Cafecito Bonito in East Anchorage provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community

JULY 2 – On a recent Friday night, Jennifer Lopez’s 2011 song “On The Floor” blared from a speaker hours later at a small East Anchorage coffee shop where window blinds were painted and Pride flags adorned the interior.

When the bass dropped, drag queen Brenden Badd flipped the back while wearing 4-inch black latex thigh-high boots and a pink miniskirt. Cheers erupted from members of the audience seated at tables nearby, waving dollar bills warmly.

At the end of each month, Cafecito Bonito is transformed to host drag artists who strut through the café to top the charts between Mexican bingo rounds.

Estrella “Star” Rodriguez-Northcote, owner of Cafecito Bonito, has worked hard to create a safe and welcoming space for community members in her coffee shop since it opened last year.

“The stars have given us the space to really express ourselves and show our talent and love for traction,” Budd said. “This event, though, is very groundbreaking for Alaska. To have a cast, production crew, and venue all made up of Latinos in our community is something Alaska hasn’t seen yet.”

Kendra Arciniega hosts the Drag Lotería (The Lottery) through Arciniega Street Productions, the company he runs with his wife Mercedes. It started as a Pride Month special event in 2021 and returned in March.

The event, which takes place on the last Friday and Sunday of every month, is open to all ages and offers food and beverages, bingo rounds, prizes, and mini breaks where dancing coincides with the queens and performers.

“When I was a gay guy in Anchorage, I didn’t feel safe going out…and I was always frustrated because I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel a sense of belonging,” Archiniga said. “So as an adult, I kind of saw an opportunity that I had to change that.”

Proceeds from ticket sales went to mutual aid efforts — including those directed toward people in Ovaldi, Texas, affected by last month’s shooting at an elementary school, and toward a second community refrigerator in Anchorage organized by Food for Thought Alaska.

[To help fight food insecurity, a community fridge opens in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood]

Inside Cafecito Bonito, a bright pink sombrero hangs on the wall near shelves filled with gifts, such as a Frida Kahlo figurine, from family and clients. Below, a large tub of tamarind sticks share a shelf with cactus-shaped objects and tagine spices while a small rainbow flag reclines beside a succulent little ogre – aptly called Shrek – in a planter.

Through its partnership with Arciniega, Rodriguez-Northcutt continues to amplify Latin and queer sounds, and people say it meets a community need.

Zeddi Manzano performed drag artist Della Rosa to another sold-out crowd on June 24.

“I grew up at odds with almost all of my identities,” Manzano said. “It’s like I’m gay, it’s like I’m not Hispanic enough. But if I’m too Hispanic, it’s like, ‘I’m not gay enough.'”

Manzano, who has been performing the drag for five years, said the event gives them a space to celebrate their identities which is why they perform at the Drag Lotería every month.

During the event, Rodriguez Northcott was awarded a Medal of Honor by the Alaskan Legislature sponsored by East Anchorage Representative Ivy Spoonholz.

Spohnholz attended the June 24 show and said that in addition to creating a welcome space, Rodriguez-Northcutt is also cultivating a fun destination in East Anchorage.

“I think a lot of people think east of Anchorage is the Muldoon sector,” said Spoonholz. “Estrella creates a space where we can come and spend money in our local community.”

The mocktail menu included tamarind, agua fresca and hibiscus sangria. Behind the bar, Rodriguez Northcott was wandering around while her sister sneaked a bite from her plate of churros.

The honor came as a shock to Rodriguez Northcott, who watched the show in between fulfilling orders.

“This part of town is so nostalgic,” Rodriguez Northcote said in a recent interview. “That was all I knew when I first moved to Anchorage.” Cafecito Bonito “became less of a café and more of a community centre.”

[Miss Juneteenth Pageant empowers Anchorage’s young Black girls as they compete for chance at national crown]

Badd grew up in Alaska and began performing in drag “as a way to escape the world.”

“I grew up in a small town because I’m the only gay male in my school,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of bullying and harassment. I didn’t know anyone else who was going through the same experiences that I’ve had… they knew what I was going through.”

She’s only been performing since January but drew an audience that night during the Drag Lotería.

Compared to the clouds scene in major cities, the clouds scene in Anchorage is small. Most drag queens know each other by name and performance space is limited. However, the community is expanding and thriving, Badd and Manzano said.

Badd notes that drag queens and the queer community still struggle with homophobia and racism, but spaces and events like this are what keeps it moving.

Badd said, “Drag has become a very big thing in Alaska right now, and I am grateful to have entered the drag community at a time when we are finally being accepted, represented, and celebrated for our artistic craft.”

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