From Wednesday to Sunday, full glam entertainment is bringing Tucsonans out of their pandemic fatigue and into a world of sass, class, and smart ass.
We’re talking about IBT’s drag shows.
IBT’s gay bar on Fourth Avenue opened in 1985 and touts itself as being the No. 1 gay bar in Tucson.
“Since the inception of IBT’s there have been drag shows,” said Allonna Dee, a drag queen hostess at IBT’s. Dee is a Tucson local and remembers when the bar used to be called It’s About Time.
“There have always been drag queens,” Dee said. “Instead of a dressing room there used to be a trailer outback where everyone got dressed.”
Dee is in her sixth year of doing drag and began hosting her drag show Nail Polish at Sky Bar, down the street from IBT’s. This show was for all ages and provided a space for youth to become involved in drag.
“I made it that way so it could provide some sort of real-life experience for queer youth and queer performers who may not be 21,” Dee said.
Dee recently moved her show to IBT’s. Nail Polish is hosted by Dee every first and third Thursday of the month at 9 p.m. Dee said Nail Polish tends to draw a college crowd with live DJing and new drag challenges. Dee hosted a kamikaze knockout show in the past based around the Lipsync For Your Life competition. (Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will know the reference.) Unlike Drag Race, this lipsync competition leads to cash tips for queens.
During the pandemic, drag queens transitioned to perform on live streams or perform live with face shields. “We had to Lysol our dollar bills at the end of every show,” Dee recalls.
Audience members quickly started to fill IBT’s again after seeing the effort put forward by queens to entertain safely. Dee said drag brought customers out to the bar again and made them feel more comfortable.
However, Tucson drag wasn’t made popular by post lockdown fatigue. Tucson has produced some of the most unique drag queens in Arizona.
“I feel like Tucson is highly slept on in terms of our drag,” Dee said, “Our Queens in Arizona are actually really sick and interesting. They do a lot of amazing things and people don’t realize just how polished we are.”
Dee has traveled to other places across the country where drag seems to focus more on quirky personas, like Trixie Mattel. Dee said Tucson queens are entertaining and incorporate sophisticated dancing styles.
One of these unique queens includes IBT’s season six drag race winner Beth Salts.
Beth Salts was born and raised in Marana. Although early in her drag career, Salts blew away the drag race judges with her commitment to character.
“You manufacture your own confidence, which means if I want this to be a confident person when I’ve put on my outfit and when I put on the best makeup…. She is confident, she is secure in herself, she knows who she is,” Salts said.
Salts is always doing the unexpected. Her range includes portraying a crazy murderous ex-girlfriend, classic Liza Minnelli, and Florence and the Machine impersonations.
“When I wake up, I never know what’s next,” Salts said.
Salts is currently hosting IBT’s season seven drag race on Sundays. The season finally began last Sunday after several pandemic postponements.
“I have to say in Arizona, we bring something different and there is a lot of talent here,” Salts said.
The talent is comprised of a community of endearing queens. Salts said IBT’s three main show directors (Diva, Janee and China) are motherly and the dressing room “is always good vibes—always laughing and supporting each other.”
Dee and Salts are both in the winner’s circle of IBT’s drag race. Dee said winning the drag race was how she began her career. For Dee, drag is a celebration of confidence that extends into her personal life.
“With hosting drag shows, it’s helped with public speaking,” Dee said, “It’s helped me to gain skills that help in my personal life, but it’s also given me some people that are now my chosen family who I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world.” ν
Catch Allonna Dee hosting the Nail Polish drag show at 9 p.m. every first and third Thursday of the month. Keep up with season seven of IBT’s drag race, hosted by Beth Salts on Sundays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. IBT’s is open 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day, 616 N 4th Ave.