Jade Esteban Estrada Bar Hops the New and Improved Main Strip

It isn’t surprising that with the political successes gained in 2013 for LGBT equality comes a little self-respect that shows on the outside. Just take a look at the pubs and clubs on (and near) North Main–commonly known as “the Strip”–and marvel at the area’s wicked facelift.

With its only true competitors being the in-a-class-of-its-own Bonham Exchange and The Saint (which, it could be fair to say, is still working out the kinks), Heat’s online touts of being “SA’s premiere dance club” may well be true. Sitting pretty on the corner of North Main and East Evergreen, Heat has taken the place of what The Saint used to represent on the Strip during the Erica Andrews administration. Dark and moody, the venue contracts exclusive entertainment in a city that’s not so keen on sharing their drag performers.

Up against Sparky’s Pub like a jealous ex is the recently transported Luther’s Cafe, which for many years lived right across the street before the signs of progress came a knockin’. Luther’s incurred a rough early transition but eventually found itself in the snugger space with a continued tradition of outdoor drag performances like “Tranny Trivia” on Wednesday nights hosted by the quick-witted Lyn-Z Lang. (Hey, it’s cool to be curious). While the food continues to be mediocre at best (with few options for the vegan/vegetarians on your friends list), the mellow atmosphere seems to make up for that by attracting a lively and increasingly mixed crowd.

Since its inception, Sparky’s Pub has become a one-stop for those seeking an after-work hangout with great drink specials. The upgrade in interior design was not only instantly noticeable in its Old English style, but also its taste, giving Sparky’s the feel of an upscale establishment, in stark contrast to the charmingly seedy Silver Dollar Saloon that inhabited the space before. Reminiscent of the Cheers set (one really does feel like one’s in Boston up in this place), where you can play pool or try your hand at the dartboard, Sparky’s dominates the Strip’s clubs as the one place where the art of conversation is actively encouraged. If a hard wave to the bartender still isn’t getting any attention on those busier weekend nights, not to worry: They also feature their cozy cafe and wine bar right out front. Sort of like a gay Starbucks. Yeah. Just a little redundant.

The personification of Pegasus Night Club would have to be the Eve character in All About Eve, because few could have predicted its rise to social prominence when it opened its doors 19 years ago this month. In years past, the venue was always a bit of an afterthought and difficult to, uh, peg. It mixed a small country dive with a video bar and had an outdoor karaoke area. When its clientele grew, Pegasus felt the need to expand, so it took to the front yard to build a state-of-the-art, Van Halen-worthy stage and another outdoor bar; a powerful lure to those curious eyes eager to pry beyond the wall encircling the club.

“I’m a personality guy, not a looks guy,” I hear one middle-aged man say to a much younger gentleman (yeah, right). This type of dialogue hints that not only are all types welcome, but they actually feel at home at the Peg. Nearly naked twinks with Jell-O shots (fun fact: they are often straight guys with a good head for business) are aplenty, so bring a wad of dollar bills.

Club Essence of today isn’t necessarily a dive, but there’s not room for everyone in granny’s carriage. The people who frequent this club know what they’re signing up for and seem to like it all the more for it’s homey, bust-out-the-chanclas atmosphere, where they can catch some of the more muscular male dancers in town. It’s the kind of place where it’s totally cool to make eye contact with people while eating a banana. Karaoke is offered on some nights and occasionally local theater peeps step into the spotlight for a little practice. There’s also a full-on food menu, so if you’re not looking to make out with any strangers, have a burger with all the fixin’s at the patio bar and grill. No judgment here. Essence is the uncontested Planet Fitness of gay bars.

Older folks who remember The Saint in its heyday will tell you stories of the drag greats who graced the stage. The Saint still shines with its weekly showcase of popular performers like Tencha La Jefa and Toni R. Andrews. If you’re still on the fence to whether SA’s “Gayborhood” (a name perhaps borrowed from Philadelphia’s famed vecindario) really serves as a training ground for some of the more competitive drag performers in the business, [See “Drag’s New Dawn in SA,” June 26] you may want to take in a performance and see why these showgirls are slowly bringing The Saint back to the level of its former glory.

So snap an Instagram pic on the Strip while you can. Next year, it could very well look completely different.

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