San Francisco’s drag scene is a vital part of the city’s community. And few queens command quite the status of Juanita MORE! Quite literally drag royalty, she was recently crowned Empress of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, an organization with more than 50 years of history and advocacy in the LGBTQ+ community. She too has helped support organizations like the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund, LGBT Asylum Project, and Our Trans Youth.
A philanthropist and civil rights activist, MORE! is also a legendary entertainer and hostess. A self-proclaimed denizen of the limelight, she has hosted events all over San Francisco in her decades in the drag community — but also loves to entertain at her own home, from her beautifully outfitted studio apartment, where she’s lived for 30 years. An accomplished chef who has cooked in kitchens from San Francisco to New York, she often hosts friends new and old, whether for elaborate holiday meals or unforgettable parties. Here, she tells us about her favorite holiday memories, her beloved chosen family, and her lifelong love of the kitchen.
As told to Vox Creative
I’ve been a chef all my life. And sharing food with my family and friends is my way of sharing my love for them. The holidays are a chance for me to cook — whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, I always plan on making something that I can share. I’m always the cook.
When I was a little kid, I would stand on a chair and watch my parents cook. And then, when we went over to my grandmother’s house, I was in the kitchen, right by her side. When we went over to my aunt and uncle’s house, of course the parents would tell us kids to go outside and play. But I would say, no, I want to stay in the kitchen. That’s always the place I feel the most connected to the holidays.
One of my favorite holiday memories is being in awe as my grandmother pulled this beautiful turkey out of the oven on Thanksgiving. And my grandmother had this beehive hairdo, and she was wearing gold metallic flats with her mumu... So her style didn’t go very far! It landed right with me.
My first holiday meal in San Francisco was the year I moved into my current apartment — around 1990. There was just one folding table, and I only had four people over, all super-close to me. But we still shared all that love and all that food together, and I try to keep that feeling the same, every year.
I like to get into the holiday spirit by first making myself a cocktail. I’m a big music freak, so I’ll put together a playlist of jazz and enjoy my drink.
I have a lot of amazing bartenders in my life. There have been cocktails that have been created in my name; there’ve been cocktails that have been created in the color of my lipstick. I love bitter things. I love citrus. I love salt. Those are the key elements that always go into my drinks.
I’ve always been a fan of SKYY Vodka; when I’m in the mood for a vodka cocktail, it is my go-to. Over the years, SKYY has been a big supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, and I applaud that. And they built their roots right here in San Francisco.
I love the Salty Collins, as my cocktail preference leans more towards the bitter. It is cool, light, and refreshing, and a great start to a dinner party. The Winter’s Bite is also a big favorite, as I love the fruits of winter. Enjoying a cocktail really helps me get into the mood and get my appetite going. I have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet, and I love when people come over with suggestions of what they’d like me to make. Everything’s there, easy to access, so we can just grab bottles and play around.
I’ve been creating community my entire life. As a little kid, I was the person who, if somebody spilled their milk, went over and made sure they got more. So when I look at my life now as a drag queen, surrounded by my chosen family, I’m still taking care of everyone. And I love connecting people. At any party, I love the wallflower. That’s the person I want to go meet and talk to.
I care about our queer youth, and our queer elders. So at my home, during the holidays, I invite a mix of them, together with my other friends. I have some queer elders that live in my neighborhood — one in particular is 85 years old. We became friends after I’d been seeing him in my neighborhood for years and years. He recently said to me, Juanita, I don’t know why it took me so long in life to meet you! That was so special.
I am a mother to many people. My chosen family really does consider my apartment the place where we go for the holidays to get together. Most drag queens have drag mothers; mine is the fabulous Glamamore, who hails from New York. And we have created a family here in San Francisco. I have four drag daughters. I’ve probably put a lot of other little drag queens in drag over the years, but I have four who represent the values that Glamamore and I stand for.
One of my drag daughters, who’s also my quote-unquote “gay son,” is an amazing chef. He comes over and cooks with me; he said that he started cooking because of me, which is so exciting. Now he completely excels, and is so far ahead of me when it comes to baking bread, and baking pies and tarts. I let him make the crusts now.
During Thanksgiving, I end up cooking two completely different dinners. First, I braise the turkey at my apartment, and we go all-out on desserts — a cranberry lime tart, pecan and date pie, and pumpkin maple pie. Then over the weekend, I head over to my family’s in the East Bay, where I cook the dinner my grandmother made us when we were growing up. She roasted a turkey and stuffed it with picadillo — a meat stuffing with sofrito and green olives. And, instead of mashed potatoes, we enjoyed it with arroz con gandules.
There’s a Christmastime event for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation where everyone dresses up in their “Santa Skivvies” and goes for a run — whether it’s raining, or cold, it’s always fun to watch. Union Square goes all-out with decorations; you can walk down Castro Street and all the windows are decorated. There are amazing things that happen here in the city.
I love my home. It’s warm and inviting. I live in Polk Gulch, which was one of the most popular queer neighborhoods in the late ’70s; Polk Street itself, which runs about 20 blocks, had almost 70 queer establishments. Today, they’re down to one. So me staying in San Francisco, and sharing my history, is important. It’s my way of letting people know how much I love it.
I like to support local queer businesses. For me, that means getting my meat from a queer-owned butcher and flirting with the racks at that cute atelier and tossing back a cocktail with friends at my favorite local gay watering hole. But, most importantly — grabbing cute dog accessories from a queer-owned doggie store.
So let’s go for a little stroll through some of my favorite queer-owned businesses in this city — and I’ll remind you along the way that you have the power to make sure that they stay in business. Surviving this city as a business owner has never been easy. And let’s be honest, some of my favorite haunts caved after the pandemic. It’s essential that we still cling on to any remnant from San Francisco’s queer zeitgeist. We have the power to make sure that they stay in business.
People who visit my home are overwhelmed by the amount of artwork that I have. The hallways are done salon-style, floor to ceiling, with work that I have commissioned from artists. I’m a huge champion of artists in San Francisco, and there have been so many that have interpreted their vision of me, which I appreciate. Those pieces are all hanging throughout the entire apartment.
My style has developed over the years. I live in a large studio, so when I entertain, the furniture has to stay exactly where it is, because there’s no room to move it! But there is room to add a new tablecloth, or a new candelabra. I have enough room to seat a dozen people, and I have serviceware for a dozen. I know dinner for 12 sounds crazy for a studio apartment, but it does happen!
I’m excited to pick out a dress to wear over the holidays. Thanksgiving, I need something that’s roomy, because I’ll be eating, but it’s still gotta be glamorous. Christmas, of course, I generally wear red. And New Year’s Eve is just a party — I’ve worn some amazing costumes for New Year’s, just as I have for Pride, when I have a party every year.
Some of the costumes that my designer, Mr. David, has done for me have been over the top. For the 30 years I’ve done drag, Mr. David has designed every piece of clothing I own — shoes, handbags, gloves. I have over 4,000 pieces from him. Not in my studio apartment! There’s a storage unit. And I don’t have keys. If it’s in storage, I’ve already worn it. I have two boys who have the keys. If I’m looking for something, I can send them a photo of it. If it’s red, it’s in the red bin! But I can’t go to the storage unit, that’s just too stressful.
When I’m cooking, I have aprons designed for me by Mr. David, silk screened with my image or logo. And if there are guests in the house, I’m wearing three-inch heels and cooking in the kitchen.
Since I’ve known some of them for thirty years, my chosen family here in San Francisco has grown up around me. Some of them have bought homes, some have moved away. I’ve watched some go through school, graduate, get amazing jobs. It’s a beautiful way to see life through my eyes, here in San Francisco. I love it.
Photography: Carolyn Fong
Creative Director: Laura Delarato
Managing Editor: Marcy Bosco
Line Producer: Desiree Abeyta
Designer: Alex Cheung
Writer: Carey Jones
Food Styling: Julie Smith
Recipe Development: Carey Jones and John McCarthy
Hair and Makeup: Juanita MORE!
Production Manager: Danielle Valdez
Production Designer: Amy Selyne