Western-Themed Drag Queens

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Key Points:

  • The Range is a permanent home to the House of Merlot, a drag show in Ithaca New York
  • After the 2016 presidential election, members of The House of Merlot found it difficult to find bars that would hold drag shows in Ithaca.
  • There are no official gay bars in Ithaca, NY. Nor are there any exclusive spaces for drag shows in Ithaca.

“The Range has come to mean a range of activities and people” -Cass Medcalf

The Range in downtown Ithaca does not seem like an ordinary place to hold a drag show. With deer heads mounted on the walls, wagon-wheel chandeliers and cowboy portraits decorating the bar, at first glance, it might not seem “drag-friendly.” However, on a recent Thursday night, the Range welcomed The House of Merlot and debuted its first drag show.

The Range hosts drag shows that brings in a lot of people to the bar.

The House of Merlot, Ithaca’s drag art house, was founded by former Ithaca College students who saw a need to create a safe space for the queer community in Ithaca. Kat Von Riesling, one of the founders of The House of Merlot, says that Ithaca is very welcoming. However, with the recent presidential election, people started to become more cautious when hosting LGBTQ+ events in public spaces.

“Queer people do not have a designated safe space in Ithaca,” Riesling says. “We have safe spaces, but we do not have a place to call our own.”

One of the few places in the Ithaca community that has been queer-friendly before the 2016 election was Waffle Frolic.

Drag Queens dressed up for Halloween and celebrated the holiday with a drag show at The Range.

After reaching out to elder gays and bars in the Ithaca community, the response was the same. “People would tell us the same rhetoric that there wasn’t a need for a gay bar since Ithaca has the reputation of a friendly, liberal town,” says Riesling.

The House of Merlot has been searching for a permanent spot to perform.

“We tried Moonies and Lot 10, but they didn’t have a permanent time slot to give us each week. We needed more than what they gave us,” says House of Merlot stage manager, Kat Hass.

After contacting nearly every bar in Ithaca, The Range chose to host The House of Merlot for drag performance on Thursdays.

Cass Medcalf, booking manager at The Range, is an Ithaca College alumna who is an ally in the LGBTQ+ community. After being contacted by The House of Merlot, she immediately wanted to help.

This hat was found backstage at The Range. This was one of the props for the Halloween-themed drag queen show.

“They sent me an email saying that LGBT bars are shutting down all over town and they needed a place to perform that they know is safe, and asked for my help,” says Medcalf. “I responded right away saying yes and asking what they needed us to do. And, done! We started a drag night.”

In the fall of 2016, The House of Merlot was offered a space at Ithaca’s then newest bar and lounge, The Range. While its taxidermy and Western charm may not be what the average person expects at a local gay bar, they certainly left their mark on the venue.

“At some point, I am going to phantom glue some eyelashes onto one of the deer heads,” says Riesling. “And we will have one big gay animal head out here.”

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About Author

My name is Christy Calcagno and I am a senior journalism major at Ithaca College. I have a double minor in Legal Studies and Integrated Marketing Communications. During my time at Ithaca College, I work as a producer, anchor and reporter for multiple Ithaca College Television shows. Outside of the media industry, I am actively involved on campus as a Dean’s Host and a student manager at Campus Center and Events Services. This past summer I worked as an editorial intern for Circa News in N.Y.C. and at the Staten Island Advance as a multimedia journalist. In the future, I hope to be a reporter at a television news network.

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