Once considered the prominent gay bar in Downtown Binghamton, Merlin’s retired from the local scene and closed its doors with a final drag show. With three separate acts during Friday night’s event, “The Last Drag” was not as much a formalized performance as it was one fluid social gathering. Packed with people, the bar welcomed everyone from drag queens to a couple dressed up as skeletons wielding skull scepters.
The Merlin’s experience has always been a melting pot of diversity and self-expression. With an even mixture of young and old, “The Last Drag” catered to a varied group with a range of backgrounds, identities and experiences.
Drag shows are always eccentric, and their unpredictable nature is part of the appeal. But when the audience comes together as a cohesive body, an air of acceptance and support is prevalent.
The performers’ passion was clear and exposed during the performances, and their talent was celebrated. Since performers volunteered for spots, they were there truly because they wanted to be, and it showed. As the audience took a mosh pit format full of enthusiasm, “The Last Drag” show continued on while countless performers shared their eccentricities.
The cheering crowd climbed onto chairs, tables, boxes and even other audience members to get a better look at the performers. Despite the struggle to get a good view, it was definitely a worthwhile experience. The packed bar was a testament to the adoration so many felt for the unique venue.
Merlin’s was a fixture in Binghamton for years, where drag was more than just leggy men in pantyhose and pop soundtracks. People knew that it was a place they were always welcome, where social restrictions did not apply. As Merlin’s closes its doors and “The Last Drag” comes to an end, the question is posed: Where can this level of creativity find a new stage to share its talent?
When one finds a bar they’re comfortable with, it can be hard to suddenly change. The silver lining is that according to Merlin’s owner Laura Hering, the LGBTQ community has become more mainstream. Local bars are becoming more “gay friendly.” But regardless, the loss of a concentrated location of unique and diverse culture cannot be replaced. Bars come and go, and with “The Last Drag,” Merlin’s says farewell to the community it helped foster; a community that won’t soon forget about it.