• Sushi, aka Gary Marion, is a featured personality in the "What a Drag!" exhibit.


  • By: Steve Smith
  • September 30, 2015

Summer has slipped into fall and this time of year brings “haunting” happenings to Key West. Soon our streets will be decorated with ghosts and goblins as much of our downtown transforms into a slightly twisted interpretation of this year’s Fantasy Fest theme, “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show.”

Key West Fantasy Fest parade

A lavish float and revelers proceed down Duval Street during 2014’s 3Wishes.com Fantasy Fest Parade. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The quest for the title of Fantasy Fest king and queen is the focus of many events leading up to the Coronation Ball on Friday, Oct. 23 — held on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at the Southernmost Beach Café.

The royal candidates campaign by staging events to raise money for our local community-based service organization AIDS Help, Inc. The candidates raising the most money for AIDS Help will be crowned king and queen and will preside over the revelries culminating in Oct. 31’s 3Wishes.com Fantasy Fest Parade.

Bahama Village’s Goombay Festival will take place on the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24, stretching down Petronia Street from Duval to Fort streets.

The village’s main thoroughfare is the setting for colorful Bahamian-flavored attractions including live entertainment, arts and crafts, free-flowing beverages and a sampling of foods from the islands. The music and fun starts each day at noon and winds down at midnight.

Key West drag queen Sushi

Sushi, aka Gary Marion, is a featured personality in the “What a Drag!” exhibit.

Approaching the site of the Goombay Festival, you’re likely to meet a bevy of our local drag entertainers. Under the talented guidance of Sushi (also known as Gary Marion), the famous star of the New Year’s Eve Shoe Drop, the troupe keeps watch over the rainbow crosswalks that grace the entrance to Bahama Village. They also entertain visitors traversing Duval Street, posing for photographs and promoting their raucous drag shows held in the 801 Bourbon Cabaret.

A short walk down Duval Street takes you to Aqua, where entertainers led by Inga (Roger Hultman) light up both the sidewalk and the stage with their nightly “Reality is a Drag” shows.

Pinky, Margo, La La Belle, RV Beaumont, Parquesa and Samantha are some of the queens that have graced Key West stages in years past, entertaining us with their own style of drag. These famous entertainers have since passed on, but the essence of our thriving drag community is being celebrated at the Custom House Museum’s new exhibit titled “What a Drag.”

While highlighting the glitz and glamour of drag, the exhibit takes attendees on a journey that showcases the important role our female impersonators have played in the fabric of the Key West community.

Drag exhibit Key West

The Custom House Museum’s “What a Drag!” exhibit spotlights Key West’s famed drag queens. (Photo by Susan Guadagno, Monkey Apple Art Factory)

While these “girls” perform for you in our cabarets and clubs, they also have shared their talents at hundreds of charitable events throughout the years. You may see them at a picnic benefiting Hospice, strutting down Duval Street during the annual Poker Run, sharing the stage at the Tennessee Williams Theatre or performing on stages set up across the island during events supporting local nonprofit organizations.

Take an afternoon to visit the exhibit at the Custom House, located at the intersection of Whitehead and Front streets, and discover our community as you meet the men who create — and transform into — the flamboyant entertainers starring on our stages.

Who knows … you might be inspired to try your own talents at becoming an illusionist.

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