one-off gigs?
But Mel wanted a dedicated space for the whole Community.
Oh, we had to bring everybody together.
And when I started, I said, I want to put drag Kings on the map.
That was my goal.
That was my intention in doing so to try and make it a safer place for female masculinity mon, you there was only one option, create the space herself.
So she got right to it.
She found a venue hired, a DJ printed flyers and called up her friends to make sure they would promote the shit out of the show.
She called it Club Casanova after the Italian womanizer and the pop-up party would take place every Sunday Funday and so on March, 31st, 1996 Club Casanova where everyone is treated like a king officially kicked off.
The first party was held at a venue in the East Village called The Pyramid Club, but it was a little too cavernous, not the intimate.
Kind of Space Mo was looking for.
Plus she was working on a tight budget and he did something cheaper, a few weeks later.
She tried a new spot, a divey gay bar in the East Village named cake and when we went to cake, it just solidified.
It’s like we’re home.
It just felt right.
It just worked and it was magic.
Week by week, the whole club, Casanova scene came together, Moe started playing underground, cult films on Loop, to set, the vibe The Cabaret event attracted, all different, kinds of people to that little dump of a bar, queer, folks, straight, folks, people from across the gender Spectrum, no matter how you presented the drag kings were waiting for you.
So you were completely immersed and drag Kings.
So you would have a drag King who is receiving the money?
When you would walk in there were dragging go-go dancers dancing on the bar, stage, drag Kings Milling about.
And I was a drag King post.
Then there was a drag King show drag Kings would get on stage with their favorite dildo sticking out of their pants and perform for the audience.
Jimmie Johnson, I came here.
The special Messenger to tell you my people of New York City.
Drag me home.
Everyone really got into the spirit.
People would come in and all different, Garb, and gear, and outfits, and fun couples would come and say, Hey, you know, so my partner is trying drag out now, so there was role playing Saying that happened and that kind of fun, gender, exploration and the breaking down of the gender binary at Club Casanova freely, exploring female, masculinity felt safe and it felt special.
So the drag King dream was really coming together.
Well, except for one thing Moby Dick had his look down.
But his Persona that was still a bit of a white whale over the last few months as she was putting the club together.
Mel was still trying out different personas for her.
Was Mo a drunken sailor.
Hey, not too much.
Well, we’re up.
Think about the stains lounge, lizard.
How’s it going?
No, just no, none of these were the real Moby.
Dick if I want to create a monologue and okay, what gets on my nerves?
So I thought, okay.
I’m going to be the schmuck of a guy.
And so I started talking pretty derogatory.
It’s an alias.
And, you know, and going down to the Baby Doll Lounge, which was the strip joint it down near Wall Street.
That’s when I really honed in on my character, adopting a New York accent.
Hey, how you doing?
Let me, let me tell you, the girls, all that.
I love them home, LOL.
Yeah, what kinds of things do you like to talk about?
Well, like, to talk about the girl.
And you know things that get on my fucking nerves like, you know, the gulani, they make googly oniy, you know, I don’t understand that world so I can make sure Rodney Dangerfield and Paulie.
Walnuts with the character nailed down Moe, started refining the act.
So as I was doing this monologue, I transformed into a human fly and I lip synced to the song by The Cramps call.
A human fly and the subjects of that was that men like this are pests.
So are we going to ride like a toxic masculinity?
I don’t know.
But what I can do, is, instead of being an angry Woman, become a funny man.
And so I can expose toxic masculinity in this comedic way.
When the dicks aligned for Mo Club?
Casanova hit full stride in the New York art scene.
Theme nights were incredibly popular, but there were also Original performances from drag Kings like Buster hymen and Lobby.
Oh, Fabio’s younger brother one night.
They even celebrated most birthday and the King least way possible, the dry Kings brought in a toilet.
And so I sat on the throne and everybody performed.
It just clicked.
Moby, Dick and Club, Casanova went from a cute little DIY idea.
And to one of the hottest parties in town, the kings were so good.
Some patrons left, feeling a little unsatisfied.
Oh, my gay friends.
Will get very sexually frustrated.
Oh God, I just hit on that guy, cut.
It was a drag King.
Think it was so cute.
And, you know, so it happened every week all the time John Waters, in fact, you know, Film director Simo.
You’re a sexual terrorist.
Wow, when perhaps the biggest name and transgressive, queer Cinema starts showing up at your party.
You know, you’re doing something right?
Not only that.
But most says the pop-up party was featured in Penthouse and a Japanese documentary and on MTV Club.
Casanova was just too cool.
And you know, what happens when things become too cool, haters, start coming out of the woodwork and that’s what happened about a year into the parties rain.
When some unwanted visitors started showing up so far.
Marshalls would come in in full.
I mean, head to toe.
There’s no fire at this nothing happening, but these Fire Marshal’s weren’t looking for fire.
They’d come down to enforce.
That was totally obscure and honestly ridiculous.
They were looking to see if people were dancing and dancing is described.
If you were standing your feet solid on the ground and you’re just moving a little bit, maybe shaking your butt a little bit.
You can see there snorting coke smoking, a fatty drink in your face up doing whatever.
They didn’t care.
If you were dancing, you would get a violation.
It was absolutely ludicrous.
A violation could cost up to Thousand dollars a night and it wasn’t just Club Casanova that Drew the Fire Marshals out of hiding.
Lots of other establishments were being targeted to so who or what had suddenly turned, New York City and to the town from Footloose Rudy Giuliani.
Just didn’t like nightlife and he kept posting this quality of life like whose quality of life.
Are you talking about pal?
The fight for the drag Kingdom.
After the break?
Kings before the break.
We were introduced to Moby Dick.
The Brash talking pest born on the Mean Streets of New York.
In the mid-1990s.
Mo brought us into the art scene with Club Casanova billed as the world’s first drag King party, but almost as soon as it got off the ground, the weekly gender fucked party came under threat.
What can we do about the rampant crime?
That is threatening to Destroy our city.
That’s Rudy Giuliani.
Remember back before, he was the face of the Four Seasons total Landscaping.
He was mayor of New York City.
New York is really the center of our civilization.
And this is the center of the universe during the mid-1990s Giuliani, was mostly focused on being tough on crime.
These was a mayor who felt that his duty was to clean up the city.
D without realizing that what he considers, maybe dirt.
That’s the city.
This is Olympia Kazi.
She’s a longtime New Yorker and a founding member of the New York City.
She says, that part of giuliani’s safety, campaign was focused on shutting down popular nightlife venues.
Luckily for Giuliani al already existed that would help him.
On this campaign, that Footloose law.
It’s actually called The Cabaret law passed in 1926 supposedly as a way to stop illegal speakeasies during prohibition this law banned dancing in places that sold food or drinks.
Unless the establishment had a cabaret license or the performer had a cabaret card.
It’s a cabaret license.
It was something that musicians were required to have.
And when we’re seeing with, Jesus were talking about the myths of the Jazz, like the super famous people, the Charlie Parker’s it was clearly racist.
Many Saw The Cabaret law as a way to clamp down on the growing black night life.
This was during the Harlem Renaissance when black art and culture was flourishing and New York’s Harlem neighborhood night clubs and venues thrived attracting people from all around the world, but for now, Works, local government.
This type of black success and racial mixing was not a point of Pride.
It was seen as dangerous.
Remember, this was the 1920s in the late 60s, the city stopped, requiring performers to have cards, but the law that targeted businesses was still on the books.
So when Giuliani was looking to clamp down on the city’s nightlife at the end of his first term, he already had a weapon to be fair.
There had been several deaths in clubs from overdoses and violent fights, including the murder of a prominent Club performer, but when Giuliani started using the Cabaret law again, he went after bars like the ones that hosted Club Casanova.
Suddenly City officials started asking certain businesses to show their Cabaret licenses.
And these licenses were expensive and extremely difficult to obtain.
They required multiple fees and approval from multiple agencies.
So lots of clubs either couldn’t get one or didn’t bother trying.
That meant many clubs were eventually made to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fines.
Every year scenes that had already been impacted by the AIDS crisis and recession.
We’re now struggling even more.
And then in the middle of a contentious, Re-election in 1997.
Giuliani really ramped up his quality of life campaign.
Mayor Giuliani decimated, New York City’s nightlife.
He had a specific team of nightlife Watcher, police people who were like specialized on going after that Olympia and her crew jokingly call them the dance police.
Basically people in swat years showing up when everybody’s having fun.
People having fun like Moe.
And the Kings most says, these raids actually happened at cake on Club Casanova nights, at least three times.
So scared patrons stopped coming on top of that.
The owners of venues like the ones that hosted the pop-up parties were also hurt by the raids.
I can’t remember if it was three or four infringement.
So they take away your liquor license.
So anybody with to French mints, they’re like shutting it down.
It’s a lounge bottle service.
In other words.
All these artsy parties faces were slowly being find out of existence, which is exactly what happened to the bar that hosted Club.
Casanova on December 28th. 1997, Mo ended the weekly Club Casanova party for good though.
They did have a nice final night.
And I just remember walking in feeling that wave of love where people?
Congratulated thanked me and warmly received me.
They would say Hey, you know, thanks a lot for doing this.
This made a difference in my life.
And yeah, I remember it like it happened right now.
Between 1996 and 1998 alone.
It’s estimated that between 50 and 60.
Nightclubs were shut down as a result of giuliani’s quality of life campaign.
Since then, the club scene has shriveled and it’s Place lounges and upscale store fronts have taken over much of New York City as form.
Oh, she took the drag show on the road, spreading drag King.
Love around the u.s.
And Canada, but they never had a permanent home in New York.
Again, there has been some change in New York in the last few years in 2017 Olympia and her team from the New York City artists Coalition set their sights on the obviously outdated law.
To be honest.
We were shocked.
It was stealing the books because our position was, you know, dancing is speech.
And so I don’t need any fucking permission to shake my booty.
They won and 2017 The Cabaret law.
Was repealed still the fight for space continues, whether they’re targeted by ancient ordinances, like the Cabaret law or forced out through increases in rent.
Queer spaces are constantly fighting to stay afloat.
That’s especially true for queer, communities of color.
And when we lose these venues, we lose important voices, for Progress.
It’s always the underground, the marginalized communities, where the change begins.
It’s so doing drag whether it’s queen or King that fuck shit up.
And that is what is so gorgeous about drag.
I’ve Loved, I’ve loved hearing this story and hear you sort of describe, you know, the importance of this kind of performance because though I would not classify myself as a drag King.
I did a lot of theater in high school and played a lot of male roles.
Cause I think at the time I probably called it cross-dressing, but it felt deeper than just presentation.
And one of the roles I played was we did Kiss Me Kate which is you know this musical that’s basically The Taming of the Shrew and I played Petruchio, who sounds a lot like Moby Dick in terms of being very misogynistic, you know, puffing out the chest speaking derogatorily about women.
I think this idea of being obnoxious, the having the permission to be obnoxious.
I think that for me was probably like the most intoxicating part of it.
Because in my life, I was, you know, totally aware of my femininity and preserving that and being good and being liked and, you know, being the good girl, all of that.
Yeah, and then totally getting on stage and being like, fuck all of that.
I’m this like obnoxious dude who Red’s his legs and sings loud, and says, whatever he wants and like insults people to their face, and all his friends are laughing at his jokes and I like, I’m like, looking for that again.
Like, I’m like looking for an opportunity to feel like that again because that I have not felt that way since my own I’m here in a drag King character coming out of yeah, baby Simon.
His name is Simon right, Simon.
Wow, I love that.
I’ve got getting these ideas now, maybe like go sketch out some sketch out.
Some character ideas.
Simon Says is still a work in progress.
Maybe he’ll hit stages one day.
We’ll see, but it’s a shame.
He won’t get his shot at Club, Casanova or Meow Mix or any of the queer parties and spaces that have been forced to close their doors.
Because it’s not just the loss of a place to party.
It’s losing Community Connection.
A place to gather with others where you can seek some relief from a world that otherwise invalidates and diminishes.
You, it’s cutting people off from their ability to thrive in the grand scheme of things.
Casanova was really only around for a moment, but even still the impact of that one party is still felt with that space.
And her Kings, not only communicated that, you know, Le Freak C’est Chic, but that Le Freak is often Le real.
Like, the real authentic.
You just with enough room to breathe and when you give those freaky parts of yourself, some space, you could be amazed by what you’d find.
Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Julie Carly.
The rest of our team is producer, Sarah, Craig and Amy Padula.
Our associate producer is remotely Philip.
Lauren Newcombe is our production assistant.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by moral Waltz, Andrea be Scott and Zach Stewart Ponte a fact-checking.
Jane, Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.
She original music by Sachs kicks, Ave.
Willie, Green, Jay bless and Bobby.
Our theme song is Toko Liana by Coco, Co with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman, the executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte.
The executive producer from gimlet is Abbie.
If you want to learn more about Mo, you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Facebook at mr.
Moby Dick and check out her website, drag King, history.com to learn all about the history of female.
Thanks to Lydia Pole, Green, Dan Behar and Clara Sankey Emily wiedemann list Styles and Nabil.
Follow, not past it now, to listen, for free exclusively on Spotify.
Click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes.
You can follow me on Twitter at Simone.
Melanin, thanks for hanging.
We’ll see you next week.
One of the people who went through one of these dates said, when they testified about it, they were like, I thought they found Bin Laden where I was.
That’s how intense this experience is.