On a rainy Saturday night, a towering vision in an emerald gown leads a line of revelers down Duval Street. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” falls out of her rolling speaker. A loose street party forms in her wake, as followers and spectators alike sing along badly, dance joyfully and bow to the jewel-toned majesty that is Miss Puddin Taine.
Taine, a Libra and Louisiana native, is a tour guide for Yes, Queen!, a drag queen pub crawl departing weekly from Aqua Nightclub. The Yes Queen! tour originated in Savannah, Georgia and has recently expanded its stilettoed self to Las Vegas and Key West. Taine was a natural fit for the role of crawl guide. “I’ve always been known as a good time Sally. I was like, ‘Pretty much you want me to take people out, have cocktails and entertain them?’ I treat this like our own little parade.” Taine hails from New Orleans, a city that may not have invented the parade but has inarguably perfected it. She is a veteran of the New Orleans Drag Workshop and counts Crescent City legend Vinsantos DeFonte as her dragmother. In 2019 Taine was crowned Queen of Armeinius, New Orleans’ premiere gay Mardi Gras Krewe. She’s also featured in Poppy Tooker’s cult New Orleans cookbook, “Drag Queen Brunch.”
Taine began her life of drag as a toddler, “I started stealing my cousin’s dance costumes when I was 4 years old. They had sequins and feathers and I was obsessed.” Her fanciful nom de drag was inspired in part by a dog groomer she knew as a child. “Her name was Puddin. She had a purple Winnebago and a long braid and chain-smoked and was just such a character. We would get our dog back and she would smell like cheap cigarettes and dog shampoo.”
Drag has taken Puddin Taine from New Orleans to Provincetown, where she was named 2018 Showgirl of the Year, to Key West. “I’m on the Tennessee Williams trail. He had good taste in where to live. He’s very much my role model. I love that his work is still as jaw-droppingly outrageous as it was when it was written.” Taine herself moonlights as a writer. She’s currently developing a one-woman show that explores the theme of heaven and hell. She keeps busy raising the latter on Friday evenings at the 801 Cabaret and on select weekend nights leading tours for Yes, Queen! Taine shares guide duties with fellow local queens Elle Taylor, Blue Diamond and Beatrix Dixie.
Taine’s tour includes a highly entertaining, albeit bastardized, version of Key West history (the Curry Mansion is described as the island’s first Indian restaurant) and a heavily discounted shot or specialty cocktail at every stop on the journey. Drinking is encouraged, as is self-control. As Taine sternly warns, “I’m not your momma. If you’re hammered and we lose you at the hot dog stand, that’s on you.”
Sensible choices are a hallmark of Taine’s. “Honey, I wear comfortable shoes. Straight people have no idea what it’s like to be in six-inch heels. We’re having cocktails on this tour and there’s this thing called gravity. I would hate for Puddin Taine to come tumbling down.” Standing ovations are in order when the tour culminates in Taine’s performance at General Horseplay. It must be seen to be believed.
Taine welcomes the seasoned and the unversed on her tour and to her stage performances. “Most of the people who come to 801 have never seen a drag show before. A lot of people who come on this tour have never seen a drag queen. You go easy on them their first time. It’s an initiation.”
That initiation, aided by booze and the vocal stylings of Whitney Houston, usually evolves into fast friendship. “It’s always so much fun to watch people go from being a little shy or scared to at the end they’re ready to take me home for Thanksgiving.”
Having found a home of her own in Key West, Taine is dedicated to the protection and celebration of the island’s LGBTQ+ community. Where does she observe room for expansion? “I want to see more dance parties in Key West. I am such a believer in the dance floor and the absolute magic that can happen there, in the spiritual experience that can take place. Right now, we’re not partying to our potential.”
Dance party deficits aside, Taine is happy to be at the end of the road and a new beginning of her own. “I love living in Key West and working with the 801 Cabaret. My favorite thing about this island is that most of the bars serve rosé and you can smoke everywhere. I’m so absolutely grateful that I ended up here and have been welcomed with such open arms.” We’ll drink to that.
For more information and to book a tour visit www.yesqueentour.com/key-west