It’s about 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, and the all-white-clad members of the House of Avalon are huddled in a downtown Los Angeles alley, covering themselves in blood. It’s dripping from shoelaces and eyelashes and soaking into the crew’s shirts, socks, and padded bras. “Someone’s going to see this,” a friend of the group says, gesturing to all the blood on the ground, “and be so concerned.”
Fortunately, all the carnage is entirely fake. It’s a part of the group’s themed look for Sugartank, their monthly party at the downtown gay bar Precinct. Though past events had themes like “Britney Bxtch” and “Madonna,” it being October, the group had decided to work around a “Bloodbath” theme, applying the slasher mentality to everything from their looks to the stage presentations of House members (and "RuPaul’s Drag Race" alums) Symone and Gigi Goode.
“We live and die by a theme,” says House member Marko Monroe, a stylist who has worked with Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Nas X. “Every time we do Sugartank, we’ll pick an idea and then everyone in the group will pull inspo picks and [member] Grant [Vanderbilt] and I will kind of chop them up and figure out how to make it all work. Tonight we knew we didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on our looks because they were just going to get all covered in blood.”
Hence, Monroe says, he stitched two white button downs together for House member (and his partner) Hunter Crenshaw, cut and remixed a pack of white A-shirts for Symone’s ensemble, and turned a pair of plain white briefs into his own shoulder-baring top.
The members of the House of Avalon strive to make Sugartank and their other monthly party, Gloss, marquee events, inviting in some of the biggest talent from across the drag universe. They also take pride in making the parties welcoming spaces where people can feel free, where all body types, gender expressions and walks of life are accepted with open arms.
“We live in a city where everyone is so afraid to let go,” Monroe says. “We want you to feel like you can come to one of our events and not be judged.” In this way, the group views Sugartank and Gloss as a natural extension of the house parties some of their members threw while living together in Arkansas after college.
“We don't discourage nothing,” Symone jokes. “As long as you ain't hurting yourself or anybody else, we encourage you to have a good time. We're not here to be pretentious. We're not here to make you feel like you have to be a certain somebody. We want you to enjoy the energy we're giving out, because it's a good time in here and we want you to be the best version of you. Because when you do that, you let loose.”
As the blood-soaked septet walks from the alley to the club, a passing tourist quips, “I want to go where they’re going.” Brian McIntire, owner of Precinct, is less impressed as the group sidles up to the door then heads backstage. Turns out the bar had always discouraged performers from using or wearing fake blood, a holdover from shows they did with horror drag icons the Boulet Brothers. “When the Boulet Brothers used to be here, we had a lot of issues with customers getting blood all over their stuff, or it would end up in some lighting instrument that would start smoking,” McIntire explains. “There are so many drag queens that think they're going to be shocking by suddenly gushing blood or dropping a fetus, but that’s not shocking anybody anymore, so we like to try and keep the splashes down to a minimum.”
A little later, Crenshaw slinks back into the dressing room grousing about having to clean up someone’s faux-blood in the bar’s backstage bathroom. Meanwhile, the three queens are going live on Instagram in front of the mirror, snapping into poses for selfies with fellow House members and bouncing along to the thrum of DJ Mateo Segade’s beats playing in the other room.
Segade works alongside the House to help Sugartank come together, sorting through DMs to scout newcomers for the show and collaborating with Vanderbilt to pull together a lineup featuring not just Goode and Symone, but also other A-list drag talent like “Drag Race” alum Kerri Colby and “Dragula” winner Abhora, both of whom graced the Bloodbath bill that night.
When Vanderbilt takes the stage around 11:30 to introduce Judy, a local queen and Sugartank regular who’s kicking off the show, the crowd is more than ready. When Judy finishes her version of Kim Petras’ “There Will Be Blood” by pulling a big fake knife out of the back of her dress, the crowd goes wild, chanting her name as she leaves the stage.
From there the crowd is rapt, screaming along with showstopping queens like Lauren Banall and Miss Kendoll, who’s a tornado of kicks and dips, and scantily costume-clad go-go dancers. DJ Larry Tee, the nightlife luminary who co-wrote RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Betta Work),” also graces the stage. By the time Abhora hits the stage to perform AJJ’s “Blood, Hatred, Money and Rage” while tightly binding herself with wire, the crowd is roaring, throwing tip money onto the stage not just between acts but also during the sets.
As Crenshaw points out, the name “House of Avalon” was actually pulled from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love,” in which the author and politician says you have to “go through the mists of Avalon” to find your childlike self. It’s something the group clearly embraces, from the thematic nature of their parties to the way they choose to live, sharing a complex of four pop-art stuffed apartments and buildings across from each other in Hollywood. “Having that childlike spirit keeps [the group] youthful and together,” Crenshaw says. “We don’t even let adult life bog us down, and we don’t take life too seriously.”
Lillie Guo, a drag fan from East Hollywood, says she thinks the “vibe is better at Precinct than at a lot of other places.” That’s very much intentional.
“We just want everyone to feel how we feel when we're together,” Symone says. “We feel safe with each other, and we feel like we can say and do and be however we want. We want people to feel like everything that happens outside of that door, it don't matter when you walk up in here, baby. if we can have that with each other and then share it with others through our parties, then that’s a success.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.