Chili Queens 2015 at the Bonham Exchange. Photo by Page Graham.

When the legendary Bonham Exchange nightclub does something for Fiesta, you know it’s going to be something a little different – and their Chili Queens event is no exception. Now in its second year as an official Fiesta Event, Chili Queens is one part chili cookoff, one part drag queen show, and 100% Fiesta.

The name of the event is an homage to the original Chili Queens. Every evening from the 1860s through the 1930s, women would set up tables in one of the city plazas, most notably Alamo Plaza, where they would serve up chili, tamales and more. At its peak, there were hundreds of these tables where food was served through the night until dawn.

Already fading as a tradition, the last Chili Queens were put out of business in the late 1930s by the City health department, who claimed they practiced poor dishwashing procedures.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the Chili Queens’ tradition is resurrected once a year on a Sunday afternoon, with a Fiesta twist. Nowadays, the Queens are drag queens. Since the event is held on the patio instead of the dimly lit dance floor of the Bonham Exchange, the extravagant outfits and glitter are brought out into the full light of day.

Each chili cookoff competitor had a queen representing their booth. Dressed in brightly colored regalia, the queens ranged from rank amateurs pressed into service for one day to those who take their craft very seriously.

Benefiting the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, this event was a great place to do some people watching, chow down on some chili samples, and wash it down with a beverage of choice. ¡Viva Fiesta!

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Page Graham

Page Graham

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. He has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations...