About 10 years ago, as a new cache of queer events was rearing its saucy head in downtown, a drag diva was finding her place and becoming, in many ways, “the face” of the scene's most promising polysexual dance party.
Phyllis Navidad helmed her first door and guest list at Shits and Giggles in the Globe Theater on Broadway. S&G had a second-floor space with its own sound system called the Glass Room back then, and two regulars, Loren Granich and Gregory Alexander, had the idea to throw an event within the event. A Club Called Rhonda was born right there, but it — or rather “she”; part of the club's clever schtick is referring to itself with the female pronoun — grew up quick, and soon needed "her" own space. She moved to the Hollywood Boulevard Mexican dive Guatalinda, and took Ms. Navidad with her.
“I worked in a tiny box office that smelled of Corona and urine, but I didn't care that much for the first few weeks,” she recalls of the early days. “I knew this night was something really special and loved seeing the cast of characters come through the door. They used to also have me record myself on phone messages, as if I was talking to this mysterious unknown club goddess that no one had ever met — Rhonda — chatting about the upcoming lineups and themes.”
Navidad, who sports a tattoo of Rhonda's famous lady legs logo on her arm, immediately knew she'd found a home, not only because of the great music, but because of what the party represented. As the EDM scene has gone mainstream, Rhonda has grown and evolved while maintaining an organic and underground feel, even as it's hosted mega-bashes throughout Los Angeles and across the country, and even become a presence at fests such as Coachella and Winter Music Conference.
“I think it’s because we represent hope, and we represent it in every race and sexual preference,” says Navidad. “I'm not gonna act like it's not one of the hardest parties to make happen with all the egos involved, but when the music plays and the scene is set, it really is all love. The incredible bookings help a lot too, but mostly it's the vibe, the diversity and the love.”
The crowd at Rhonda is a diverse yet unified mix, age-wise, ethnicity-wise and most noticeably, sexuality-wise, with gay, straight, bi, trans and drag represented on the dance floor. Navidad is a self-described drag queen, living her/his life outside of the clubs as a man. I refer to her here as a "she" because like Rhonda herself, she's a true queen after dark.
"I come from the San Francisco drag community and the legendary Trannyshack queens were my mentors,” she says. “They come from a school of thought that you are born naked and the rest is drag. I don't really care for the harsh mentality that has developed around drag as of late, mostly due to the reality television craze. “
To clarify, Navidad tells me she sees the platform that RuPaul has created for the gay community on a global scale as second to none, but adds, “I just don't really see how acting a fool on national television in a competition that sometimes becomes just hateful ... breeds talent?”
Navidad herself has talents that go far beyond just door duty. She also DJs, hosts and produces events, most recently working with her best friends One-Half Nelson and Erickatoure Aviance on undergrounds, art installations and production for bigger corporate brands.
“They have absolutely revived my inspiration for creating experiential art within events, which is what I love to do the most,” she says of her partners. “I've also worked with Heidi Lawden and DJ Harvey on their most recent Flaming Man parties at Lot 613. One-Half just started an event production company called 'The Other-Half' and I'll be putting in full-time production hours with multiple events this year."
She’s at the door of a club at least twice a week these days (“it keeps me holy," she says), working Rhonda events as well as Sound nightclub in Hollywood. “They book the most relevant artists in dance music in every genre with class and attention to detail, which is totally my style,” she says. “I can take care of curating an exceptional dance floor experience there with the best staff I've ever worked with aside from Rhonda, while making sure to avoid the riff-raff. “
Some might not see working the door as a form of curation, but as a former door girl myself, I have a keen appreciation for that aspect of the job. Being gatekeeper to the promised land comes with much power and it is not to be taken lightly — nor is it to be abused. You need to know who is who, but at the end of the night, it’s less about that than it is fierce get-ups and good vibes. Rhonda is widely known for attracting colorfully garbed revelers, and with Navidad out front, a standard is set style-wise and attitude-wise.
But working the door is more than being a fashion figurehead. There’s a disposition involved, a welcoming authority if you will. You learn a lot about humanity at the door of a club, and personally, my days doing it probably informed my nightlife writing more than anything else. But it's been a while since I did the gig, so in talking to Navidad, I wondered how things have changed out there and what the challenges are. What can patrons do to avoid turning off the person who just may determine the fate of their entire evening?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
With that in mind, I end this week’s column with tips and quips straight from Rhonda's door queen. You're welcome.
First of all, wait until you get in the club to do your drugs, especially anything that is gonna make you act like a muppet baby begging for my attention. Not a good look. Pre-gaming is fine, but within reason for conscious mannerisms that don't involve falling over or fiending for something that is obviously not within reach.
Specifically to the dubsteppers in their teens and 20s. Get valid ID! If it's real and not you, at least study up on the info. Nothing is more pathetic than when I have to tell your Chuck-E-Cheese looking baby face, "Not tonight," when you don't know your ID's home address, and then proceed to cry and beg, literally.
Huge no: "How much?! Even for girls?!" Yes, Queen, even for girls. And now for you its $45, because... offensive fee, computer says no. Also, I don't really care that it’s your birthday, this isn't the Cheesecake Factory.
Leave your USC ball cap and hoodie at home please, especially if your going pout about a cover, do your research and buy a presale ticket.
Get off the phone when you come up to me. If you're still connecting the dots on your phone game while I'm talking to you especially, you better have a presale ticket, because it’s all about respect and if I can tell that you have none: bye.
See Phyllis Navidad at the door of A Club Called Rhonda with Honey Sound System and Bears In Space (Chris Bowen and Victor Rodriguez, legendary gay party DJs who threw Shits & Giggles mentioned in the story), plus Jeniluv and Goddollars & Paradise, this Friday, Feb. 24, at Los Globos. Facebook invite here.
More from Lina Lecaro:
The Cure Played Four Encores at the Hollywood Bowl and We Still Didn't Want It to End
Why Has Everyone From Slash to Dave Grohl Played This Tiny Bar in Tarzana?
Jane Wiedlin Looks Back on 38 Years of Go-Go's