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A Bourbon At...Marlena's

The essence of Marlena’s can be captured with a number and a noun: 1,211...and drag queens. I’ve never seen anything like it. Several, maybe even hundreds, of Santa Claus fairies and figurines are suspended from the ceiling with fishing wire, some of them automated for slow, continuous rotation. Others are stacked tightly into glass casings covering large sections of the walls. And still more sit idly behind and around the bar, covering literally every square inch of shelf space available -- all festively crammed with white twinkling lights and hanging tinsel.

[Photo: Naseema Khan]

A Bourbon At?is sponsored by our friends at Basil Hayden’s Bourbon. Basil Hayden’s is handcrafted, light-bodied and aged longer with twice as much rye to produce an incredibly approachable, sophisticated and luxurious bourbon. It’s spicy. Unexpected. And full of potential. Just like your plans tonight. A recent feature in the New York Times suggested 2010 might've been the year of the transvestite, of gender nonconformity. If so, it’s been New Year’s Eve 2009 all year long at Marlena’s. Don’t be shy! Swing in for one of the city’s most lively celebrations of gender and sexual freedom—attached to a full liquor bar stacked with 1,211 Santas and all of your favorite bourbons, beers, vodkas and a holiday cocktail menu to boot.

Previously known as Overpass, the bar was taken over by a "fella" named Gary several years back. He transformed it completely. Now you wonder, why isn’t the bar called Gary’s? Well, that’s because Marlena, his drag moniker, is just so much prettier. Which brings us to Marlena’s main event—drag queen Saturday nights. The bar is shaped like a matchbox, so the stage goes all the way in the back over the pool table. Starting at about 10 p.m. every Saturday night, “you can drink champagne and dance all night. Under electric candlelight!" That’s the heart and soul of Saturday nights at Marlena’s.

After several minutes of admiration, make your reality check a $6 hot toddy. Sub the scotch for bourbon. It tastes better. Now granted, the thought of such exaggerated Christmas décor might be overwhelming for some and downright creepy for others. There’s a gold Ferris wheel of Santas in constant motion above the jukebox for crying out loud. But alas, the vibrant bar scene is very much the opposite—festive, inviting, and comforting. And it only adds to the good vibes you’ve already gotten from taking a December stroll through the cheerful and brightly lit Hayes Valley.

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