A nearly 7-foot-tall she-man emerges in heels, a miniature disco ball strapped to her left eye. Glowing in the light cast by the flashlight and lumbering in a simulated robot-style gait to Fred Schneider's voice, she makes her way up and down the aisles, between young diners dancing in their seats. She leans over and beckons those brave enough to enter her spotlight and hand her dollar bills.
She is Miss EJ, one of the female impersonators at Nickiemoto's show, Dragamaki. Her act is followed by Martina Diamante and Chili Pepper, who shimmy and shake their asses to Britney and Whitney, elbowing their way through tipsy patrons and servers toting trays of lipstick-rimmed glasses.
The posh Midtown Japanese fusion eatery is standing-room-only, and people are waiting 45 minutes for a table for two. A large table of young women is celebrating a birthday, and between sipping wine and munching California rolls, they fork over dollar bills to the men dressed like women.
According to Daniel Frye, manager at the restaurant and the producer of Dragamaki, Monday nights often trump Fridays and Saturdays for total sales.
"The owners were careful in that they didn't want [the restaurant] to turn into a drag bar," says Frye. "But when they saw that Mondays, which were the slowest nights, can now attract this type of crowd, then they couldn't say no."
Enjoying entertainment along with your entree is not an unfamiliar concept to Atlanta diners. Sopping up smooth jazz tunes along with your surf 'n' turf is an option in many restaurants. But, now, instead of providing ambient noise, entertainment catering to today's short attention spans gets in your face (or on your table), so that you have no choice but to put down your utensils and get involved in the show.
In fact, some restaurants are banking on just that. There are, after all, restaurants with entertainment, and then there are performances that include food. Which came first -- the food or the entertainment -- is usually easy to decipher from first bite. Restaurants like Nickiemoto's became well-known slinging sushi before serving up slinky numbers to boost their bottom lines. A restaurant like Agatha's, on the other hand, had an entertainment package from the start, with food and drink included as part of the deal. Judging from the turnout at these locales, both concepts work, drawing crowds in search of fun, not just fuel.
On a Wednesday night, Andaluz, the Spanish tapas restaurant on Peachtree, comes alive with music and dance from across the Atlantic. The food sets the stage with authentic dishes like rape con aguacate (grilled monkfish and marinated avocado on skewers) and pan tomate (fresh tomato and olive oil on crusty bread). Peachtree Street fades and diners are transported across the Atlantic to Spain, at least for a few hours.
The tables and bar are filled to capacity with regulars there to see the costumes and footwork of Atlanta's Pasion Flamenca, who don their flouncy dresses and dancing shoes for a performance of the classic Spanish-style dancing that has been around for hundreds of years.
Swedish-born Ulrika Frank, who has been teaching and performing flamenco since arriving in Atlanta in 1999, joins guest dancer Marta Sid Ahmed in a stomping frenzy. Their rhythmic claps echo throughout the tight corners of the tiny eatery and spark an already smoldering fire within the crowd.
"This is the closest to the real thing that you'll get in Atlanta. They're great!" one patron booms to his friend at the bar, reputedly the best seat in the house.
The red wall lights emit a soft glow above the heads of Polish guitarist Witold Tulodziecki and bass player Mike Cady. Ahmed takes the stage first, whirling her skirt and whipping her hands about to the beat. The tables are only inches from the performers, so onlookers feel the breeze of whizzing skirts. The stomping and clicking of Ahmed's shoes on the small plywood stage hypnotizes the crowd. Later Frank and Ahmed dance together and joust about on the stage like a bull and toreador.
In between dances, the music continues and spontaneous eruptions of whooping and dancing erupt within the crowd. Some are students of Frank's eager to show off what they've learned, and others are attempting the dance for the first time, doing their best to kick up their clunky heels to the rhythm. Flamenco is contagious, and they've all been infected.
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