Welcome to Breakfast Week, East Bay Nosh’s celebration of the most important meal of the day. Come back all week for stories on the region’s greatest morning treats and where to find them.
- How does 1 East Bay block sustain so many coffee shops?
- Searching for nostalgic, diner-style breakfast comforts in the East Bay
- A (takeout) window into Bartavelle’s breakfast success
- Former Zuni chef turns Oakland cafe into breakfast destination
- Where to find the East Bay’s crispiest and sweetest chicken and waffles
“Brunch,” that popular hybrid of breakfast and lunch, often brings to mind mimosas, lemon ricotta pancakes or some shrimp and grits. But on a recent weekend, I struggled to find a brunch I wanted to go to … until I wandered into a couple Oakland drag brunches and was revived.
I’m not sure what put me into such a brunch funk. But as I doom scrolled through the vast selections of brunch options throughout the East Bay, nothing from trap brunches to chilaquiles to fresh seafood spreads felt right. Don’t get me wrong: I love twerking with a crab cake Benedict, or engaging in a Saturday morning Frankie Beverly singalong, but it would take more than that to get me out of this breakfast-time rut.
Filled with indecision, I meandered into downtown Oakland’s Split, attracted by a flash of sequins. The sparkler was Olivia Knowles, lip syncing to Jennifer Lopez inside the airy restaurant. My tired heart stirred. Had I stumbled upon what I was searching for? The camp, the huge wigs, and the Snuffleupagus-length eyelashes hit the spot. What I was missing, I realized, was drag brunch.
2301 Broadway (at 23rd Street), Oakland
The Port Bar
2023 Broadway (near 21st Street), Oakland
Though it might seem like a new phenomenon, drag brunches have been around for longer than many of us have been alive. While the first “brunch” was said to have premiered at a New Orleans restaurant in 1884, when chef Hypolite Begue enticed diners with a “second breakfast,” drag brunch is said to have started about 70 years after that, in the 1950s, with dining events known as “drag and dine.”
Fast forward 70 or so more years to Split, where East Bay diners checked out a display of glee, glitter, pop music and performance over challah French toast and chorizo hash.
Hosted by Afrika America, an ambassador for Drag The Vote, the brunch at Split began its run on Saturdays in July during the hours of 1-3 p.m. The weekend brunch menu remained unchanged during the show times.
“When we do drag shows around this time frame, we call it a drag brunch. And brunch normally has both breakfast and lunch items available, which Split has,” America explained. Drag show at 1 p.m. with a drink in hand equals a drag brunch. I don’t make the rules, but I will abide by them.
Some Split patrons who were taken by surprise by the entertainment were still “very cool.” American said. “But you could tell that some had no idea there was a show nor did they want to participate. They quietly ate their food and left,” America said.
But for drag brunch, is food even a factor? A lesson I learned while attending drag brunch at The Port Bar, an event hosted by Amoura Tees, is that “drag brunch” isn’t always about dining, as much as it is about yelling “yaas” while day drinking on a Sunday…then going home to nap on the couch as a way to stave off the dread of the Monday morning commute.
Port Bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but a taco truck outside opens up just as the show time began.And after a tequila forward mango margarita, a danish from Tierra Mia Coffee on the corner and plate of veggie quesadillas, I did end up twerking on a Sunday, sans eggs Benedict, to the new Bey album.
There’s a certain amount of joy that comes along with having your meal lip synced, serenaded and capped off with a death drop. What I realized after my drag brunch weekend is that what I was searching for wasn’t brunch itself. What I needed was a little piece of drama and theater that ended with a round of applause and a rain of dollar bills, not tears.
Follow Split on Instagram for any upcoming drag brunch dates. The Port Bar has nighttime drag shows several times a week, and its next drag brunch is Sunday, Sept. 18 at 11:30 and 2 p.m.
Featured image: Drag brunch at Split Oakland. Courtesy: Split