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Drag Nights Under 340’s Light

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During the opening performance for “Stripped” on Saturday nights, Yony Godoy, Fernando Rivas and Sebastian perform a group dance. For the rest of the evening, the strippers perform their own individual choreographed routines. / photo by Cortney Mace

During the opening performance for “Stripped” on Saturday nights, Yony Godoy, Fernando Rivas and Sebastian perform a group dance. For the rest of the evening, the strippers perform their own individual choreographed routines. / photo by Cortney Mace

by Tyler Evains
photography by Cortney Mace

A skull-faced worker pulls off lime green wristbands and welcomes costumed guests. Thick, faux cobwebs hang above the foyer and line the ceiling and handrails. A skeleton sits in the corner, awaiting the stage performing queens, whose faces will be caked with makeup and who wear elaborate leotards. Even the Masonic Temple across the street reverberates spooky vibes. Clowns shriek and laugh as they run down the street. This is the spirit of Halloween outside of 340 Nightclub in the Pomona Art District.

 Lord Duarte makes an entrance by throwing fake $100 dollar bills before descending onto the stage for her performance at 340 Nightclub’s Drag Pageant held every Wednesday night for eight weeks. Unlike the drag competitions, the pageants host the same contestants. The winner receives a $600 cash prize. / photography by Cortney Mace

Lord Duarte makes an entrance by throwing fake $100 dollar bills before descending onto the stage for her performance at 340 Nightclub’s Drag Pageant held every Wednesday night for eight weeks. Unlike the drag competitions, the pageants host the same contestants. The winner receives a $600 cash prize. / photography by Cortney Mace

It gets even more festive inside. “I popped her cherry,” 21-year-old worker Jeremy Dinet says as he checks a girl into her first club as a 21-year-old on her birthday. The atmosphere on this Friday night before Halloween renders a carnival. As the opening to 340 Nightclub’s weekend, drag competitions bring the audience to the forefront, soliciting their inner queens through guest hosts like Cupcakke and resident host Raven, who is currently in and out of the club doing makeup for drag actor and television personality RuPaul’s upcoming VH1 show. Artists like rapper Tee-Fli and Ty Dolla Sign have also recently graced the stage. Dinet says that the club has drag competitions on Wednesdays and Fridays and a strip show on Saturdays. A queen, eyelids beat with pink glitter and a curly platinum blonde wig in hand, walks up and gets checked in by Dinet. A few others follow, ready to move a step closer to taking the crown and $1,000 prize in the final competition weeks later.

340 Nightclub sits under lavender LED lights on Thomas Street in the downtown Art District of Pomona. This is Halloween and a chance for a seasonal party atmosphere. Not that 340 Nightclub (named after its address) needs an excuse to hold a function. The club is open Wednesday through Saturday (open at 8 p.m., with no cover charge before 9 p.m., for 21 and up). Those who come can expect a party—a great festival of music, dancing and big name entertainment. “Working here is like a party I get paid to supervise,” Dinet says. He has been at 340 for about two and a half months, getting his paid spot right away once he turned 21, as he had been visiting the club since he was 18. He commutes from Fontana and works as a floor model at Abercrombie & Fitch in the daytime—a glorified sales associate, as he calls it. Dinet used to be a phlebotomist at Riverside Medical Clinic but stopped to focus full-time as a student at San Bernardino Valley College. He uses his part-time jobs to fulfill his goal of being a cardiovascular pediatric surgeon, an ambition he has stuck with since having open heart surgery at age 8 for a septic aneurysm in his right aorta. Dinet says he works with really cool people at the Club who create an energetic atmosphere.

As the opening act on Drag Conic night at 340 Nightclub, Lorelei performs an early ‘90s song. Most drag performers put together choreographed dance routines. / photo by Cortney Mace

As the opening act on Drag Conic night at 340 Nightclub, Lorelei performs an early ‘90s song. Most drag performers put together choreographed dance routines. / photo by Cortney Mace

Club owner Wesley Hull says that everyone comes together at 340, unlike cliqued up traditional clubs. “It gives me great satisfaction to make people happy,” he says. “You can’t please everyone so you find ways to.” He laughs as he realizes what he just said. Hull wants positively everyone to have a great time at his club. “I just want it to be amazing. That is my goal.”

Junior journalism major Natasha Brennan says drag has been a part of her life since she was about 5 years old. “My mother showed me the movie ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar’ when we first moved from Fort Riley, Kansas to California,” she says. This story of three drag queens on the road first exposed Brennan to the idea of men dressing as women for fun and entertainment. Actor and drag personality RuPaul made a cameo in the movie; since, Brennan followed his work and has been watching his show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” starting with its first season. “The culture opened me up to things that were not OK in that area,” she says, referring to the religious nature of Kansas where her family was stationed at the time. Brennan says she first visited 340 Nightclub in October to see her favorite drag performer, Bianca del Rio. The second time she went, she exchanged plans with her former Uber driver who happened to be a drag queen trying to get on the scene. They went together to the club later to see Katya perform. She says that 340 is different from other drag clubs. “It has big names, but it’s more localized and has a more accepting vibe,” Brennan says. “It’s a place for everyone whether they are amateurs or fresh off RuPaul’s Drag Race. They display different shades of drag that I’ve never seen.”

Michael “DaQueen” Davila styles his hair, preparing to perform in the Friday night Drag Conic competition. Weekly con­testants can win $100. The ninth week finale winner receives a $1,000 cash prize. / photo by Cortney Mace

Michael “DaQueen” Davila styles his hair, preparing to perform in the Friday night Drag Conic competition. Weekly con­testants can win $100. The ninth week finale winner receives a $1,000 cash prize. / photo by Cortney Mace

There is always a reason someone goes clubbing; there is something they want to experience, and Hull feels it is his job to analyze and execute what keeps people coming to 340 Nightclub. The venue incorporates traditionally unconventional practices in its entertainment. For example, Tiffany Pollard, better known as “New York” from the reality shows “Flavor of Love” and “I Love New York,” is also an ordained minister who plans to deliver a sermon at 340 in December. Hull is not sure how that will be received, but he is excited to see what happens. Other performers bring their unique acts. Hull allowed DJ Angie Vee to create her own platform instead of being on the back burner of the club’s regular nights. Girl’s Locker Room is held every Thursday night where DJ Angie Vee takes over the turntables and sometimes hosts drag king competitions where women dress as men and perform just like their queen counterparts. She averages 500 guests a night and hits a low of 350 on a bad night. “Don’t think the guys don’t come to Girl’s Locker Room because they do,” Hull says, jokingly holding his hand up in a mock secret whisper and talking behind the back of his hand. “They say they come for the girls, but they’re really in the closet.”

Club goer and Ontario resident Drew Lopez, 19, says that 340 is the closest gay club to where he lives, besides Tiger Heat all the way in West Hollywood. “That’s why it’s so popping,” Lopez says. “On the weekend, we are trying to be with our people.” Lopez says you have to run down the stairs at 9:30 p.m. if you want to get a seat to watch the drag show. He snakes around slow pokes until a security guard forces everyone into a single file line; he still scores third row seats to experience the competition.

Wesley Hull, co-owner of 340 Nightclub in downtown Pomona, opened the popular venue December 2011. 340 stands out among neighboring clubs because of its promotion of gay and drag culture while entertaining an audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Hull created a safe and encouraging environment for young people in the LGBTQ community. He says 340 is inclusive to all regardless of beliefs, sexuality and race as long as they ­spread positivity and love. / photo by Cortney Mace

Wesley Hull, co-owner of 340 Nightclub in downtown Pomona, opened the popular venue December 2011. 340 stands out among neighboring clubs because of its promotion of gay and drag culture while entertaining an audience of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Hull created a safe and encouraging environment for young people in the LGBTQ community. He says 340 is inclusive to all regardless of beliefs, sexuality and race as long as they ­spread positivity and love. / photo by Cortney Mace

How does Wesley Hull recruit such big name talent? “Things start to fall into place. At a certain point, people come to you, and you don’t need to reach out as much. It never gets easier, but at a certain point you realize it’s on the right track.” The owner says he puts in much tedious work just to see people smile; a sliver of profit but worth it. “There’s always a bigger picture to the journey,” Hull says. “Who knows where that will lead.” He says that many people tell him 340 is the first club they visited upon turning 18. “I love that. You’re gonna go somewhere so why not here?”

Michael Davila of West Covina, who goes by DaQueen in drag, says he was one of those people and has now, at 21, performed at 340 Nightclub about 12 times during a year and a half. “340 is the first and only club I’ve performed at,” Davila says. “I’m kind of loyal to them. He wishes he could participate in more competitions and pageants, but with a full-time job in healthcare and an upcoming transfer to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising to become a celebrity stylist or interior designer, his plate only allows him to perform a couple times a month.

The queen has been a performing dancer all his life, but he realized being in drag- shows would be more fulfilling after dressing in glam for seven years. “My ultimate dream is to be the center of attention with the glamour and theatrics like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, but I couldn’t do that because I’m a guy,” Davila says. “Dance wasn’t giving me what I wanted, so drag helped me live that dream of being a pop star.” He said his aesthetic is paying homage to different pop icons in each performance. “I try to recreate their look by wearing at least one thing they were known for or recreating their choreography as best as I can.”

Club 340 has a restaurant with food options ranging from flatbread pizzas to vegetable and shrimp, a new customer favorite. Kayla Horrell, head chef and creator behind the menu, began working as a barback and in security. When the club needed a chef, Horrell says she jumped at the opportunity and taught herself how to cook. / photo by Cortney Mace

Club 340 has a restaurant with food options ranging from flatbread pizzas to vegetable and shrimp, a new customer favorite. Kayla Horrell, head chef and creator behind the menu, began working as a barback and in security. When the club needed a chef, Horrell says she jumped at the opportunity and taught herself how to cook. / photo by Cortney Mace

Unofficially titled the Britney of 340, Michael Davila’s best impressions are of the early 2000s star whom he studied growing up.­­­­ Davila says he definitely wants to expand his platform, but 340 will always be his priority since it was his starting ground. “The first time I performed, I was so nervous, but the queens were the complete opposite of what I expected.” he says. “340 is the easiest way to get started in the drag world. I’ll always be grateful for it.” Hull is very inclusive and wants drag queens to feel welcome and comfortable expressing their inner diva at his club, which many first timers, including Davila, say they feel. Davila says that he could not be more thankful that 340 provides a stage that is open to local performers and gives them a chance to show themselves. “The best part is when I come out and see everyone’s first impression, whether its good or bad,” Davila says. “It’s the best feeling ever to be on 340’s stage. I feel so indestructible.”

Hull is always planning, thinking and revising. He is the ring master who masterfully crafts the nightly entertainment. He is the host of a party that takes place Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and he wants everyone to have a great time. Little do you know that you are the entertainment. The best clubs are ones where inhibitions are lowered about being on stage—without alcohol. The best places are those where you are the odd person out if you are sitting in a chair watching, and not on stage, dancing and being part of the festival of entertainment. 340 club is that place.

Hull says he tries to promote monogamy and respect through his club, which he feels is a rare thing to do these days. He adds that society tells the gay community that it cannot have those things. “I don’t want to be told I can’t have that.” Most traditional and gay clubs subconsciously encourage promiscuity and a less community based party environment. Hull says it should be about the people; if the establishment is for people, you have to cater to what they need, and not what society says is a good time.

David Petruschin, known as Raven in drag, serves as the official host of Drag Night. For three months, she has also led as the makeup artist for RuPaul’s television show. Raven says it takes up to an hour and a half to get into full drag attire. / photo by Cortney Mace

David Petruschin, known as Raven in drag, serves as the official host of Drag Night. For three months, she has also led as the makeup artist for RuPaul’s television show. Raven says it takes up to an hour and a half to get into full drag attire. / photo by Cortney Mace

Hull is a 50/50 owner of 340 and had what he calls his “first piece of the pie” during his part ownership of the gay club called “Oasis” in Upland. He left that endeavor about a year before opening 340 Nightclub. The opportunity came December 2011 to again try his hand at club ownership, this time in the Pomona Art District. The building that would house a future 340 Nightclub presented opportunities, but it also was the site of a former club enterprise.

Hull says he was skeptical about opening a business in a failed space, but he had feelings of success every time he stood among the vacant walls and allowed his mind to run forward with his vision of what it could be. It started with the name. Hull says getting the name right is tough. He pondered the name for weeks. Then, while sitting in his car and studying the location, he spotted the building’s address. It was one of those magical moments. He thought, “It’s modern; it sounds good; that’s it.”

His former business partner once said about Oasis, “This business is like a tire going flat; you always have to fill it up.” That is not the case for 340, Hull says. The club is full of energy just like he is. His words still capture the awe of what is taking place here. Yes, there is stress in making the right decisions, future and present. But there is fresh excitement in his voice. Running a club is who Wesley Hull is. “It’s in your blood,” he says. “As a human, there’s only so much you can endure, but when you find what you truly love doing, it will become more than a job, but a lifestyle.”

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