Suzy Wong wears glitter like freckles.
The Thai beauty sparkles head to heeled toe, batting eyelashes so long they could be store awnings. A glamorous socialite. Intriguingly exuberant. Queen of the cocktail party.
Her fashion choices are bold, her hair sky-high and, as her bling indicates, she cites gold as her favorite color.
But when the night comes to a close, Suzy Wong wipes away her red lipstick, peels off her eyelashes and removes her manicured wig, as all drag queens must.
Suzy is the dazzling alter ego of famed Nashville native Arnold Myint: a chef, entertainer and owner of PM, blvd and Suzy Wong’s House of Yum.
When Myint opened the latter, his female persona was born — one that would go on to earn him national fame.
“I see my drag as a production – from costumes to dancers to contextualization,” said Myint. “So for me, having a pageant is right up my alley because it makes me produce this package and this persona and basically you’re producing your own tour, your own show.”
Suzy Wong’s House of Yum, located on Church Street, exemplifies Myint’s vision for drag and now provides fellow queens around Nashville with a chance to perform.
On first glance, it looks like a dimly lit Asian fusion restaurant with dark purple walls and a sleek chandelier. Customers range from tourists in cowboy boots fresh off of Lower Broadway, to balding men in orange and teal golf shirts, to a hip mom and her blushing teen boy. A bachelorette party sits the corner, loudly sipping mysterious blue cocktails out of large fish bowls.
Admitted newcomers to the drag dinner and brunch place receive a wink and a “that’s OK honey, we love virgins,” from a flamboyant waiter in a tight black top.
But every 25 minutes, strobe lights flash on and — to music ranging from the Spice Girls to The Killers — a busty drag queen struts out to perform. In one set, she wears a full sequin mermaid costume, complete with rhinestone shell pasties. Then a massive blue wig, cheetah print leotard, and head-to-toe jewels. At each table, she bends over for you to stuff a dollar into her well-padded bra.
Suzy Wong’s House of Yum serves as an extension of Myint’s personality and passions — namely, his love of entertaining.
Myint first discovered his affinity for the spotlight in high school, when he pursued professional figure skating, allowing him to travel the world to compete and perform — including a stint with Disney on Ice.
“I was on tour all my life and obviously, being in shows, I was always in makeup and costumes,” Myint said. “So I guess I’ve been doing drag since I was 5.”
Last year, his work paid off and Suzy Wong earned the title of Miss Gay America 2017 — a tremendous honor in the drag community.
“It just added to my opportunity and visibility to make a difference in society,” said Myint. “It gave me a platform, a voice to be able to integrate all cultures. Because even in the gay community there’s still cliches and niches and discrimination. And what it allowed me to do, because I’m pretty social, I got to unite a lot of facets that would not necessarily connect.”
Suzy’s character comes from the 1950s book, “The World of Suzie Wong,” a story about an Asian “lady of the night” who falls in love with an American diplomat. But some of the drag queen’s personality traits honor another Asian beauty: his mother Patti Myint.
“The persona is very much like my mother, in that she’s a workhorse and she’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty,” Myint said. “But she’s also quite refined and put together. She’s a very educated lady.”
Patti owns Thai eatery International Market. She looks delicate and petite, with grey hair elegantly pinned up and well-manicured nails tapping her old cash register. While her restaurant brims with vibrant colors, Patti dresses with subdued sophistication. The lines on her face show the 40 years of work she tirelessly committed to running her restaurant. As a proud mother, she beams talking about Suzy’s — and in turn Myint’s — success.
“You just don’t believe it! It’s beautiful,” said Patti excitedly. “You see all the pictures – even a woman can’t dress like that. But he’s good as an artist, he’s good at design because of ice skating, he did a lot of his own clothes. I can’t do makeup like him.”
A workaholic with poise made a perfect role model for Myint growing up. After moving on from ice skating, he headed to culinary school and returned to Nashville to launch a restaurant of his own.
“I was raised at International Market,” Myint said. “My parents opened that in 1975 and I was born in 1977, so food was second nature to me.”
Myint started with PM, nestled right across the street from International Market. The Asian-inspired food offered a trendier take on his mother’s legacy, trading Patti’s trinkets and clutter for chic paintings on brick walls and late night sushi specials.
Following PM’s success, Myint launched another restaurant on Belmont Boulevard, called Chah Chah. Chah Chah’s had a very “lofty” menu and, according to Myint, turned out to be ahead of its time for Nashville cuisine. He eventually turned the spot into beloved neighborhood joint, blvd.
But despite his budding success as a restaurateur, Myint craved more. His love of entertainment wouldn’t sit dormant.
Myint decided to pursue reality TV and ended up getting cast on Top Chef and Food Network Star.
While his time on Top Chef ended before he hoped, Myint excelled on Food Network Star.
“The entire time I was on the show I felt like I was meant to be there,” said Myint. “And I’m so grateful that I had that exposure because quite honestly, to quote little Miley Cyrus, ‘I jumped off a plane at LAX with a dream and a cardigan.’”
While other members of his season bragged about their agents or their connections pulling them through the ranks, Myint earned his spot the hard way — cattle call auditions that lead to callback after callback until he was finally cast.
“It’s life changing,” he said. “It’s definitely given me a sample of what I want in my life and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now otherwise. That’s my goal, to be in popular culture with my vocation.”
Suzy, big boobs, rhinestones, spatula and all, brings this goal to fruition.
“I toured about 40 cities in my reign as Miss Gay America, which means cooking and dragging and all that, so it was amazing for me, in that I got to travel, it resparked love for performing and it brought back memories of when I was on tour as a child,” Myint said.
Myint now lives in the spotlight — cooking at high profile restaurant like the James Beard House, making TV appearances and slipping into a wig and sparkling gown whenever he gets the chance. But most importantly for Myint, his fame allows him to use his influence for good.
“I get to be spokesperson to help people realize that everybody’s different and that’s OK,” said Myint. “There’s a normalcy in the difference that we have, and that is beautiful.”
Photo courtesy of Arnold Myint