Local drag queen Kira Lee tells spooky stories while guests are served decadent desserts from local establishments during the Death is a Drag tours | Photos by Ruta Smith

Charleston Culinary Tours brought legendary Charleston drag queen Kira Lee into its fold recently as a guide for the Death is a Drag tours, a new take on its usual tours. Charleston Culinary Tours general manager Charley Smith recognized Lee as a local drag queen after he was sent recommendations for new guides and wanted to see if she was interested in a new concept. She was. With that, the Death is a Drag tour was born. It was Kira kismet.

“Collaborating with Kira has been so much fun,” Smith said. “She has an infectious enthusiasm and creative spirit that has brought new life to the ghosts.”

When asked about her background, Lee responded with a story peppered with her trademark wit. “Wow, honey I’m almost old. How far back do you want to go?” she asked. “I was born in a small lumber town on the West Coast then raised in a farming area where I grew up with three sisters and potatoes. Is that too far back? I came to South Carolina in 1998 with the military. Moved to Charleston for a fuck boy in August of 1999, but that’s another story!”

Jokes aside, Lee said she came here for the beach. As she explored the city, she fell in love with the buildings and the history. “[It was] all older than anything I had seen up to that point,” she said. “I have been here on and off [ever] since. I love this place. This is my home now.”

When guests embark on the Death is a Drag tour, they chat with other guests before sitting around a table in the climate-controlled splendor of an 1803 parlor located in the Historic French Quarter. Lee starts by explaining the city’s founding and discussing major events like war, epidemics, earthquakes and storms that have played into the Holy City’s reputation as a haunted destination.

Although the Death is a Drag tour is a stationary endeavor, Lee promises it is an event like nothing else in the area. “You enter the space and are greeted with some welcome refreshments and meet the other guests,” she said. “Once everyone is settled and what not I make my grand entrance performing a number related to the evening’s stories.

“I talk about the Lady in Purple, Poogan, the child in white, pirates, madams, the headless soldier, basically anything that someone has said, seen, photographed, what have you,” Lee said. “I have a rotating list of stories from the city. Any legends of paranormal activity, I’ll talk about it. I show photographs of all of it, so I can take you ‘inside,’ via picture, while my friend Dana, serves the array of desserts with each legend they are matched to. She lets everyone know what restaurants the desserts came from, then I tie them together. So each event is different.”

Lee is extremely happy the tour is a stationary event, “You don’t have to walk! I’m in heels, and the sidewalks suck!”  

Cannoli cake from Carmella’s Dessert Bar is just one of many tasty treats included in the tour

When asked about the many tasty treats served during the tour, Lee ran down a list of her favorites: from Nonnabachi’s cannolis and red velvet cake from Carmella’s to Off Track’s key lime pie ice cream, a pecan chewie from Sugar Bakeshop and Pop Your Cork sparkling wine from Well Hung Vineyards.

Hosting unique events like Death is a Drag is nothing new for Lee. “Oh darlin’, I’ve hosted many things: events, shows, men, all over the USA,” she joked. 

When asked about how she became a tour guide, Lee, the consummate storyteller, detailed her journey: “True story about how I got the gig. I was at a bar called Patrick’s way back in the days of dial-up AOL, MapQuest and no cell phones. I met a person that had a booth in the market. I had made my way downtown and was talking to them one day, I saw a carriage go by and I simply said, ‘Oh, that would be a fun job.’ That afternoon I had an interview and was hired the next day. I have been giving tours in Charleston since May of 2000.”

Thanks to her current stint with Charleston Culinary Tours, Kira Lee has the unique honor of being the first drag queen in Charleston who is also a city-certified guide. With Death is a Drag, Lee is excited that she was offered the opportunity to provide something unique to Charleston. “It makes me one of a kind,” Lee said.

Reflecting on her career as a tour guide, Lee thinks of the pros, “I like the fact that wherever I go, it’s always different because of the guests and their questions but it’s the same because of the buildings. I like that I get to meet people from around the world and share my love of Charleston with them.”

For Lee, interacting with the guests is always interesting. “I was doing a ghost tour [recently], and I had a newlywed couple in the group. I fully believed that the lady would be the slightly scared one, and I swear every time I turned my head to them the gentleman would jump. I stomped my foot; he freaked. I shut a door; he freaked. He made me laugh so hard it was  difficult to keep things as somber and macabre as I like.” 

In addition to the Death is a Drag tour, Charleston Culinary Tours offers other ways to experience the city and its many culinary delights. But, Death is the Drag is your only opportunity to talks ghosts, desserts and drag with a legnedary Charleston persona.

Death is a Drag tours are available now through Nov. 5. For information or to book a tour, visit charlestonculinarytours.com.

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