Opening Night, Hamburger Mary's

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By David Hammond

Hamburger Mary's, the drag show lounge next door to Oak Park Brewing Company, 155 S. Oak Park Ave., opened last Friday night, bringing a sassy edge to Oak Park Avenue after dark.

Before the show, I chatted with Brandon Wright, who with Ashley Wright, his brother, and Jim Cozzens ("I'm the straight guy," Cozzens offered), own both Hamburger Mary's and the Oak Park Brewing Company. I asked Brandon why he chose Oak Park, and he explained, "We've been coming to Oak Park a lot for the beer festival, the Oak Park Microbrew Review, and our sister location, Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville, also has a brewery component. So it was a natural fit for this split-concept."

"Oak Park seems perfect," Ashley agrees, "because there wasn't anything like us here." 

True: the only thing that comes close to this new place was karaoke night at the old Nutbush on Harlem.

Hamburger Mary's motto is "an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people," and Brandon describes it as a "fun, festive environment where you can eat and have a flamboyant dining experience." Flamboyancy comes in the campy, colorful room, heavy with photos of Marilyn, Joan and other archetypal feminine icons (not all females). The out-there vibe of the place comes through most dramatically, of course, in the drag performances that take place on weekend evenings.

"But it won't be all drag shows," Brandon said. "There will also be Ham-Bingo, which is where we partner with a local charity once per week to play bingo, hosted by a drag queen; there's an entry fee and everything goes to the charity. And there will be a comedy night, starting near the end of May. Every night there will be something going on in the show lounge; it's a cabaret, kind of like dinner theater."

But you have options. "This is two businesses in one, with the same menu, so you kind of pick your adventure," Ashley explained. "Do you want to go into the brew pub side and maybe catch a game and have a beer, or go on the Mary's side, which is kitschy: gourmet burgers with a side of sass?"

Carolyn and I had a flight of beers and ales and they were fantastic, a beautiful range of flavors, with a few standouts. The Mary Hoppins is an American Pale Ale with slight bitterness from the hops balanced by bright citrusy flavors, a good beer to have with food. We liked the Imperial Red Ale, too, which also had dialed down bitterness coupled with slightly sweet caramel notes. All the beers we had were very good and uniformly well-made. This is perhaps not surprising in that both Brandon and Jim are trained as chemical engineers, so they have a professional understanding of the fermentation process and how to brew deliciousness from grains.

We just had a few nibbles at the bar. This is perfectly fine bar food, but the chow takes a backseat to the beer … and the babes.

Before the show began, I chatted with Angel LeBare, emcee for the evening, performer, and partner of Dan Walsh, her manager, who also teaches choreography and other theater arts at Fenwick. LeBare has performed at the Andersonville Hamburger Mary's, and also at Sidetrack and other Boystown venues. She's tall, curvy and, like all the performers on Friday night, has pretty much perfect skin. If I were to describe a natural born female that way, I might be chastised for reducing a woman to a set of physical attributes, but drag queens are all about projecting an appearance, and so to evaluate appearance seems appreciated because all these ladies are using their illusion to best advantage.

"Female impersonator," I suggested to LeBare, seems like an old-timey term that is maybe no longer in use. She agreed: "There's so many types of drag you can do that are not strictly female. Like there's CIS-gendered, which is in-between, so you look feminine but you're a boy, and though you have glitter and heels on, you're not necessarily trying to look like a female. It's evolved a lot in just the past three years. When I started out seven years ago, it was all about the Baton-style of female illusion. Tonight I have two transgendered performers coming in, and they're going to be giving a very convincing illusion."

In the event you've never been to a drag show, here's the routine: The ladies come out, looking fabulous, lip-sync a tune (frequently a diva-esque number by someone like Cher or Beyonce) and then pass through the audience, collecting bills from appreciative patrons (pro tip: you can bring a bunch of singles, or get change at the bar, where they have singles clipped together in bunches of 10 ready for you to take and tip; and you should tip, generously).

Though the families with kids cleared out before the first queen came on, there was probably no need to leave. 

"We try," said Brandon, "to be very PG-13. At least for the 8 o'clock show; it's gets a little more 'adult' at the 10 o' clock show." In no sense, though, will the performances at Hamburger Mary's be "adult entertainment." This is Oak Park, after all, and it's safe to say that the one-two-punch of Oak Park Brewing Company and Hamburger Mary's is going to help enliven this stretch of Oak Park Avenue.

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Reader Comments

13 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Tony Sock  

Posted: May 5th, 2016 11:11 AM

Female impersonators, transgendered performers, perfect skin, looking fabulous, glitter and heels, "a little more 'adult' at the 10 o' clock show," all right here on Oak Park Ave...I'm in heaven.

Ben DeBruin  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 5:38 PM

Colette, I think the customers of Hamburger Mary's need church far less than you do. Seems like you are too busy judging the customers of establishments in town rather than doing things you should be.

James West  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 3:40 PM

Leslie Sutphen, if you have had a visit to Mary's Hamburger's, in Andersonville, you would have found that there is nothing special about the food or the place. If you want a fun night out, go to Sidetrack. It is an upper scale place, and has lots of fun. Regardless if you are straight, bi sexual, transgender, cross dresser, married or not, you will enjoy some of the best entertainment in a nightclub. If Sidetrack, thought there was a demand in Oak Park, that would be a place that would be fun for adults. So spend some time, and find places that really offer a fun night out, not a place that has curtains blocking the window which makes the place look like no one cares about style.

James West  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 2:09 PM

Leslie Sutphen, there is nothing new about drag shows as a night out for entertainment. There use to be a shop on Oak Park avenue, that sold clothes for men, who wanted to dress as women. That was around the time the bar that catered to gay's, was on Lake street. Los Angeles, had a lot of drag shows in the 1960's, and it was located in an area that was away from what would be considered a family neighborhood. What some people may object to is the location placed in a family neighborhood. Madison strip would be the place to have a lot of entertainment for every person's interests.

James West  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 2:02 PM

Miguel H Gonzalez, Oak Park, would not be able to continue if it wasn't for the Abu Talebs, bringing in Hamburger Mary's, and Oak Park Brewery. Soon, maybe Oak Park, can start having Bar's, with video gambling, and gentlemen clubs. There are people who like that type of entertainment, and Madison street, would be a good location. Lets not forget about people who are into fetishes. Those people also deserve to be welcomed to the business districts. People need to stop thinking Oak Park, is just about architecture. A hotel on Madison street, would be a location that visitors from all over, can come for the architecture, catch a strip show or drag show, drink in a bar, eat a few of Mary's Hamburger's, and finish there night making their way back to the hotel.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 12:35 PM

We were there later on Saturday night and the show and the following karaoke were a lot of fun, and I would not be afraid to bring my teenage daughter to participate. It was nothing but fun and no threat to any one. Oak Park needs more fun places like this! They have over 10,000 songs in their Karaoke collection!

Miguel H Gonzalez from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 12:19 PM

While we're splitting hairs - OPB and HM's are across the street from an apartment/condo building. The church is a half block south. And the school is on the next block to the south. There's a limited range of commercial frontage in Oak Park. And since the Abu Talebs invested heavily in opening Maya Del Sol, this block of S Oak Park Ave has thrived. The owners could've chosen a spot on Madison in Forest Park. And it brings into focus the pending reconstruction plans for Madison east of Oak Park Ave, which can and should attract thriving, unique and welcoming businesses whose success fills our village tax coffers. Oak Park has a long, sorry history of allowing its barely hidden hang ups to ruin economic development. We need more HMs and OPBs. And to bring them into the Village, we need to stop splitting hairs once and for all.

James West  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 12:00 PM

Colette Ann Verdun, the windows are covered with a drape, so no one passing by will be able to tell what is going on. Maybe the men, who wear woman's clothes, will change back into men's clothes, and leave through the back door of the building.

Colette Ann Verdun from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 4:40 AM

The church has evening services too. Perhaps passing a church on the way to Hamburger Mary's will have an impact on its customers.

Colette Ann Verdun from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 4:37 AM

Regarding comments on my comment: the school building will probably be leased to another school organization.

Ben DeBruin  

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 5:29 PM

Colette, what does that have to do with anything? How does an evening drag show have any effect on a school or church?

Mike Hanline  

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 3:59 PM

The school is closing.

Colette Ann Verdun from Oak Park  

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 3:43 PM

across from a church and a school. Interesting choice of location.

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