It’s not every day you hear about a drag queen opening a restaurant; but two months ago, Montreal drag queen, Mado, did just that when the space beside her self-titled cabaret bar became available. Although it was never her plan to have a restaurant prior to this project, she jumped at the opportunity to fill a niche in the neighbourhood, and thus La Dînette à Mado was born.
The restaurant’s origin story isn’t dissimilar to Mado’s start in drag herself: unexpected. Thirty years ago, her and a friend attended an event called Business Women’s Night at a bar, and thought it would be funny to go dressed up as women. That was all it took to get offered a job on the spot, which eventually grew into Mado opening her own cabaret bar.
Mado describes her performing style as comedic, almost like stand-up comedy, using her life events and news of the day to tell a hilarious story to her audience. “It’s not your typical drag. There’s no lip sync, no dance,” she says. “I could dance, but it would probably be limited to Quebecois square dancing.” In other words, don’t ask Mado to vogue.
Despite not adhering to the drag style that has been popularized on shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race—More cabaret and less disco-tech than other cities in the country—Mado’s take seems to fit just fine into Montreal’s drag scene. People pay to see drag queens, rather than it being an opening number or a sideshow to take a break from dancing at the club.
Mado sees the benefits of RuPaul’s Drag Race, how it increases the exposure of drag world-wide, but also points to some notable downsides. “It’s good, but it’s also a trap for the girls because many of them look the same now,” she notes, going on to elaborate how being on the show has become the gold standard for performers. “If you don’t try to go on RuPaul, it can be hard to get jobs because people would rather hire someone from the show.”
Some might say she’s just bitter or jealous, but it’s hard to deny the incoherence when someone who has been doing drag successfully for 30 years doesn’t fit the stereotype, while another who has been doing it for a mere two months gets signed on to a multi-thousand dollar contract because they look like a model.
“I don’t look good,” Mado laughs. But that doesn’t seem to stop patrons from lining up for her shows or her food.
La Dinette isn’t just a place to go for drag brunch. Although they do host events a few times a year, it is predominantly a spot to grab a bite before or after a show. “We wanted to make it good, not cute or tacky, which is sometimes associated with drag,” Mado explains. Half diner, half French bistro, the menu offers everything from hamburgers and poutine, to bavette and beef tartare. They also make what Mado claims to be “the best shortcake in Montreal”, an ideal dessert for strawberry season.
Mado admits that she doesn’t go out to eat often, but rather, her love of cooking contributed to her desire to open a restaurant. “I’m half Italian; I make the best spaghetti sauce in the Village–or so my friends say,” she jokes. It hasn’t graced the menu yet, but perhaps with some convincing, Mado will share her secret recipe.