Hundreds of people in designer jeans, evening gowns and suits will head to Ybor City's Honey Pot on Sunday to watch the region's up-and-coming drag queens compete for a crown.
Some will arrive in limousines and sit at linen-covered tables behind velvet ropes. Six-and-a-half-foot queens will strut the red carpet to clicking cameras.
Pageant promoter Bob Taylor promises an "euphoric'' night.
The scene has become increasingly common at the Honey Pot, a nightclub along the Seventh Avenue strip. More than three years after opening as a Las Vegas-style burlesque bar, the club has evolved into a hot spot for major drag queen pageants.
"We are very quickly becoming regarded around the nation as a home for the best drag talent in the country,'' said D. Stephen Moss, a Honey Pot co-owner who also owns G.Bar and the Ybor City Social Club.
Much of the credit goes to Taylor, owner of four Miss Gay Florida USofA pageants. He recently won the bid to host two of the national competitions at the Honey Pot this year: the Miss Gay USofA At-Large pageant for queens over 200 pounds and the Miss Gay USofA Newcomer pageant for anyone who hasn't competed for a national title.
For years, he held the Florida competitions in Orlando but outgrew the space and gave the Honey Pot a try. More than 10 pageants later, he has no plans to leave.
"Ybor has come alive again,'' said Taylor, who lived in Tampa for many years and worked as a male entertainer at Tracks, a hot gay club in the early 1990s. "The gay community has really come and supported it.''
The pageants attract 700 to 1,000 guests, many from out of town. Contestants come with an entourage of makeup artists and costume designers and stay for several days.
"The economic impact of the last one brought in $600,000,'' said Mark Bias, co-secretary of the GaYbor District Coalition, which promotes gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses. "They spent six days in our hotels, eating and drinking, and never left Ybor, which we loved.''
The Miss Gay Florida USofA 2011 pageant in January was one of the biggest preliminary contests nationwide, Taylor said, and drew special guest Tabatha Coffey from Tabatha's Salon Takeover on Bravo. Nine contestants were judged on their evening gowns and talents, from singing to playing instruments to dancing a la Beyonce and Britney Spears. Interviews focused on the art of impersonation.
Up next at the Honey Pot are the Miss Gay Tampa Bay Florida America Pageant on April 17 and the Miss Tampa Bay Comedy Queen Pageant on May 16, both preliminaries for larger pageants.
Michael Dixon, a.k.a. Daphne Ferraro, chose the Honey Pot for the first comedy queen qualifier because the staff is accommodating and the large dressing areas and lighting work well for drag shows.
"The venue is perfect,'' said Dixon, who has hosted the Evolution of Drag theatrical shows at the club. "I've looked at other venues in the area and there is a lot of nonsense. They aren't as easy to deal with.''
The comedy show will take an even more light-hearted look at drag than other pageants. Contestants will interpret funny ladies of the screen, from Bette Midler to Barbra Streisand. They'll answer impromptu questions and wear evening gowns made from nontraditional materials.
"The idea is to make the audience laugh,'' he said. And make them come back for more.