Big Wigs holds final drag show before permanently closing next week


Cleo Westin

Big Wigs owner and entertainer Vanessa Taylor performing at their final drag show.

Editor’s note: The people interviewed for this story were interviewed in drag and gave their drag name and will be referred to as such.

Big Wigs Bar held its final drag show Saturday, which was full of emotion throughout for entertainers, employees and audience members, and will host a closing party Wednesday after being open for 18 months.

Owner of Big Wigs and entertainer Vanessa Taylor said the sad part about closing is losing a place people have made their home.

“When someone comes to you and says they were on the verge of committing suicide the very night that they decided to come here and then decided not to after they came here and felt welcome, that’s powerful,” Taylor said.

Taylor named several possible reasons for the bar not being as busy as it was when it opened, such as the bar’s location in Boone County, which is just 500 feet from the border with Story County. The bar is still within the city limits of Ames but does not have access to a CyRide stop, which Taylor said can make it difficult for people who want to drink to find a way home with limited on-demand ride service availability in Ames.

“I don’t know why we aren’t as busy as we were when we first opened,” Taylor said. “I don’t know that I don’t have the answer to that, but I think there’s a lot of little things that have added up [like] negative posts from certain people in our own community, to maybe me not making all the right decisions, to limited support from other businesses and the city of Ames.”

Dominique Cass, who has driven two and a half hours to perform at Big Wigs regularly over the past 18 months, said she has always thought that if she could pick up the building and move it, the bar would not be closing.

“Hate is a strong word, and I rarely use it, but I hate that it’s closing,” Cass said. “I think one of the reasons it’s closing is the location. I wish that we were closer to maybe downtown, and [then] maybe we would not be closing.”

Performer Anjila Cavalier said people need to look at the bigger picture instead of having selfish, vindictive motives and realize that “we’re all in the same boat.”

“We’ve got other bars that have bashed us; we’ve got other gay people that claim to be pillars of community talking ill of us, and, unfortunately, they have contributed to our demise more or less,” Cavalier said. “It’s a sad state of affairs because, at the end of the day, we should have all been together and we should all be supporting each other, and that’s not the case, unfortunately.”

Taylor said she has a reputation for being a “bitch” within the entertainment community and that she had to hire a lawyer to remove one social media post for defamation.

“I really want to say that it is the community of Des Moines, or at least the entertainment community of Des Moines, that has been very, very aggressive about making me look bad, which is unfortunate, but it is what it is, and I think I’m an easy target because I’m an entertainer,” Taylor said. “If I wasn’t an entertainer, if I was just some guy that opened a bar, I don’t think we would have any issues with any kind of social media posts or any trying to make me look bad or make the bar look bad.”

Taylor added that she is not a victim and that the sad part of the situation is not about her but about the people trying to get Big Wigs to close who do not understand that it means so much to some people.

In describing the bar, Cass said that Big Wigs has been one of the “top entertainment venues in the country” and encouraged people to support local drag.

“A lot of people these days only go out for these RuPaul girls and these big celebrities and whatnot,” Cass said. “Stop doing that. Support local drag because they forget that, and that’s why these bars are closing.”

Ultimately, Cavalier believes that everything happens for a reason and said something else better will come of it, knowing how passionate Taylor is.

Big Wigs will hold its final Drag Queen Bingo at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and the closing party will take place from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday.