Bob and Barbara’s is a bar on South Street west of Broad, a divey holdover from the days before this Center City neighborhood gentrified.
The tavern is famous for its citywide special — that’s a shot of whiskey and a beer for about $3 — and its enthusiastic embrace of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the cheap Milwaukee brew turned hipster icon.
The bar began hosting Thursday night drag shows in the mid-1990s. A few years ago, the host of these hugely popular events, Lisa Lisa, lobbied to extend the tradition to Thanksgiving evening. Now it serves as a sanctuary for those who have the holiday blues or just need a break from their family.
“I personally don’t want to work on Thanksgiving, and I don’t expect any of the employees to work on Thanksgiving,” said Jack Prince, the owner of the bar since 1988. “But this is something the management and the performers and Lisa want to do. And if they want to do it, I’m not going to stop them. I might not be here myself, but they started their own tradition.”
Unlike a usual Thursday, there’s no charge at the door. Dinner is offered, and it is free too. Everyone contributes. The drag performers cook, the employees cook, Lisa herself cooks.
Sitting at the counter on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Lisa laughed and ticked off all the food that will be on offer: turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, greens, macaroni and cheese.
“Some people just don’t have any place to go for Thanksgiving,” said Lisa. “They realize we are having a Thanksgiving dinner here, and they’ll come and eat food because it’s free. Then they’ll have a good time, and see a bunch of wild girls jump up on stage.”
Although Lisa said her drag shows aren’t political, a visit to Bob and Barbara’s could be just the antidote following a long presidential campaign.
The election is part of the grim grind that should be left at the door, said Lisa. Despite her insistence on this point, Lisa also emphasized that Bob and Barbara’s, and Prince himself, have long been in the vanguard of championing LGBTQ acceptance in Philadelphia.
“This bar is straight, and you can have a drag show, and everybody’s welcome,” said Lisa. “That’s something that you don’t come across a lot.”
The bar and the performances have certainly served as sites of both celebration and mourning. The only ornamentation on the door of Bob and Barbara’s is a rainbow sticker reading “Love Wins: We Stand With Orlando.”
The doors open for the Thanksgiving show at 8 p.m., dinner is served at 8:30 p.m., and the performance starts at 11 p.m.Asked if the audience for the show will be any different than the usual Thursday shows, Lisa just shrugged and said it’ll be the usual crowd.
“Straight, gay, or whatever they want to be,” said Lisa. “They just come to have a good time. It’s a friendly place. With a lot of Pabst.”