News / Africa

'Beefy' Men Strut Across South Africa’s Social Boundaries

  • “I’d say seven out of ten clients now are women,” said one of the Beefcakes boys introduced onstage. The club serves Pink Tea cocktails and Greek God hamburgers in a venue modeled after a 1950s Miami burger bar. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Herman Botha mimes a song at Beefcakes, a fashionable restaurant-bar in Johannesburg where this “middle-class Afrikaans boy” performs as Alley Hoop. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • A new clientele of heterosexual women come to see Alley Hoop and Cadenza (Alain Fleischman) perform in a club the manager says used to be the center of the city’s gay universe. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Laughter erupts from the tables as Cadenza sways through the audience. The manager believes the club’s success demonstrates a new Johannesburg tolerance. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Beefcakes now caters to an increasingly diverse mix of South Africans out to have fun in a safe, happy environment. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Cadenza receives a kiss on the cheek as he and Alley Hoop greet their fans after the show. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
Darren Taylor

On a crisp winter’s night, a beautiful, lithe woman emerges from the glutinous darkness that saturates the stage of a bar and restaurant in upmarket Illovo, Johannesburg.

‘Strike a pose! Strike a pose!’ breathes Madonna, as her hit song ‘Vogue’ begins to ooze from an overhead speaker. 

The audience below is dappled in diamonds of light that dance over them from a massive mirror ball.

Flashes from a strobe light herald dawn at midnight, bouncing violet light off the gyrating woman’s platinum blonde hair, which is streaked with pink. Lips caked with shocking pink lipstick shape a pout, the woman wears a tight and knotted ruffled pink blouse and a powder blue satin dress that accentuates her thighs.

When she winks they erupt, whooping and shouting.

But the object of their manic cheers, as attractive a package as it is, is no woman at all … It’s Herman Botha, a “middle class, Afrikaans boy,” fashion designer by day, one of South Africa’s top drag artists – Alley Hoop - by night.

Listen to Taylor report on remarkable South African club
Listen to Taylor report on remarkable South African clubi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

 

His “partner in heinous assorted crimes of passion” is the bigger-boned and tattooed Cadenza, aka Alain Fleischmann, a Jewish hair stylist in a crimson wig, thick scarlet lipstick, skin-tight black and turquoise striped spandex leotard and black gloves sporting sharp silver talons. 

Women are taking over

While Alley Hoop and Cadenza entertain the crowd, muscular young men in pink and black tank tops prowl the premises of Beefcakes, a night spot modeled on a burger bar circa 1950’s Miami Beach, serving Pink Tea cocktails and Greek God hamburgers.  

“All of our staff are gorgeous, with six packs; all young,” says manager Jono Lawson.

One of these “beefcakes” is Daniel Critchfield. 

“When I started here about a year ago, most clients were gay men. Then suddenly huge amounts of straight women of all ages started coming in. I’d say seven out of every ten clients now are women,” says the 18-year-old.

“On Saturdays we’re fully booked three months in advance and it’s just women. There are just women everywhere and they go wild and start screaming…”

This, says Critchfield, is “heaven” for a “straight boy” like him. 

“It’s a good feeling when you’re on stage and you take your shirt off and almost a hundred women start screaming for you… Once they get started you never know what’s going to happen.

“One night I was walking around; I had no top on… with two plates in my hand with burgers on them…. then this woman just jumps at me out of nowhere, just grabs me … The women go crazy; they actually lose their minds…”

‘Safe and sexy’

According to Lawson, Beefcakes used to be the center of Johannesburg’s gay universe.

“It was started as a gay bar, with the idea of it catering to gay men and their friends, and having something (for them) a little bit more fun than a dark, dingy, dodgy club to go to.”

But now, he says, the venue’s become “a happy, safe, sexy place for girls to go to, a place where they don’t feel threatened. So they don’t have to be harassed by drunken men at a bar and if they want to get a bit drunk and throw (their) name (away), it’s just with the gays and some girls.”

 Lawson says the bar’s become so popular with women that he’s had to reserve Thursday and Saturday evenings for bachelorette parties.

“So there’s moms and grand-moms sometimes coming to those so you’ve got to cater for those people too, whilst maintaining the fabulousness of drag,” he insists. 

Everybody blending in, with pina coladas

Tonight, as with most nights, Beefcakes is thronged by a diverse, multiracial cross-section of South African society: A group of well-to-do black ladies, dressed elegantly, tucks into Pina Coladas. Some Muslim men sit at one table, wearing pink hard hats and whistling at another of Alley Hoop’s risqué antics.

“We’ve had a 75-year-old woman doing a body shot off one our boys… We’ve had big, butch, scary men walking in here petrified, who end up dancing on the tables with feather boas and glitter hats,” says Lawson. 

He acknowledges that just a few years ago this open celebration of gay culture -“and all things pink” - would never have happened, not even in one of South Africa’s notably liberal corners.  

“The way that this mix has happened over the years has got something to do with South Africa’s past,” Lawson reasons. “For so long during apartheid, it was against the law for different races and religions and sexual orientations to mix. Now that we’re free of this oppression, we mix with whoever we damn well like, even drag queens. I think it’s just a sign of the times, that people don’t need to be boxed anymore.”   

Lawson believes that Beefcakes offers further proof that South Africa is a remarkably tolerant country.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect; we still have our problems, but here you have mosques next to Christian churches, black people living next to white people and gay nightclubs next to straight nightclubs.

“As society becomes more accepting of homosexuals, homosexuals become more accepting of society and everybody starts blending in.”

No more freaks

Fleischmann, fresh off the stage and sweating profusely, his makeup running in rivulets down his cheeks, says drag shows were until recently an “almost exclusively gay thing” in South Africa.

He points to a table of bearded men, some wearing plaid shirts and jeans, and comments: “That’s a bachelor’s party, totally straight men coming to watch my drag show; it’s unbelievable; wonderful!”   

Fleischmann says South Africans are finally embracing drag artists as “genuine” entertainers and not just as “novelties” and “freaks” … Although he says he appreciates that his Beefcakes gigs allow him to express his “freakishness.”  

Beefcake body shots

In another boisterous corner of the bar, a woman in her 40s, eyes gleaming with mischief, is working up the courage to consume a shot of tequila… from the ripped torso of a beefy waiter.

“This is something unique that we offer our customers: the chance to do a body shot off any one of our waiters or bar staff,” says a beaming Lawson. 

That’s Beefcakes - a place where lunacy often rules, but emerges as a sanctuary free from prejudice, and offers a reflection of a rapidly changing South Africa.  

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs