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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
Gay-owned Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine closes its Beacon Hill restaurant with one last drag show
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Gay-owned Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine closes its Beacon Hill restaurant with one last drag show

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine (2503 Beacon Ave. S.), a north Beacon Hill restaurant specializing in the food of the Philippines since 2007 will serve their last plate of food - and fish - a la drag superstar Atasha Manila - January 29. After nearly one decade of running the restaurant, openly Gay business owner and local Filipino icon, Ernesto Rios, better known as 'Uncle Ernie,' says it is time for him to say goodbye to the business.

'Inay's Says Good Bye! It has truly been a joy providing great home style Filipino food for everyone,' said Uncle Ernie on the restaurant's Facebook page January 27. 'Inay's says 'Thank You' for the many years of love and support!'

'Our very Own Atasha Manila will end our goodbye with some of her favorite songs and performances throughout the years,' continued the message.

Indeed, local drag sensation Atasha Manila, has become as much a part of Uncle Ernie's restaurant as the menu itself. Each Friday she performs an amazing one-person drag show. For well over two years she has honed her skill playing to a packed house. During the day, out of drag (and sometimes in drag, too!), Loui as he is known, worked as a server. It is inside Uncle Ernie's restaurant that Loui created Atasha Manila.

'We all started somewhere, and I am very proud of where it all happened for me,' said Atasha Manila. 'I was very fortunate to have such an amazing boss! Uncle Ernie pushed me to dream and to be happy!'

In fact Uncle Ernie was the person that encouraged Atasha to dress up and bought him some of his first drag outfits. A few weeks passed by and after getting used to being in drag, Atasha decided to do a performance. While serving food to the customers 'I danced here and there to tunes on my iPod playlist from small speakers on top of a wall dividing the dining area and the kitchen of the restaurant,' said Atasha.

'After that I started performing for friends who came to eat at the restaurant. I would ask them to critique my performance and they would let me know what I needed to do to improve.'

A friend, Erica Asahan told Atasha, 'It's a little rough around the edges, it needs polishing but you've got potential and talent.'

'So here I am in full drag serving food in drag in fluorescent lighting,' says Atasha, laughing, 'And, yes, bitch, in heels!'

Like many drag queens before Atasha Manila, nobody at home knew about the transformation that would take place once inside the safety of Inay's. 'I hung my dresses on a hook in the office,' recalls Atasha. 'I would beat my mug at the salon next door.'

Atasha says her drag took over the whole little office at Inay's. 'And then one day I came into work and saw a surprise. The storage area had been cleared out and made into my drag closet! I saw my garments hung up for me and all of my shoes were on shelves!'

Eventually, Atasha Manila began to headline the Friday drag show and business was booming while Atasha's drag star was on the rise.

'This whole experience has brought me so much happiness and I've met some of the most amazing people,' said Atasha Manila.

Atasha, under the watchful eyes of Uncle Ernie and others, has gone on to win several drag competitions, serve on the board of both U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle and Pride ASIA, and produce a fundraiser to raise thousands of dollars in disaster relief funds after the Philippines suffered destruction in a 2013 typhoon. She has appeared in the annual Seattle Counseling Service (SCS) Gala and fundraiser ICON, in several shows for Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), many Pride ASIA and U.T.O.P.I.A. events, on stages at Neighbours Nightclub, R Place and more. It is safe to say that Atasha Manila is one of the most sought after and booked drag entertainers in Seattle and for good reason - she is extremely talented. Blending comedy with beauty, laughter with sass, and able to dance the house down, Atasha Manila is a sure bet as a crowd pleaser, day or night, in fluorescent or stage lights, and always in character.

Inay's is also where Atasha Manila met 'the best drag mother who has also become the greatest mentor ever - Aleksa Manila.' The two are inseparable and together they have raised thousands of dollars for the community, brought Asian and Pacific Islander culture to audiences young and old, LGBTQ and allied, and continue to project a great example of drag without drama, which is why people are always happy to see them when they show up at all the shows. The icing on the cake for Atasha, Inay's is also where the drag star met Atasha's God-drag mother, Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse! The three have become like family in and out of drag, which is fitting because Inay's is all about family. After all, inay means 'mother' in Tagalog and Uncle Ernie named his restaurant to honor his mother, whom he bought a restaurant for over a decade ago.

Ernie's family moved from the Philippines to Hawaii in the 1970s, then to Seattle in 1978. He worked in a hospital and went to beauty school until he saved up enough to buy a house and buy his mother a restaurant. His mother cooked for her 11 children, 'bunch' of grandchildren, and father as well as others in the neighborhood. And it was a natural thing for her to run a Filipino restaurant in Seattle; which she did until 2001 when she passed away. Then, in 2007, Uncle Ernie opened Inay's to continue the family tradition. In many ways, say people close to Uncle Ernie, a flamboyant character who is always smiling and joking and full of campy energy, he has continued more of a legacy than just food - Uncle Ernie has been somewhat of a parental figure to many people in the neighborhood and Filipino community, mentoring them over the years.

Uncle Ernie was able to do something that many LGBTQ-owned businesses fail to do off of Capitol Hill - make the business work. He did so, with the help of staff over the years, by providing great food at a reasonable price and creating community where one was needed. Inay's will go down as one of the greats in Seattle's LGBTQ history, Beacon Hill history, and as a staple in the local Filipino community.

'Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine is the little jewel in the heart of Beacon Hill that will close its doors and I'm sad to see it go,' said Atasha Manila. 'But I am excited to see where the universe takes us all next!'

Seattle Gay News would like to thank Uncle Ernie and everyone at Inay's for creating such an amazing and safe space for so many in our community over the years and we wish Uncle Ernie and Atasha Manila all the best in their future endeavors.

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