The Allways Lounge & Cabaret is on a bustling corner of St. Claude Avenue that has throngs of people spilling from the bars even on slow nights. On the second Friday night of February, the smell of spiced boiled crawfish wafts over from a street vendor as I enter the lounge, and walk to the back for the comedy show “Greetings, from Queer Mountain.”
The Allways Lounge & Cabaret was formerly a gay cowboy-themed bar called “Cowpokes.” The current owner of the space and her former business partner took over from the owner of Cowpokes and began putting on burlesque and cabaret shows in the bar. The lounge includes two performance spaces: a front lounge and bar with a small stage and a back performance area through an elegant courtyard. The latter stage is known as “the Twilight room,” it was formerly the Marigny theater.
“We were definitely more theater than bar,” says owner Zalia Beville on the founding of Allways. “But the bar is a means to an end and the cabaret just kind of developed from there.”
Beville began working in Burlesque at the Shim Sham club as a dresser for the Shim Shamettes.
“They were pretty much the first nouveau burlesque troupe in America,” says Beville. While there, she worked alongside the “original burlesque queens” from Bourbon St. like Kitty West, known as Evangeline the Oyster Girl, and Taj Mahal.
“I didn’t realize at the time what a very amazing movement that we were a part of and to see what it has become with changing its views is lovely to behold,” says Beville.
Now she describes the shows at the Allways Lounge and Cabaret as an even mix of comedy shows, variety, music, and burlesque. The club will turn ten years old this week.
“Our theme of all ways crosses into booking as well as gender & interests,” Beville adds.
A show at the Allways, whether it’s music, or something raunchier, is intimate. The front lounge is a small space where the audience can sit at the bar, a high counter or in the pit before the stage at small tables. Though the bar may take a backseat to the performances, the whiskey sours on offer are delicious.
As for the show I came to see, “Greetings, from Queer Mountain,” it was a storytelling comedy show, sad, sweet, and hilarious as the best comedy shows are. The format of the show is roughly six queer performers with eight-minute storytelling standup sets—there are also “Greetings” shows now in New York City, Oakland, and Austin, where the show started. Each month also has a theme, though performers are free to use it in their sets or ignore it.
The New Orleans show began across the street in the Hi-Ho lounge, then was based out of The New Movement comedy theater down the road, before finding a home at the Allways.
“It’s such a supportive space,” says Amanda Golob, who hosts the New Orleans “Greetings.”
“Everyone wants you to do well, so if you’re thinking about performing, it’s a good place to get your start.”
Golob began doing standup five years ago in New Orleans. Recalling her very first set, she tells me that half of it was about being gay. The other half, she explains, was topical—the Sochi Winter Olympics.
At “Greetings,” Golob tries to have each show feature two first-time performers, and she offers help and encouragement to newbies.
During the February show, performers spoke of their partners and wives, Celine Dion, the second coming of “The L Word,” Mardi Gras costuming traditions, and queerness in a “hippie evangelical community.”
“I try to balance performers… different queer identities, gender identities, racial identities [in the show],” says Golob, who notes that the format of Greetings does tend to skew female, in definite contrast to mainstream comedy.
“A lot of queer spaces are dying,” says Golob frankly.
“Part of it is because society is growing and changing in a way where you can be queer in heteronormative spaces and it’s way more accepted than it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago, but I still think our queer identity is such a huge part of who we are.”
You can find more shows at the Allways Lounge and Cabaret here, and follow “Greetings, From Queer Mountain- New Orleans” here. The show is every second Friday in the Allways Lounge Twilight Room at 7:30 p.m.