By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Photos by Russel Bowen-Youngblood
Coming into this year’s Pride, Lips Atlanta celebrated its tenth anniversary in Atlanta. But Atlanta was far from where the Lips adventure started – in fact, Atlanta was the fourth Lips franchise in the Lips Restaurant Group, founded by Yvonne Lamé. Mikkel Hyldebrandt spoke to Yvonne about the origins of it all, the anniversary party, and where it’s all going next!
Yvonne, first huge congratulations on ten years in Atlanta! That’s quite the feat, but it’s not even where it all began. Can you share the incredible story of the success of Lips?
I am Yvonne Lamé, the founder of the Lips Restaurant Group, and my partners and I have five restaurants throughout the United States, with Atlanta being our fourth location. Greenwich Village gave birth to Lips in October of 1996. Lips was a product and a creation of the androgynous clubs and “club kids” that ruled the night and nighttime festivities throughout Manhattan in clubs like Studio 54, Limelight, Palladium, and Area. The Village was booming with a freeness of expression that could only manifest itself in New York City. Manhattan became the breeding ground where Drag Queens were becoming recognized and accepted, and their performances and appearances were transitioning to a new art form, which we now call drag.
What do you think makes Lips such a success?
Lips has blended dining and drag shows in a kind of interactive dinner theater environment that has been serving up good food, strong cocktails, featuring the world-famous frozen cosmopolitan, along with world-class “La Cage Style” drag shows on a level that has been compared to Las Vegas, hence “The Ultimate In Drag Dining.” This combination has been the main reason Lips has flourished and grown.
Not only does Lips have its flagship location in Manhattan, but Lips has expanded to include Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, and Fort Lauderdale. Forbes Magazine has called us “the nation’s largest drag cabaret chain.” The second and most important reason for our success is that the heterosexual community has, over these past almost three decades, embraced the notion of men wanting to dress as women and individuals wishing to transition to women, all in celebration of women and with the focus on having fun and self-expression. We must also shout out to RuPaul, who has brought drag into the living rooms of millions over the past two decades, further extending drag’s reach and the general acceptance as the art form it has become.
How did you celebrate the occasion?
On Monday, October 2, Lips and the entire Lips Family turned out to celebrate ten fabulous years in Atlanta, which, by the way, has become my partner and I’s primary residence – we love Atlanta. The anniversary celebration was a smashing success, filled with friends and fans. Queens from New York and Chicago attended, and I believe it was one of the best shows ever performed by the Atlanta Lips Queens. The photographs are all over social media, and the buzz was super positive. Marking our tenth anniversary, expect new electrifying shows filled with group numbers and queens dressed in outfits that will dazzle you.
Tell me a little about the journey here in Atlanta – how has Lips Atlanta evolved over the decade?
Atlanta was our fourth location, and once we understood how revered Queens and the art form of drag was to Atlantans, we felt the fit was perfect. Upon walking into Lips on Buford Highway in Brookhaven, expect to have a good time! Expect good food, strong drinks, and the best drag show. Expect the Lips experience to make you feel good, even feel better if you’ve had a rough day. The queens will entertain you, and your spirits will be lifted. Everyone leaves Lips feeling good and with a smile. And if you love music, the girls’ performances will get you dancing along. We are just the ultimate party palace!
Where do you see Lips Atlanta 10 years from now?
Over the next ten years, Lips intends to be a pillar in the gay community, helping employ drag queens, trans girls, and a multitude of support staff individuals. We feel an obligation to our community, the drag community, to provide viable employment on a consistent basis so that drag queens and trans girls can enjoy a level of success both within the community and as the celebrities they are. Lips will continue to be a wonderful place to work, a wonderful place to make a living, a wonderful place to become the star they are, and a wonderful place to achieve the American dream. Something that in many cities is not afforded to drag queens and trans girls. We are here to change that and to provide a safe environment where they can work, grow, and express their talent. That’s what Lips plans to do over the next decades in Atlanta. We own the building on Buford Highway, so we look past the next ten years and say we will be the ultimate drag dining experience in Atlanta for decades.
Go to lipsatl.com or call 404-315-7711 to make a reservation at Lips Atlanta.