Sketchy Nights at Drink-N-Draw

John Jennison takes a photo of Shirley U. Jest at Drink-N-Draw @ Macri Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Story and photos by Gabriel Galindez

On a Thursday night at Macri Park, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, gay bar, drag queen performer Shirley U. Jest took the tiny one-step stage. Dressed in a hot pink wig, white blouse and rose skirt, she struck a pose. The host, John Jennison, announced over the mic, dulling the 90’s music playing in the background, “This is Pose 1 of our first 20-minute poses.”

A group of about 20 amateur and professional artists of varying degrees of skill began to sketch, with pencils, pens, markers or charcoal. This wasn’t a typical drag performance with lip-syncing or shady stand-up jokes. This was Drink-N-Draw.

Drink-N-Draw isn’t a new concept in New York City. Varying kinds pop up intermittently in bars, clubs, lounges and centers. At all these events artists sketch a live model.

For the last three and a half years, at least, none has been weekly and LGBTQA, like the one hosted by Jennison.

A Willamsburg resident and illustrator by trade, he recalled how it started, as a one-off idea with his then-partner Leslie Van Stilton, who was bartending at a place called TNT in Brooklyn.  “We were looking for something to do for happy hour,” said Jennison, 37. “I said, why don’t we do a Drink-N-Draw.” A week later they had two drag queens come in and it continued from there.

Model Kitty Moore poses at Macri Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Right) A sketch of Moore by Ken Wong.

Since then models have been go-go boys, drag kings, cosplayers, avant garde performers, boylesque and burlesque artists. Different places offer the event, with Jennison hosting solo.

Drink-N-Draw, which used to run twice weekly (Tuesdays were at Phoenix Bar in Manhattan) is attended by many kinds of artists. Full-time illustrators, painters, graphic designers and animators are among the regulars.

William Rootpeter modeling at Drink-N-Draw @ Phoenix Bar in Manhattan.

Amateurs and non-artists come for fun or to relax. “We have a clientele of business people that it’s just a release for them, they liked drawing in their youth,” Jennison said.

Since it’s also happy hour, patrons coming to the bar for a $4 whiskey-and-soda will join in. Jennison provides paper, usually booklets with a sketch cover drawn by himself, and other kinds of mediums for anyone to join in. “Usually anyone that comes once, comes back weekly if not monthly,” he said.

On occasion, Drink-N-Draw teams up with a local LGBT group, Geeks Out, to put on special superhero-themed events. On these nights, two or more models dress in cosplay as well-known comic book characters.  Past themes have included the Justice League and the X-Men. Recently, in honor of her 75th anniversary, Wonder Woman was highlighted.

At Macri Park, after about 20 different poses of varying length, Jennison announced that Shirley U. Jest would choose her two favorite sketches. Only five of those sketching went up to win a free drink ticket.

“I come for the practice, the camaraderie, and the free drink ticket,” said one winner, James Barry, 37, of Willamsburg, a storyboard artist.

Shirley U. Jest picks the winner of the free drink tickets, with John Jennison, left, at Macri Park.