By Cheetara Piry
A safe space lost a champion.
A jam-packed group of more than 200 dressed like they were either at Studio 54 or their Sunday best gathered to celebrate the life of the longtime owner of the Menagerie, an LGBTQIA2+ bar in downtown Riverside on Sept. 24.
David St. Pierre, owner of the spot, died at 59 on Sept. 6 after battling cancer.
“The word menagerie describes exactly what the bar is, an eclectic group of many different things,” Phillip (Cassi) Bailey, 56, longtime friend and St. Pierre’s oldest bartender said. “It’s inclusive and welcoming to everybody and anybody.”
The memorial took place behind the bar living up to its namesake hosting a motley crew.
The community rallied together to make the celebration of St. Pierre’s life possible. A neighboring Mexican restaurant, El Patron, catered the event while family and longtime colleagues and employees helped to set up the tent, stage and tables.
“It just shows how many talented people and how many people (in general) cared about David,” Bailey said.
The Menagerie’s 24-year bartender hosted the memorial, sharing memories of St. Pierre’s character. He remembered him as one who never complained, always strived to have good entertainment and cared deeply for people. The duo was creating a show that would premiere in December at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium, and up until the very end St. Pierre was working.
“The last few months were really bad,” Bailey remembered, “I asked him ‘are you sure you’re up for this?’ and he said ‘don’t treat me like a sick man, I have to do this, because I have to keep my mind busy.”
The duo were responsible for the conception of hosting drag shows, shaping to be one of the main features of the Menagerie.
Over two decades ago, Bailey and St. Pierre partnered in creating a drag show called “All That Glitters” eventually evolving into a show called “Snatched” hosted by David Petruschin (Raven), 43.
The bar became home to several drag performers, since it was one of the only “safe spaces” in the Inland Empire for drag entertainers and ally to the LGBTQIA2+ community.
“He turned it into a space that people wanted to come to,” Bailey shared. “It was definitely a place a lot of the entertainers that went on to do some incredible things got their start.”
Many performers did move on to gain great success, including Petruschin who applied to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race’ second season.
At the time, Petruschin was a fledgling drag queen that couldn’t afford all the expenses of competing on the show. However, Pierre took it upon himself to help with the costs so that the young, up and coming performer could represent Riverside.
“I said here’s a little money, buy what you need and go,” St. Pierre said in a May 2019 interview with Hey Riverside. “I want you to make us proud.”
Petruschin went on to place second in RuPaul’s drag race that season, landing a job as the show’s makeup artist and later receiving a Primetime Emmy Award.
Although the overall tone of the passing of their dear friend was solemn, everyone was smiling from ear to ear to have convened in honor of the Riverside icon.
Pop music blasted from the speakers and almost everybody had a drink in their hand. Many were holding back tears, however the overall tone of the crowd was that of jubilation.
Michelle Davila, 56, RCCD employee, said the amount of people who came to honor St. Pierre is an “ode to his legacy.”
“He was an amazing man,” Davila said. “He gave his heart to the community.”
St. Pierre served on several community boards and committees, including the chief’s advisory board, the Riverside arts council and became a co-founder of the Western Inland Empire Coalition Against Hate.
“David truly believed that it was not important who you love or how you love just that you love,” Bailey shared.
St. Pierre’s celebration of life was nothing short of “fabulous,” as many described his life to be. His loved ones highly personalized the service and shared memories, stories and laughter.
Rainbow faux feathered leis and pearl necklaces were passed around tributed to Miss Pearl, St. Pierre’s beloved dog.
A seat inside the Menagerie at the edge of the bar was specifically reserved for St. Pierre and his dog.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking any and all donations to be placed under the restauranteur’s name to The Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center in Riverside where he adopted his beloved dog, Miss Pearl.