The only tea spilled at Ferndale’s Boston Tea Room is the steeped kind that comes in varieties like Berry Ripe, Cinnamon Heart and The High Priestess. Just ask retail specialist Daniel McLean for a recommendation — he’s been brewing it up for the past two years at the venue, where he also works the reception desk, sets up the psychic readers for the day and restocks merchandise like crystals, jewelry, books and a vast selection of tarot cards.
“Everyone is so nice and understanding and welcoming,” McLean says. “People just come in here looking for help, and I feel really good being able to help them in any way that I can.” He remembers being in awe of the place as a little kid. “It's also really cool to just be around the sparkly crystals,” he adds. Clear quartz is McLean’s favorite. “Anything that shines attracts me; anything that glitters and glows, that's me.”
Nowhere is that glitter and sparkle more apparent than when McLean swaps his workday attire for the elfin glam of Luna Banx, McLean’s drag alter ego who came to life seven years ago. He calls her a fantasy elf who’s sweet and bubbly and who loves to dance. “She’s not your typical supermodel,” McLean says.
Banx sometimes struts her stuff at after-hours tea room events such as a recent one featuring German folklore villain The Krampus, a sort of horned anti-Santa who likes to spank naughty children. “We all got our pictures taken, and they brought in a bunch of dogs that got their pictures taken with Krampus,” McLean said. “It's really cute, really unique.”
Tea, crystals, psychics and drag queens — those unfamiliar with Boston Tea Room can expect unusual finds and unique experiences around every corner of the 12,000-square-foot space.
“We're coming up on our 45-year anniversary,” said fourth-generation family business owner Heatherleigh Navarre. “It has really evolved over the years from a tiny little shop in Downriver to this great community gathering space that brings together people of all backgrounds and all orientations in a safe, welcoming environment where they can feel free to be themselves.”
At the Boston Tea Room, they place an emphasis on creating safe spaces and safe events, especially for those who feel marginalized. One of those events is the upcoming Psychic Self-Care Party where Banx will make an appearance — more on that later.
When McLean told Pride Source his story of landing his job at the tea room, he said he’d had it with being a barista during the pandemic. (“I wasn’t making any money, and I’m not a big coffee drinker.”) But what he didn’t say is that a little magic brought him there — that was explained by Navarre. It happened the day they were interviewing five candidates for the position.
Each employee was asked to write down what they wanted in a new colleague or teammate. “And then we went around the room after we'd done the little spell and said, if you want to, share anything that you wrote down,” Navarre said. “One of our existing employees said, ‘Well, I just wrote down that I want someone that I can talk to about ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’’” They chuckled. Then they spoke to McLean. “It was like [McLean] had been summoned specifically for the role.”
Navarre understands that for many, retail is an “in-the-meantime” job while an individual is in school or waiting for their dream career to get off the ground.
“We really appreciate people bringing their time and their talents to this role,” Navarre says. One of her goals is to give them the opportunity to pursue other interests while employed there. For McLean, it was a win-win. And the fact that the drag events are low-key suits McLean just fine.
“As much as I would like [Luna Banx] to be more prominent in my life, I deal with a lot of anxiety and depression and stuff like that,” McLean says, noting that these issues contribute to occasional doubts about his performance skills. “Being able to perform at work has been really huge for me because I already know that the space is welcoming and warm and people there love me, so I really had nothing to worry about. It just kind of worked out.”
Luna Banx will be assisting guests at the Jan. 26 Psychic Self-Care Party along with two other queens, Artemiss and Eros Lee. Partygoers will receive a mini tarot reading, a choice from a selection of nonalcoholic beverages, 10 percent off store merchandise, a swag bag and the opportunity to rub elbows with the queens and have their picture taken, all while a DJ spins a Pride playlist.
A fundraiser for Ferndale Pride, the Psychic Self-Care Party provides an opportunity for people to learn a little bit more about themselves and have a private experience that they might not get to otherwise, says Ferndale Pride Chair Julia Music. It’s more chill than some of the other fundraisers Ferndale Pride hosts year round.
“It's something different,” Music says. “It gives us a chance to get out of some of the nightclubs and show off one of our ally businesses that works with us throughout the year. It's also a chance for people to do some self-reflection. A lot of our events are really high-energy fundraisers where we might have club music on, and it doesn't really give people a chance to come out and just find some calm space.”
Music loves handing out the goody bags (“kind of like when you were a little kid at the birthday party”) and hearing about the readings or a fun item purchased that night.
“We're just very happy to have Heatherleigh in the Boston Tea Room as a supporter of Pride,” Music says. “Because of Heather's leadership, they're just so wonderful to their employees, to the people that come into their shop, and also to the organizations that make this city run. So we're very thankful to them.”
McLean is thankful for the tea room too. He enjoys working in an environment where someone who comes in looking troubled, sometimes even crying, will often leave with a much brighter demeanor. And although he’s the only man working there, McLean has had no issue acclimating to the woman-dominated space.
“I actually love it,” McLean said. “Feminine energy is something that I've always kind of been connected and resonated with more. Working with women has always made me feel comfortable, like I could be myself.”
Psychic Self-Care Party: a Fundraiser for Ferndale Pride 2024 — Friday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Boston Tea Room, 1220 Woodward Heights, Ferndale. This is an alcohol-free event. Purchase tickets at bit.ly/47pakr8.