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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid