Anyone who doesn’t think bingo can be an adventure has clearly never experienced Drag Queen Bingo, which includes vodka Jell-O shots, disco music and pole dancing—yes, pole dancing. When I was growing up, my mother and her girlfriends were big Friday night bingo aficionados, but back then bingo wasn’t played in a bar. Instead, mom would load me into the car and we’d meet her friends in a church basement, where there was cheap paneling on the walls, green shag carpeting on the floor and thick cigarette smoke in the air.
Apparently, in the ’70s people could smoke anywhere they wanted; church basements, airplanes, hospitals. When I was 6 or 7, I remember our pregnant next-door neighbor, Janine, coming over to bum cigarettes from my mom. (P.S. Not to worry; Janine’s daughter is now 50 years old and healthy as a horse.)
And while bingo players were free to smoke in the church basement back then, there was certainly no drinking to distract anyone—no, these ladies were serious and focused on winning, their eyes on their cards at all times, concentrated on the prize. In between games, they’d look up and gossip with each other a bit, but as soon as the numbers started being called again, they were back on point, daubers in hand. Typically, we kids were relegated to a nursery area, out of sight, out of mind, while our mothers tried to hit the jackpot. Sometimes, though, mom would let me sit next to her and even give me one of her cards to play. But, quite frankly, I would have rather been at home with a babysitter watching Sonny and Cher on channel 5.
Bingo was boring.
The only time it got exciting was when my mom or one of her besties enthusiastically screamed, “BINGO!!!” Although if someone at a different table happily hollered, “BINGO!!!” Mom and her friends would grumble that the game was “rigged” and that they were given “crap cards.”
I guarantee that the bingo ladies of yesteryear would have had a bunch more fun if the game involved a full liquor bar and some festive, sparkly drag queens like the lovely Miah Tucker and Naraya Devine calling the numbers, as they did one recent Sunday evening at The Bottom Line in Fort Myers.
The Bottom Line has been around almost as long as I can remember. It first opened in 1987 and bills itself as “Southwest Florida’s Largest Alternative Nightclub.” With a predominately gay following, it actually contains seven separate themed bars all under one roof, and every Sunday night it’s the infamous Drag Queen Bingo—which is not your mother’s church basement bingo at all.
The only similarity would be the smoking (the ventilation is pretty good, though; I wasn’t bothered by it) and the grumbling when someone else wins—but if you’ve got a couple of bloody marys and a Jell-O shot or three under your belt, you’re less likely to complain. This version of bingo is fun, but you better be careful because there are rules. For instance, if you call out “BINGO!!!” and Miah and Naraya check your card and discover you were wrong, then you better know how to pole dance because these plus-sized queens in glittery evening gowns and huge wigs aren’t going to let you stop dancing until you’ve raised enough cash in tips (which goes to charity). The unfortunate victim the night we were there was a straight-laced, rather round, middle-aged fellow who everyone in the bar tipped generously despite his lack of rhythm just so he would stop attempting hilariously awkward dance moves. After his pole adventure, we were all very careful to daub our numbers carefully. Trust me.
Miah and Naraya strut around the room with microphones and are laugh-out-loud bingo taskmasters playing to a diverse room of Drag Queen Bingo lovers. At our table, there were Bonnie and Bruce, a straight couple in their ’60s who’ve been married for decades and who love bingo and love to laugh. Then there was Karen, a local actress who has been known to attend Drag Queen Bingo—dressed as a dude. For my friend Melinda and me, it was our first time, so we had to learn the ropes—sometimes the hard way. Once, when Melinda grumbled under her breath about her “crap cards,” Miah rushed over with her loud microphone; “POOR BABY!” she crooned, and she pulled a box of Kleenex out of her enormous handbag for Melinda. We needed them, as we were laughing until we cried.
More rules: If you get close to winning, you have to yell out, “I’m coming!” (the louder and more dramatic, the better), and if Miah or Naraya call out O-69, it means Jell-O shots for everyone. And you better take them. One woman at a nearby table kept stacking hers up, and when Naraya discovered the disobedient player, she made her consume four at once (thankfully, the lady had a designated driver). But don’t worry, you won’t be eating vodka-laced Jell-O on an empty stomach; the game starts around 6 p.m. and halfway through a free buffet dinner is served. We enjoyed rolls, cold cuts, pulled pork, salad and fruit cocktail. It’s a little surreal as the bar suddenly becomes a cafeteria. Still, when dinner was served everyone hopped up out of their chairs, grabbed a Styrofoam plate and stood in line. And after dinner, there was even more bingo. In fact, the games lasted until about 10 p.m., as the grand finale involves a coveted $300 jackpot.
Sadly, no one at our table won any money, but when the bingo cards are only $5 a piece; the drinks are cheap; and the buffet, Jell-O shots and fabulous entertainment are free, it’s an adventure you will not forget—especially if you end up on the pole.
If you go
Drag Queen Bingo, Sundays at 6 p.m., 21 and up only.
The Bottom Line, 3090 Evans Ave., Fort Myers; 239-337-7292, tblcomplex.com