Royal Oak is chock full of cutesy boutiques filled with cute 'n clever gift items. But where in Royal Oak can you find zebra-print wine purses; cookbooks with titles like Any Bitch Can Party!
; copies of Vogue
(the Parisian, Australian, Italian AND Indian editions) and $25 manties (that's man-panties to you)?Five 15 Media Mojo & More
is the answer, which is celebrating its four-year anniversary on May 15.
It's not that the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) community is under-served … well, no, actually it's exactly that. For a so-called "subculture" which is known to have a huge presence in suburban cities like Royal Oak and Ferndale, there is a surprising lack of businesses for and by the bi and queer. Save for a smattering of clubs and bookstores (between the two cities you can still count them all on one hand), there is a notable absence of distinctly "gay" businesses – not just gay-friendly, and not just gay-owned, but recognizably and unequivocally GAY.
"I've done a lot of traveling – to Paris, New York, Miami – and this was a culmination of all my travels," states Managing Owner Gary Baglio. "There wasn't a store like this in this area. It has exceeded what I thought; I think part of me suffered from my own internalized homophobia and I was afraid of what was going to happen." He pauses. "That's gone now!"
Before we start trudging into territory that is difficult and problematic to define – such as, 'What makes a business "gay"?' – let's loosely define a "gay" business as one that caters to the urban GLBT community and its unique wants and needs. As African braid shops and Korean markets provide for their respective cultures, so too can a gay-owned business directly target a gay clientele.
Baglio thinks Five 15 does that, but in a way that doesn't alienate its straight audience/customers by being "too gay" (an expression used by members of the straight community to describe places that are, when all is said and done, simply unfamiliar). Five 15 is part coffee shop, part card shop, part magazine stand, part art gallery, and part party space. Gary describes it as "if Urban Outfitters and Starbucks were to marry and have a child."
Hence the tagline: "Amazing coffee, unique gifts, fabulous fun."
Coffee is fresh-roasted from award-winning Chazzano Coffee Roasters
in Ferndale. Pastries are from Delight Baker
y in Grosse Pointe (same owners as the former Charlie's in Birmingham). Everything has a glossy retro vibe; like a pastel-colored triple-tiered confection caked with fluffy frosting and marzipan penises. All details are as meticulously attended to as the hairs on Trixie Deluxe's towering bouffant wig... but we'll get back to her.
Single-named blonde ambitions of Past, Present and Future play over the speakers: Madonna, Britney, Gaga, Ke$ha, like Thursday night at Menjo's
. Or Friday at Pronto
. Or Saturday at Ice
. You get the picture.
Inside you'll find unique gift items that will appeal to that special gay or gal in your life: giant fluorescent-colored martini glasses, intricately-patterned ceramic tile music boxes, their own signature soy wax candles in funky scents like kumquat (save the jokes, please), and high heel cake servers. You'll also find artisanal crafts, like jeweled spreader sets, multi-colored glass jewelry boxes, and metallic resin pendants from local artist Raenette Palmer
. And, also, men's underwear.
"The underwear was a request from customers," Gary says. "It wasn't part of the original concept. Underwear is really big for the young gays; they requested it. I can't imagine paying $25 for a pair of underwear; $25 will get me a 6-pack at Costco, but the young kids love them and we did it to make them happy."
You'll also find *ahem* edgy greeting cards that say things like, "It's all fun and games, until someone gets poked in the eye with a..."
Your imagination can fill in the blank.
Gary laughs heartily as he repeats some of the more scandalous sayings. "We're a huge sensation for greeting cards!" he exclaims. "These are things you won't find at Hallmark; they're a little demented!"
Demented and delightful! As are the coffee mugs and T-shirts, which contain such sage advice as, "It's like sucking your thumb. Only it's not yours... and it's a penis.”
"I have a pretty good sense of humor," Gary explains. "My goal was to have a good mix of intellect as well as humor. Good artful coffee table and travel books, a magazine selection of all imported magazines. We have Barnes & Noble right in our backyard and couldn't possibly compete, so we carry all the things they don't. We went with the mindset of doing a little intellect and little humor."
And sometimes a "little" humor comes in the form of a big drag queen. Every Friday and twice on Saturday, Five 15 hosts "Drag Queen Bingo." It's like regular bingo. Only with drag queens ... and the prizes are mugs and t-shirts with penis jokes.
"It's more like a performance," Gary says. "It's not about the bingo, it's more of a comedy. There is no group that's safe; people on the street get made fun of just as much as people in the room. It's the kind of bingo you really don't want to win!"
For example, on a recent Saturday night with Trixie Deluxe
hosting, a confused straight couple walked by, staring at the big drag queen in the window. This did not escape Trixie's attention. "They're looking like, 'What the hell?' And he's thinking, 'Oh shit, that's what I look at on the Internet.'"
As hosts, Trixie (who is flown in from Florida every other week) and local entertainer Sabin get the most laughs from heckling the audience. "John-ah?" she says, questioning a bingo-winner's name. Trixie turns to the oddly-named girl's mother and demands, "What the fuck were you thinking naming her that?"
But all the teasing is in good fun. "No one ever leaves unhappy," Gary says. "It's just a good time."
Since it started two years ago, the event's popularity has quickly expanded out of the gay community, becoming an instant hit with middle-aged Girls' Night Out-ers, Red Hat Ladies, and the two most vile words in the English language: bachelorette parties. The shows sell out two weeks in advance, and each host has her own die-hard followers.
"I'm most proud of how it has bridged the gap between gays and straights," Gary states. "That's what makes me feel the best; it's a very comfortable room."
Husbands come in with wives, neighborhood groups come in, and Trixie even makes an effort to appeal to the straight male crowd. "I hope they get enough field goals to win," she says of the Red Wings. "Okay, that was the straight portion of the evening."
Recently the cast of the now-defunct Detroit 1-8-7 had their final cast party here, and Sabin even got one of the male actors to eat a cupcake from her crotch. Local love connection service Pick MI Date
has hosted a few first dates here as well, and wants to keep coming back. "You can't convince people they'll have fun here, they just will," asserts Gary.
In addition to Drag Queen Bingo
, Five 15 also hosts shows from local artists (they can easily transform the space into a gallery with an apparatus hung from the overhead track lighting), author readings, and even Broadway-themed cabaret performances twice a year. The space is very versatile, and offers a little something for everyone regardless if you're a girl who's a boy who likes boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls who do girls like they're boys.
But just remember: it's all fun and games, until someone gets poked in the eye with a....
Nicole Rupersburg is also a yummy Michigan-made product. A freelance writer, her main gig is writing diningindetroit.blogspot.com. Her previous article for Metromode was "An Almost Double Life: John Lichtenberg".
Send comments and questions here.
All Photos by David Lewinski