Ah, Lips! Lips is glitzy! Lips is gaudy! Lips is as over-the-top as the lovely ladies who work there. It’s hard not to love a restaurant that offers New York’s “ultimate drag dining experience,” featuring food and cocktails named after notorious drag queens, along with hilarious performances by the queens who serve you - And they SERVE you, Honey!
Lips opened some 20 years ago, in a flashy two-level space on Bank Street in the West Village. Since then, Yvonne Lamé and the ladies of Lips have created a drag empire, with showplace eateries in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago as well.
15 years ago, when my partner and I were still dating, we decided to go to Lips for brunch one Sunday. We’ve been fans ever since! Over the years, we became friendly with many of the fabulous drag queens on staff, both past and present, including Gusty Winds, All Beef Patty, Frankie Cocktail - bartender par excellence, Peppermint - a finalist on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 9, Bianca Leigh, with whom I’d worked in cabaret, and who is one of the stars of the film “Hurricane Bianca,” and Ginger Snap, who currently hosts a Wednesday night extravaganza called Twisted Broadway.
Eventually, Lips moved from its enclave in the Village, to its present location on East 56th Street, and we followed. Among other events, our New Year’s Eve dinners at Lips have been legendary! I figured it was time to give the place a proper review!
We were greeted at the front podium by Charlie, the host and manager, who took us to our table. After stopping by the bar to say hello to Frankie Cocktail, our server, Amanda Poupon took our orders. We began with drinks: I chose Starlene’s Fruity Lips - a sweet concoction made with orange, cranberry, and pineapple juices, citrus vodka, triple sec and grenadine. Vincent had Chandelier’s What’s The Peach Tea - like a cross between a Long Island Iced Tea and a Sex on the Beach, it contained citrus vodka, peach schnapps, 7-up, OJ, sour mix, and a splash of Coke.
We also ordered several appetizers to share - Ariel Sinclair Crispy Chicken Tenders - beautifully fried strips of white meat chicken, with a flavorful Chipotle mayo on the side. We also sampled the Bianca Leigh Asian Pot Stickers - tender, tasty little dumplings, filled with a mild mixture of minced chicken and vegetable, steamed and pan seared, served with an addictive Szechuan dipping sauce, the Melinda Thomas Lump Crab Cakes - seasoned nicely, and perfectly cooked, the flavor of the crab really shone through, and was complemented by the Chipotle aioli that added a nice touch of heat. Lastly, we chose the Sultana - Queen of De Nile Jumbo Coconut Shrimp - crispy, crunchy, fresh-tasting shrimp, with a coconut coating that added great texture, and a yummy sweet chili sauce for dipping.
Now, at this point, I need to digress. When we first started going to Lips, the food was terrific, especially for a “theme restaurant.” But somewhere along the line, maybe due to a change in management or chef, the food began to suffer. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t terribly good, so I wasn’t sure what to expect for my review. But this night, we were happy to find that the food was back on point! We were told that Armando, the new chef, was doing a great job in the kitchen, and from the quality of what was in front of us, that was evident!
Our entrées arrived: The Maddox Madison Lobster Ravioli for Vincent - lovely little lobster filled ravioli, served in a light cognac cream sauce, garnished with jumbo shrimp and ricotta salata. The al dente consistency of the pasta was just right, and the creamy, tomatoey sauce was luscious, if maybe needing just a touch of salt. I had the Yvonne Lamé Grilled NY Steak Fritte - a gorgeous 12 oz. NY Strip steak, topped with a hit of garlic-shallot butter, and served with French fries. The steak itself was tender and very juicy, cooked to a nice medium, with a hint of smokiness, and those perfect crosshatched char marks imparted by the grilling. I happen to like my steak peppery, so I did add some, but it really needed no other seasoning at all. Just great!
We ended up with a lot of food left over, so we had it packed to go, and as soon as our table was cleared, the show began. On Wednesday nights, our friend Ginger Snap hosts Twisted Broadway, where she plays a variety of roles, and she and the other girls lip sync to well known Broadway showstoppers, mashed up with current pop and rap hits. Ginger opened the show as Belle, from Beauty and the Beast - but instead of books, she studied a Playgirl Magazine - which she licked constantly! Next up, Heidi Ho gave us “Jesus Christ Superstar,” while blessing the crowd with “Holy water”...from the water glasses on the tables. Frankie Cocktail did a sultry “When You’re Good to Mama,” from Chicago, followed by Ginger, once again, who gave us “Let It Go,” from Frozen, which became an ode to flatulence! Our server, Amanda Poupon, was lovely, and not miserable at all, lip syncing to “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miz, Ginger prowled the room while performing “Memory,” from Cats, and yowling ‘PET ME!!‘ Madiva, both grandiose and tragic as Evita, doing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” took a moment to give an unruly audience member the finger, then stripped off the Eva gown and gave us a Madonna medley, dressed in a spot on reproduction of Madge’s Gaultier designed Cage Corset. The finale featured Heidi and Ginger as Glinda and Elphaba from Wicked, with Ginger soaring high...well, sort of high...above the stage in a wonderfully silly “Defying Gravity.” And if you want to know how Ginger flew, well, you have to come see the show for yourself! As Ginger herself said, “It’s Broadway, but a little fucked up!”
Lips is a popular party spot - my partner has thrown me several big gay birthday parties there. They also host lots of bachelorette parties, Sweet 16’s, engagement parties, and we once saw an entire gay fraternity celebrating their graduations. But whether you’re there for a party, cocktails at the bar, or dinner and a show, at Lips, it’s sure to be DRAG-tastic!
For more info, go to www.lipsnyc.com