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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Out on the scene: Napa Billiards all dolled up

Napa Billiards, a local, predominantly Latino pool hall recently switched over to gay owners (with rumors of drag shows) and so we thought we'd cover a little bit of Napa "under-the-radar".

An afternoon months ago...
The small rainbow stickers in the corners of the doors were the only clue that anything queer was going on behind the large tinted windows and green Napa Billiards sign...and upon entering, there wasn't too much to be impressed by. Looked like a typical (not-very-fancy) pool hall. There was about 12 tables with more than a couple groups of Mexican guys (definitely different than the crowd at Billco's) either playing at a table or watching a soccer game that was on TV. The room was fairly dimly lit, and the only gays to be found were the bartenders. They explained that they had a drag contest the fall before but nothing new would be happening for a while. We left without much to write about.

This weekend...
Recently we received another tip that there was now more of a gay scene and maybe drag shows happening. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a drag show in my hometown, so on the way home from hanging out with some friends I swung by and almost couldn't believe that I was in Napa anymore.

Let's put this in context for you: (unfortunately) most of the white population of Napa doesn't mix too much with the Latino (mostly Mexican) families and residents. A lot of what happens in the Latino neighborhoods, stores, and even lives of our community goes unnoticed except by those who are participants. Even the Napa Register only captures the biggest events of the Latino community (Cinco de Mayo festival in Calistoga, the pro-immigrant marches, Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration at St. John's, etc.) and even then the most vocal of the white community usually only reply with antagonistic (and even racist) commentary. If you aren't Latino or involved with the Latino community, you would miss out on a whole other side of life in the Napa Valley.

Back to last night: I pulled up into the Napa Billiards parking lot on Lincoln at around 11:30p. I could hear the music ... and also a lively (almost shrill) voice on the microphone in Spanish making jokes and teasing the crowd. Intimidated at first (I've been called out in comedy shows before), I got over it and went inside through the tinted doors. A stage had been set up with plywood over the pool tables straight back and a backdrop of large draped cloth. A sequined performer was on stage shaking his (her?) hips to Laura Leon's "Dos Mujeres Un Camino" and the crowd goes crazy...A posted advertisement for the drag shows claims that they will be happening every couple of weeks, but didn't specify dates that I could see.

Video not of Napa Billiards, but with a similar feel to the show

The room seems pretty much the same as when I visited a few months back: nothing fancy and dimly lit, definitely dive-y. Only a couple of bathrooms towards one side of the bar, they looked the size of closets (but I didn't go in, so I'm not sure).

And the crowd is mixed, but kind of in a funky way. All of the crowd (that I can tell) are Latino and of all ages (early 20s to late 30s, some older). Most of the guys playing pool are very straight, traditional guys with plaid shirts, some with hats and boots, and buying drinks for their straight lady friends and occasionally one of the performers. The gays are mostly around the bar and seated in rows of folding chairs in front of the makeshift stage. Some are on stools near the front door. There are few flamboyant guys, some butch lesbians, some guys in drag and then a mix of other (all latino) gays. The groups watching the show cheer and sing loudly for each performer. The performances are entertaining, if not a little hoaky, but this is a drag show--in Napa--that we're talking about. It's hard to tell if the girls that are walking around are with the straight guys or with the gays, but for the most part all of them are enjoying the show and singing along. There was about 40-60 people there, but it didn't seem packed, the room is pretty spacious. I got the feeling that gays and straights just deal with each other and do their own thing. It might be slightly awkward, but somehow it works.

If you're looking for something different than the same old Valley scene and you're not too picky about the bars you go in, then Napa Billiard's drag shows are definitely worth checking out. Napa is divided as it is, why shouldn't the gay community be where we start breaking down barriers and just having a good time together?

Summary: Napa Billiards (no online info)
Location: 988 Lincoln Ave, Napa, CA
Genre: latino pool hall and bar
Food: n/a (none served that we could tell)
Drinks: mexican beers
Price Range: inexpensive drinks, no cover
Environment: 99% latino/mexican, 20s/30s/40s+, pool hall, dive bar, soccer on tv, drag nights
Gay Scene: 50/50 queer & straight, awkwardly coexistent


  1. Never in a million year would I have thought about a drag show taking place in Napa! Fantastic.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yup, we agree...and who woulda thought? Glad you're enjoying our posts, please spread the word about the blog to gays and gay-friendly alike.

  3. You mean there was a drag version of Laura Leon???? LOVE IT! I need to check out this place next they have the drag show. Thanks for this great find.

  4. We hear that the show is every other week (which would make the next one on May 2). This hasn't been confirmed, and we'll be sure to update the site when we find out.

  5. Did you advertise for The Valley's Other Fruit there?

  6. Advertise? In the traditional sense, no...The Valley's Other Fruit is really just a personal project with not funding. If you just mean did I give out info or talk about the blog, then that's a no, kind of.

    I plan on talking it up more and have even made little printed post cards to hand out to whoever is interested. I want to get in touch with more local gay-owned businesses to help get the word out as well. Do you have any connections?

  7. We did have a Gay rest./ bar in Napa which by the way featured those same drag shows as well as lots of other professional entertainment every weekend for two years. Unfortunately there wasn't enough appreciation and support for what he was doing for our community and he had to close. It was a sad day and those of us who frequented the Depot truly miss it. Maybe you didn't live hear then, if you did where were you? We also have a local Gay group called Napa Valley Unity League that meets the first Mon. if every month. We also usually have a Gay Pride celebration in June and numerous other events and fundraisers throughout the year. for more info. sbout the Unity Leagues contact Scott Butler at 738-4040. Hope tthis helps