The Queen Jo Lean Liqueur wooed the crowd with her long red boa and Taco Bell references on Feb. 17.
The Queen Jo Lean Liqueur wooed the crowd with her long red boa and Taco Bell references on Feb. 17.
Hayden Wittenborn

Step inside the Haus of Liqueur

In chilly air and biting wind on a February evening, a small crowd huddled outside the doors of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, their breath foggy in the cold. At 6 p.m. sharp, a volunteer appeared to unlock the doors to the theater.

The crowd shuffled in, enveloped in the warm Art Deco glow and the smell of fresh popcorn in the theater’s lobby. Inside, local artists set up booths to sell their goods. Among the artworks were T-shirts, stickers and lighters plastered with the faces of the Liqueur family.

The Haus of Liqueur is one of the two main drag groups in Boone. They performed their show titled “The Bar is Open” Feb. 17 — something that was in the works for months.

The group was established two years ago when Bubbles Liqueur and Missy V Sour Liqueur, along with a friend who no longer performs, decided they wanted to form a group of drag artists looking to hone their craft.

Now the group has six members who participate in most shows: Bubbles Liqueur, Missy V Sour, Lil Tito Liqueur, Brandi Maxxx, Rose Bush Liqueur and Jo Lean Liqueur.

As friends joined one another at their seats in anticipation of the Haus’ show, some discussed what they expected to see or reminisced on their last Haus of Liqueur experience. This show, however, was different. It was the Haus’ first gig at an establishment that didn’t serve food. They had put in their time at various local bar gigs and drag brunches, but this was the first time they would have all eyes completely on them.

“There was a lot of anxiety because we’re bar people,” said Haus co-founder Missy V Sour. “It’s easy when people are drunk or they’re hanging out with their friends. But this is a theater and the audience is different — they’re sitting.”

Missy V. Sour silver dress was a crowd favorite of the night with its sparkles on Feb. 17. She was the co-host for the night alongside Bubbles Liqueur and ended the night with her dance to “CUFF IT” by Beyoncé.

The Haus acts like a family both on and offstage, sticking with each other through thick and thin, particularly in moments where drag is under scrutiny.

In November 2022, a gunman opened fire at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs. Five people were killed and 25 others were injured in the shooting. Missy V Sour said every day after that, her mom called her to remind her “not to be a hero.”

“Our world got flipped,” said drag king Lil Tito Liqueur. “We started checking in with each other before shows, we made sure we knew where exits and first-aid kits were.”

Missy V Sour said since drag is political, continuing to take up the space and be loud and proud is important — even when the world is against drag.

“It’s hard because how do you comfort someone and say that everything is going to be OK when you don’t know that?” asked Missy V Sour.

Threats of physical violence are not the only issue facing the drag community. In the past few years, laws targeting drag have swept the U.S. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reported there were 141 anti-drag attacks in the U.S. in 2022, with 10 attacks in North Carolina alone. 

The Tennessee Adult Entertainment Act was signed on March 2, 2023 and bans “adult cabaret performance” in public and in front of children. This bill contains vague language about what “adult” means, but does make sure to specify “male or female impersonation,” effectively banning drag in Tennessee as well as putting transgender people at risk. As a result, the Haus of Liqueur has stopped taking gigs in Tennessee, limiting the number of opportunities to perform nearby.

With the current political climate surrounding drag, every chance to perform for a new audience is an important one. The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is one of the biggest venues in Boone, so this show was a huge opportunity for the Haus to showcase their talents. Brandi Maxxx, a fan-turned-member of the Haus, referred to it as her “magnum opus.”

They had been working toward this moment for months. Every Tuesday from 8:30-10:30 p.m., the sounds of music, laughter and the pounding of high heels on hardwood echoed off the mirrored walls of Northwestern Dance Studios in Boone. It was here the family gathered to run through their numbers, making sure every performance was just right down to the minute. Each performer brought their own special flair to their numbers, but the rest of the family was not shy about sharing their honest thoughts in hopes of making each other better.

Brandi Maxx Liqueur practices in her costume during a dress rehearsal at Northwestern Dance Studio on Highway 105 on Feb. 13.

Conceptualized as a variety show to highlight the diversity of its performers, preparations for “The Bar is Open” began in September 2023. Serious planning started three months later when it was announced at the Haus of Liqueur’s holiday show at Lily’s Snack Bar.

“We liked the concept of ‘The Bar is Open’ because with the Haus of Liqueur, no two drinks are the same,” said Haus co-founder Bubbles Liqueur. “You get something different, but delightfully tasty every time.”

The show began with co-hosts Bubbles Liqueur and Missy V Sour putting their natural chemistry on display with an opening dialogue full of witty banter and self-deprecating quips, leading into a duet performance of “Anything You Can Do” to kick off the show. What followed was a dazzling display of humor, emotion and infectious energy with brightly colored costumes popping against the black background of the stage. 

Missy V Sour defined drag as any form of self-expression “through means that are cosmetic.” Bubbles Liqueur agreed, adding, “there’s typically a performative aspect to it.”

Bubbles Liqueur had already been doing drag for three years at the time of the Haus’ founding, but as a self-described “COVID queen,” had never performed. Missy V Sour started performing drag once the Haus officially formed.

Bubbles Liqueur supports herself and the Haus as a graphic designer, having received her degree in graphic design from App State in May 2023. By day, she works for a design firm “pumping out business cards, pamphlets and brochures,” but she also puts these skills to use designing posters and other artwork for the Haus of Liqueur.

She described herself as “a drag queen’s drag queen who’s willing to do the 5, 6, 7, 8 and the traditional showgirl things,” though she enjoys the juxtaposition of her feminine grace with a beard. 

Although she’s only been doing drag for five years, she’s been a performer for much of her life. She participated in choir from fourth grade on and eventually added theater to her repertoire. She appeared multiple times in “An Evening of Entertainment,” now known as “An Evening to Shine,” an annual performing arts showcase by Durham Public Schools held at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

The mother of Haus of Liqueur and co-host of the night Bubbles Liqueur performs her solo with a bold red lip and a cheetah-print dress on Saturday, Feb. 17.

“I love having the spotlight on me,” Bubbles Liqueur said. “So this felt like a very natural progression for me.”

Bubbles Liqueur is joined at the head of the Haus by Missy V Sour, her partner of five years. Though they are engaged and considered the “parents” of the group, Missy V Sour calls herself the auntie of the Haus. Bubbles Liqueur gives advice and encouragement on the creative elements of drag while Missy V Sour helps out with things like booking shows and communicating with venues.

By day, Missy V Sour is a senior cellular/molecular biology student at App State. She said drag gives her an outlet to be creative while working in such a rigid field. Similar to Bubbles Liqueur, Missy V Sour is no stranger to the stage. She also found her performance beginnings by joining the choir in fourth grade, but for her it didn’t carry through to middle school. In high school she joined a punk band, began performing around Durham and even recorded a studio album.

“When I started drag, I had no wig, no body, no corset,” Missy V Sour said. “I had pink hair and a dream, mama.”

Missy V Sour’s biggest goal is to pass on the message of radical self-love and free, pure expression. She said she feels like a beacon in the queer community, and emphasized she served as the only Black person in the room for a long time. 

“It’s been a lot of hard work and preaching that good word of like ‘yeah, Black artists, Black people, brown people, created this scene and this community’ and I try to always champion that message,” Missy V Sour said.

Just weeks after founding the Haus of Liqueur, Bubbles Liqueur and Missy V Sour welcomed their firstborn and “resident drag king” Lil Tito Liqueur. After a study abroad experience in San Jose, Costa Rica, Lil Tito Liqueur delved into the history of drag kings and began to experiment with gender and expression.

“I had pink hair and a dream, mama.”

— Missy V Sour

“Being able to accept my own masculinity is a really big thing for me,” he said. 

Lil Tito Liqueur and Bubbles Liqueur attended the same high school, but lost touch after. They reconnected later in a class at App State and Lil Tito Liqueur decided to join the fledgling Haus.

Lil Tito Liqueur is known for embodying “toxic masculinity” onstage and balancing that aesthetic with fluid movements and more androgynous performance styles.

Following Lil Tito Liqueur is Brandi Maxxx, the rebellious middle child. Missy V Sour describes Brandi Maxxx as a “pageant girl” with a “type A personality.” She started her journey as a fan of the Haus.

One night, she approached Bubbles Liqueur after a show and explained to her that watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” had gotten her through a time she spent in the hospital. With that, she became a member of the Haus.

Bubbles Liqueur said Brandi Maxxx is a wonderful performer and has a strong work ethic to back it up, something she noted is rare. Brandi Maxx built her persona on the idea of commercialized women and capitalized on it.

“I wanted to really exaggerate all of those features,” Brandi Maxxx said. “Really tight waistlines, old glamour, like when makeup and commercial arts started and it became an entire industry focused on putting women in a box but also onstage.” 

Brandi Maxxx’s performance style combines inspiration from her days as a figure skater along with elements of burlesque and voguing, a style of dance in which the performer strikes a series of poses in quick succession. She considers her drag to be a form of gender euphoria — a way to express the most feminine sides of herself.

“I always refer to her as a different character, so usually the night before a show I fall asleep knowing that Sarah is going to sleep tonight and tomorrow Brandi Maxxx is going to wake up, and that’s a whole day routine,” Brandi Maxxx said.

Then there’s Rose Bush Liqueur, the camp middle child. A drag experience, Rose Bush Liqueur breaks the rules of gender, costuming and what a drag performance typically looks like.

In the first act of “The Bar is Open,” Rose Bush Liqueur chose to do a spoken-word poem and sing over dancing, though they utilized their ecstatic dance background — modern dance rooted in rhythmic movement free of restrictions — in the second act to create a space for free, uninhibited expression.

And finally there’s Jo Lean Liqueur, the youngest in the family. She initially came into contact with the family as a vendor at their shows. Missy V Sour said she commissioned a dress from Jo Lean Liqueur during her days as a vendor. She still has not received the dress, but continues to promise it as a gift every holiday.

“I actually joined the Haus so I wouldn’t have to finish the dress,” Jo Lean Liqueur admitted. “I’ll finish it one day, but I have to make it better than ever.”

Jo Lean Liqueur identifies as a trans woman, so drag became a way to tap into her femininity. 

“I used to do drag king stuff and it was fun,” Jo Lean Liqueur said. “But there’s so much more to do with femininity. There are more clothes you can wear and silhouettes and hair. I wanted to add some non-serious stuff to it and just have fun and be stupid with it all. You can look so good, but you gotta have some personality with it.”

The full family of Haus of Liqueur gathers in front of their balloon display to snap a photo on Feb. 17. Pictured from left to right; Missy V. Sour, Brandi Maxx Liqueur, Jo Lean Liqueur, Rose Bush Liqueur, Bubbles Liqueur and Lil Tito Liqueur.

Behind the glamour and glitter of the Haus of Liqueur is a high-heel-shaped chair and two cats. Missy V Sour and Bubbles Liqueur’s apartment has become a house for the Haus — knock on the door and it will be thrown open wide by Bubbles Liqueur clad in gray with a lightning bolt earring. They look out for each other, whether it’s giving rides to the dentist and dropping off forgotten lunches from time to time, or sharing outfits and gathering for bejeweling parties.

“The door is always open, there’s always food on the table and clothes on their backs,” Bubbles Liqueur said.

After wrapping up the show with an energetic performance of Beyoncé’s “Cuff It” wearing a mirrored dress that sent fragments of light flying around the room like a disco ball, Missy V Sour closed the show with a monologue discussing the scrutiny the drag community faces. 

“Something radical, full of self-love is being challenged everywhere, but in North Carolina, they are putting a magnifying glass on us right now,” Missy V Sour said. “And as queer people, and people who are allies, nothing is more important than you being here right now. That is a revolution.”

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