Lips Drag Queen Show Palace

The performers from Lips  (Photo courtesy of Carol Fox and Associates)

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: Lips Chicago,
2229 S. Michigan Ave.
When: Open run
Tickets: $39.95 three-course dinner and show package (required Sat.); other covers and minimums vary
Phone: 312-815-2662

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

If you’re looking for unusual entertainment for a bachelor(ette), birthday, or divorce party—or simply for a night out—Lips Drag Queen Show Palace may be just the ticket.

The drag club, which has locations in New York City, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, and Atlanta, just landed in Chicago on Motor Row and puts a novel spin on the dinner theater concept. The performers also are the servers, so you get a lot of personal attention from the one assigned to your table even before she hits the stage.

The talent changes for the themed evenings. Friday and Saturday shows, for example, are devoted to “Glitz and Glam” and Wednesdays to “Twisted Broadway.” On Sundays, there’s both a “Dragalicious Gospel Brunch” and a “Showstopper” evening.

But the format, I suspect, remains pretty much the same. Midway through the meal, the MC takes the stage, and the videos that were being projected to pulsating music are replaced by the drag queens in spangly costumes that typically are more revealing than the ones they wear while waitressing. Each dances and prances around, sometimes doing splits and other acrobatics, while lip-syncing to a pop hit played at very high volume.

Then she descends into the audience and goes around dancing some more and collecting dollar bills (or fives or tens?) from appreciative viewers. There’s also a lot of audience participation with some people being brought up on stage for photos and such, something that can be prearranged. I’ve heard there is live singing, but I didn’t see any on my Sunday night visit opening weekend.

This apparently is the largest Lips, and the décor is way over the top. Four massive crystal chandeliers dominate the room, which has long rows of tables in the center (for those large parties) and tables for two or four slanted oddly on either side. Pink leopard tufted walls, sculptures of legs sticking out of them, bejeweled mirrors, and velvet curtains are among the other adornments augmented by dramatic lighting. A sit-down bar along one wall accommodates those who don’t have reservations.

The name of one of the drag queens is listed on the menu for each dish. I won’t mention ours because, nice as she was, she clearly needed a lot more training. When I asked what the fish of the day was, she had no idea; in fact, except for the chicken dish she’d tried (chicken accounts for many of the entrées), the menu seemed to be a mystery to her. In addition, after I said we were ready to order, she went off to serve other tables for about 15 minutes, though she was extremely apologetic upon her return to finally find out what we wanted to eat.

The pleasant surprise is that Chicago chef Tom J. Schmitt’s food was better than I expected—and probably better than it has to be. Nicely browned, if not crispy, crab cakes on complementary preserved lemon aioli were mostly shredded crab meat with little filler. Little pieces of Parmesan twill and herbed croutons dressed up the Caesar salad with confit garlic and lemon dressing (served on the side, as requested), though the romaine lettuce was neither “hearts” nor “crisp” as listed. The curried vegetables—diced veggies with chickpeas and peanuts in a slightly tart coconut-milk curry, accompanied by rice—was a reasonably imaginative vegetarian choice, and the straightforward grilled salmon with grilled asparagus on truffled cream sauce arrived rare as ordered, a pleasure. Macarons made a more-than-adequate dessert. I didn’t try any of the fancy cocktails, but the Champagne was decent enough.

As for the show, our MC—a local whose name I didn’t quite catch—had some style and an admirable physique, and the performances of the rest of the queens varied in quality, though they started to seem too similar after a while, as did the pop tunes by the usual divas.

Most of the other drag queens I’ve seen have been actors playing drag queens, and they’ve been, frankly, better. For me, Lips was an interesting experience but not necessarily one I’d choose to repeat anytime soon.