Last November, following the yellow brick pavement lead our reporter to Dorothy’s bar
“You were going to say you came up with the name, weren’t you?”
“No, no, no…continue.”
“I came up with the name!” Andy Wilson, exclaims confidently as he flashes a smile at his husband, Waynne Meek, who sits across from him snacking on a bag of McDonald’s fries, a late dinner after a long day of work.
The pair, originally from the UK, are the owners of Groningen’s newest drag bar.
Just on the edge of the city centre, and as luck would have it, by a yellowish brick pavement, the bar is impossible to miss. A wooden storefront, a bright red door, two large windows on each side, both covered in rainbow cut-outs, and a strip of multicoloured glass squares above. Above that, the newly added sign: Dorothy’s drag under the rainbow.
“It’s like a brown café, but nicer,” is how Waynne puts it. A fitting description; the bar’s dark wooden floors, the wooden panelling, and the decorative fireplace bring a cosy classic charm to the place.
On the right side of the room, there are four round tables against the wall. Above them, multiple flags representing the various letters of the LGBTQ+ community. “We want to represent all sorts of different people. It’s sort of the ethos behind the bar,” Waynne explains.
At the far end is the so-called ‘VIP area’; an elevated space with booth-like seating, a large wooden table, a chandelier dangling from the ceiling, and leopard print wallpaper.
By the entrance is a stage and next to that a bar with a drinks menu on display where you can try cocktails like the ‘Bad Bitch’ or the ‘Desperate Tequila’.
On the bar wall, above all the whisky bottles, is a portrait of Andy in drag, the resident queen: Dorothy Male.
The name, which Waynne agrees to go on record as being Andy’s idea, is a sort of homage to the famous ‘Wizard of Oz’ character, Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland. “I’m a big fan of the Wizard of Oz, and I’m a male” and thus the name, Andy explains.
But there is more to it. Andy’s passion for this classic film arose from a difficult upbringing. “I didn’t have the best childhood so it’s one of those things I lost myself in.” “Why is that?” I ask.
“You can be a child. It’s warm, it’s cuddly, it’s camp. It’s under a rainbow. Growing up, it made me feel safe,” Andy replies.
Dorothy Male first entered the drag scene about a year ago. After living around Amsterdam for years, in the quest to find a more rural place to live, Waynne and Andy, along with their two dogs, Dotty and Toto, moved to Groningen. They quickly became frequent visitors of Dorothy’s bar’s predecessor, ‘House of Scandal’ and with some encouragement to get back on stage from the then owner, Albert van den Oever, Andy got his hands on Gale’s iconic gingham outfit, and the rest was history.
But Andy’s journey with drag started in the UK, way back in “1903 or whatever” as he likes to say. At 18 years old, Andy left his family home and “sort of burst out in the gay scene” as he moved to Blackpool, known in England as the gay capital of the North.
“I kind of fell into drag,” he remembers. As a regular of the club ‘Flying Handbag’, Andy started attending drag shows and chatting with the performing queens, one of whom asked him why not give drag a try? There really wasn’t a single reason not to.
The first step, according to Andy, is coming up with a name.
“Sissy 7 Up,” Andy says with a smile, “Don’t ask me what that means,” he quickly adds chuckling.
“I have to ask.”
“Really don’t…it’s very rude,” he says with a grin.
After the name, comes the outfit.
“I bought the most abysmal wig, and I tried to do this thing in leather…I looked like road kill basically!”
Bad outfits aside, performing came naturally to him, and soon, being under the spotlight became a regular part of his life.
Once Andy moved to London, where he would eventually meet Waynne, his drag days became more sporadic, mostly only for charity events. Much of his time since has been dedicated to helping others. From supporting people with drug addictions or working at a homeless shelter in Groningen, Andy is determined to give the support he felt he didn’t get in his youth.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t get help from anyone. I know what it’s like to be stuck. It’s depressing.”
On one Christmas day, when he was about 18 years old, in a small cold basement, his first home in Blackpool, Andy found himself with a can of beans and a tiny heater, completely alone.
“That was the moment I said I will never go through that again, and I won’t allow anyone else to go through that either.”
Now, as the owner of a bar, Andy can fulfil this promise; “We are opening on Christmas day for a few hours, just in case anyone needs a place to go. I don’t want just a drag bar, this needs to be a community bar,” he adds.
How did it even come about?
“There were a lot of conversations,” Waynne says, with a hint of amusement, “Traditionally I am cautious while Andy is typically more gung ho, as we say in England.”
“Do you ever win any arguments?”
“No, being married to a drag queen you can’t win,” he responds with a smile.
Eventually, after many discussions, Waynne took “the leap of faith,” and Dorothy’s opened a few months later, in July 2022. “We don’t expect to make a fortune out of this,” Waynne explains, “I already work, we don’t need this to make money to survive. The focus is the community.”
Opening a bar is a complicated process. “There are things that come up all the time, but it’d be boring if they didn’t,” Andy says.
That’s a sentiment that he embodies in Dorothy’s performances. “I love it when I mess up on stage because the audience laughs,” he explains, “things happen the way they happen. If you fuck up on stage, you fuck up on stage. Get on with it.”
Andy’s style of drag was a bit of a culture shock for some in the Groningen scene, as after all he’s “still a Yorkshire drag queen.” Yorkshire drag, Andy explains, involves a lot of comedy, lip-syncing, and smut. Being very chatty with the audience, and making a few potentially rude jokes wasn’t the standard in Groningen, but the audience seems to have quickly embraced Andy’s more English approach.
At Dorothy’s, visitors can enjoy different drag styles. Dorothy is the only resident queen, and although on a drag show night northern Dutch queens will frequently be present, Andy invites performers from all parts of the country. To add to the variety, there’s an open stage tradition, where they give space to newer queens to perform and get more into the scene.
It’s a Friday night in early November and the drag show has a special theme, ‘Trip to the Caribbean’, courtesy of a group of Caribbean queens. There are inflatable palm trees, parrots, and toucans. The place is packed; from university students to groups of friends in their 50s, all bopping along to 80s disco hits, waiting for show time.
“How’s everyone tonight?”
On the stage, under a spotlight, surrounded by blue and purple lights, there she is. In a long glittery dress, large shiny earrings, and a tall ginger wig with a white streak. Dorothy Male.
“I thought, well, since it’s my bar I get to do the first number,” she confidently states. A fast paced Latin-sounding song starts playing.
“No, that’s not the number. I apologize for the incompetent barman,” Dorothy says with all her sass.
A few witty comments later, a familiar piano chord is heard.
I am not a stranger to the dark
The start of a song from The Greatest Showman, a musical that follows the creation of a circus. Hide away they say
In the film, the song is sung by Lettie Lutz, a character inspired by the famous bearded woman, Annie Jones.
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
There’s some quiet, tentative singing from the crowd.
I am brave, I am true, I am who I’m meant to be
“Sing along!” Dorothy shouts.
Everyone at the bar joins in, some knowing the words by heart, others proudly and loudly coming up with their versions of the lyrics.
This is me!
The song ends. The bar erupts in cheers. It brings to mind the words Andy shared when I first met him at a dragtastic bingo night a few weeks before: “We are what we are. We are here to entertain. We are here to be a safe space.”