Out with a whimper: Tilt Nightclub officially closes

A week after announcing on Facebook that drag shows were no more and new management was being introduced, Tilt Nightclub’s Facebook page said it simply: Tilt Nightclub is closed.

The last drag show on Saturday, August 4th, was not without controversy as performers and attendees found their photos had been removed from the television screens that hang around the venue, having run a loop of pictures every night previously. In addition, an attendee accused a “bathroom attendant”, which many noted Tilt had never had before, of telling him to “tone down the gay.” The news of this interaction, along with other’s accounts of rude new employees, spread like wildfire over social media the next morning and was endorsed by DeeDee Dubois during her Sunday  live video “tea” session. The video, which has since been taken down — as Dubois mentioned she would — touched on some behind-the-scenes situations the general public was not privy to, including owner Bill Levy’s firing of his daughter one week before Rochester Pride 2018, the numerous attempts from performers to update the club and marketing, and financials decisions regarding pay for performers. Dubois was quick to point out that she was sharing the information to dispel rumors and because she was saddened that a safe place for LGBTQ+ people, and especially young (18-20) LGBTQ+ people, had been taken away. “Have more love for the businesses that do support you and what you believe than having hate for those that you feel don’t.”

Tilt’s social media presence remained silent as previous supporters changed their reviews of the club and it’s ratings plummeted from 4.8 to 3.8 almost overnight. Then, Wednesday, August 8, the previous announcement about changing management and the end of drag shows disappeared and a new status was published:

Tilt Nightclub is closed.
Tilt had some very successful nights…New Years, Pride, Halloween, WCP’s, the Black & White Parties were big. But the last few years, most of the other 39 weeks Tilt was operating at a loss. Many Thursdays we only had 40-75 customers; Saturdays 80 to 150. I stopped being able to take a paycheck 2 years ago. Then I was 67 years old, so luckily I was able to start getting Social Security & some property rental income.
These past few years Tilt’s Friday Latin nights were successful. That revenue subsidized Thursdays & Saturdays. Friday Latin nights kept the drag shows alive. However, Fridays have declined. I kept it going as long as I could. Operating Tilt was simply no longer financially viable for me. Being 1 month away from 70 years old I don’t have the energy, ambition or resources to continue.
Up until this week partners Dan Schirmer & Jon Robins had planned to take over. They wanted Tilt Nightclub to continue operating, just no longer having drag shows on Thursdays & Saturdays. When Tilt started 13 years ago we were one of only a couple places with drag shows. Now they’re mainstream everywhere… colleges, bars, restaurant brunches, even The Memorial Art Gallery.
Their thinking was, Tilt is the biggest dance club in Rochester. Maybe no drag shows would be a positive change. It’d give our patrons more opportunity to dance, provide more continuity to the party. And of course, no drag shows would save substantially on payroll every week too.
But now seeing all the hate, the numerous insults, the many threats, the outright lies and the gross misrepresentations that have been posted here and on other social media, has caused Dan and Jon to re-think their plan. They have decided not to take over and continue Tilt.
As for the controversy over the “bathroom attendant” this past Saturday; This person was not an employee; He was not approved or authorized to be in the men’s bathroom. We were completely unaware of his presence what so ever. At 11:45 four customers came and told me in the front lobby what he said to them. Immediately I sent our GM & security personnel to eject this person from our premises. I understand the outrage, but anyone who has been a customer at Tilt over the past 13 years knows that’s not the way our staff behaved, never the way we treated customers.
I want extend my appreciation to all the great patrons that supported Tilt over the past 13 years. And also I have to give a gigantic, sincere thank you to all the good employees that made everything possible.
Bill Levy

The post has garnered 303 comments, 383 shares, and 464 reactions as of time of posting. Many comments thank Levy for his ownership and reminisce on memories of first visits to the club, while others were not sold by the post and accused Levy of shifting blame for declining business to drag performers. Some even voiced suspicion that the club would “re-open” as something else in a few months, hoping to dodge the public relations snafu that has emerged in the last two weeks.

Regardless of what happens next, it is clear Tilt Nightclub as the Rochester community knew it is done. A place where many people first experienced an LGBTQ+ social space outside of small GSA meetings in high school, or at all. A place where friendships, partnerships, and relationships bloomed, exploded, fizzled out, and strengthened. A place that let everyone’s true colors shine right through.

Dubois and other performers, including Samantha Vega, Wednesday Westwood, Ginger KaiKai, and more, have been busy approaching other venues for monthly show space. Dubois has created “DeeDee’s Club Night Out” on Facebook and the first “night out” — The Ultimate Black Party — is scheduled for Sunday, September 2 at Photo City Improv.

A “happy hour” show, sit down dinner/theater show, and Halloween themed brunch are all in the works at East End Tavern as well. 

140 Alex has begun testing an 18+ night on Thursdays, in an effort to absorb displaced under-21 community members who no longer have Tilt to attend. 140 Alex also runs drag shows Wednesday-Saturday nights:

  • Wednesday – ‘Drag Me to My Destiny’ hosted by Destiny Spice
  • Thursday – ‘King-Sized’ hosted by Cassanova the King
  • Friday – ‘Pop! at 140’ hosted by Destiny Spice
  • Saturday – ‘Shitshow Saturday’ hosted by Kyla Minx

Boyz Night Out offers a monthly drag revue at Firehouse Saloon on S. Clinton & Miegs on the first Saturday of each month 10pm-2am. Proceeds from the door go directly to community members. September’s event will be held September 1. Hosted by Miss Deelicious.

What the Frock?! Fridays at Lux Lounge on South Avenue are a monthly drag show on varying Friday evenings, hosted by Wednesday Westwood, featuring  KiKi BañañaHammøck, Veronica Lace, and a guest performer each month. August’s show will be Friday, August 17 at 11pm featuring Westwood, Minx, Lace, and special guest Kashi GoLean.

Edibles Restaurant offers “Drag Me to Brunch”, a monthly drag brunch featuring a rotating cast of performers with Mrs. Kasha Davis, Westwood, Darienne Lake, and special guests like Ambrosia Salad, Pandora Boxx, Aggy Dune, and others.

The Out Alliance’s InQueery program hosts monthly drag queen bingo at venues across the city with a rotating cast of queens who perform and call numbers on the last Monday of each month. August‘s will be at Three Heads Brewing, hosted by Vivian Darling, Ms. Figgy Pudding, and Vanity Faire. Doors at 6:30, show and games at 7.

Flower City Queens has produced the first-ever drag calendar of Rochester’s famous and infamous. A portion of each sale will go towards area LGBTQ community organizations and programs like Out AllianceCenter for Youth, Drag Queen Storytime, and more!

Vivian Darling is directing a drag satirical farce dinner show at 140 Alex, to begin September 18, titled “She Done Tried It”. Tickets are $40 and include a 3 course dinner along with admission to the show. Tickets will be on sale starting Monday, August 12, available at 140 Alex, 1872 Cafe (431 West Main Street), and through the cast: Nevada Reign, Gizelle Dela Goodhead, Vivian Darling, MJ Thrillhernightly, Chastity Dee, Aziza Bijou, Hans Oliver, Cassanova the King, andFrankie Starr. Cash accepted at all locations. If you need to purchase via credit card, please contact Vivian Darling on Facebook or via email (Kevin.milliard@gmail.com)

Drag Story Hour at Blackfriars Theatre with Mrs. Kasha Davis has expanded from 6 to 12 shows this season. This free program features inclusive children’s stories that focus on themes of acceptance, love, identity and diversity. Each event will include a story, a dance party and a craft activity. September’s story hour(s): Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 10 a.m. AND 12:30 p.m.

A community survey has been posted to gauge interest and engagement for drag events. Survey closes 8/25: https://goo.gl/forms/T9haFyBgsfxSGdrn1

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