LUCKY CHENG'S RIDES AGAIN
Lucky Cheng’s drag show is currently in its 25th year, and to celebrate they invited us to one of their infamous cabaret nights. Opened on October 1st, 1993, Lucky Cheng’s operated out of 24 First Avenue in the East Village for 18 years before moving to a larger location in Times Square. Named after Cheng, a business partner and busboy from the restaurant that previously occupied the space, it was known for being the first drag space to employ Asian drag queens and trans people. While it started as just a restaurant, it quickly began to host performances that let the staff really express themselves and shine. Over time, Cheng’s made a name for itself with its raucous environment and willingness to push the boundaries of what is drag and what are queens.
After the owner was diagnosed with breast cancer, Cheng’s bounced around for a few years, including a brief and possibly illegal stint at the DL on Delancey Street. They’ve finally found a new permanent home on 48th Street near the Hudson River. Currently only open Friday and Saturday nights, they are able to share the space with a straightforward night club thanks to a quick turnaround and some industrious ladies (the emcee was operating a scissor lift to remove the aerial silks she was performing on minutes before while other queens, still sporting towering heels, lifted chairs and posed for pictures with the many parties reluctant for the night to end).
Originally frequented by downtown artists and then popular with celebrities, Cheng’s has become something of a party destination with four bachelorette parties and two under 18 (!) birthdays on the night I went. Our waitress Tobell, dressed in a gold mini dress with blue eye shadow and sequin body art, seated us and brought out a Flaming Orgy Bowl while we waited for the festivities to get started. Lady Keyante walked around picking out people and giving them lap dances on stage. One particularly jovial bachelorette even treated us to a performance of her own, complete with flashing blue underwear and a sash that said “Scotty doesn’t know,” a reference to the 2004 film Eurotrip.
After a few lapdances, all the orders were in and the show began. Paulina the Princess of Power (who has been the emcee since the early 2000s) reminded us that drag is supposed to be fun and bring some light to your life, making veiled references to our current political climate. We were treated to performances from Vivacious (of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame), Pattaya Heart, Tiara (who was also the hostess), and my personal favorite Digna, who danced to Love on the Brain in a black transparent bodysuit with a shiny black knee-length coat and a stark white bouffant. At one point I was brought up on stage for a contest to see who was “Queen for a Night,” but was mercifully released after a little teasing about my outfit of choice (I guess all black is a bit macabre for this crowd). The others still in the running had to do lip syncs and lap dances, and were voted off the stage until only one remained.
The food was surprisingly decent for dinner theater, with perfectly al dente pasta and a solid chocolate mousse. The entire night was DJed by Josephine, who Tobell informed me is the daughter of the eponymous Cheng and currently runs the event. All the queens had multiple jobs and seemed to be really putting in the work to make Lucky Cheng’s new location a success. Here’s to 25 more!