The origins of drag in Montréal
Long before Montréal drag icon Mado Lamotte came on the scene in 1987, professional drag in Montréal dated back to at least the 1940s, when renowned African-American drag queens Dick Montgomery, Malva Bolda and Billie McAllister performed at famed Montréal Black jazz nightclub Rockhead’s Paradise in Little Burgundy.
French-born Jean Guida – a.k.a. famed Montréal female impersonator Guilda, who got her stage name from the 1946 Rita Hayworth movie Gilda – arrived in Montréal in 1954 and was a mainstream crossover star in Montréal’s nightlife scene for more than 50 years. Guilda was an instant smash at Chez Paree in 1955 and was billed as “Guilda & Sa Troupe – La Reine Des Emmerdeuses” on the marquee of the Casa Loma in 1959.
Montreal nightlife legend Armand Larrivée Monroe made his debut in 1958 in the Tropical Room, a lounge in the fabled Downbeat Club on Peel Street. Going by the stage name La Monroe (for Marilyn), Armand was master of ceremonies who sometimes dressed in drag, impersonating Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne or Marilyn Monroe. Gay men were first allowed to dance together in Montréal on the night of Aug. 27, 1959, to mark Armand’s 24th birthday.
Performers like Guilda, Lana St-Cyr and La Monroe paved the way for Montréal’s present-day drag scene. Here are some nightclubs where drag performers regularly headline.
Popular with the younger set, Cabaret Mado (1115 Sainte-Catherine Street East) is one of the busiest nightclubs in the Village and a great place to spot celebrities and drag queens. Named for Montréal drag icon Mado Lamotte, Mado’s statue doubles nicely as the marquee to her drag nightclub. Drag shows nightly.
Bar Le Cocktail
Legendary Montréal female impersonator Michel Dorion’s classic Bar Le Cocktail (1669 Sainte-Catherine Street East) in the Village is a fun nightclub to watch nightly drag shows by many of the best drag performers in the city, including Dorion. In summertime, it also has a busy and comfortable street-front patio.
The biggest gay club in Canada, Sky (1478 Sainte-Catherine Street East) in the Village boasts bars and discos on three floors, plus a hugely popular summertime rooftop patio where sun splashed patrons can also dip into a rooftop pool or jacuzzi! Sky also presents the Jimmy Moore Drag Show on Thursday nights and The Sky Show hosted by Emma Déjàvu on Friday nights.
A show bar since the 1890s, the Café Cléopatra strip joint (1230 Saint-Laurent Boulevard) on the Main is the last remaining hold-out from Montréal’s Sin-City era. Historically a safe space for Montréal’s trans community, strippers ply their trade on the ground floor while the second-floor show bar still semi-regularly hosts drag performances, fetish parties, and burlesque and comedy shows. Cleo’s vintage 1970s décor and disco lights are a mind-blowing time warp.
Montréal’s top burlesque nightclub, The Wiggle Room (3874 Saint-Laurent Boulevard) hosts drag artists from time to time, like drag king Charli Deville.
Other drag nights of note: The Social Verdun venue in Verdun hosts monthly drag shows, brunches and dinners with drag hostess Misty Waterfalls, while Uma Gahd and Selma Gahd of the House of Gahd host events throughout the city, and Bambi Dextrous hosts Trivia Mondays at The Diving Bell Social Club (3956 Saint-Laurent Boulevard).