East Anchorage’s Cafecito Bonito provides a safe space for members of the LQBTQ+ community

On a recent Friday night, Jennifer Lopez’s 2011 pop hit “On The Floor” pulsated from an after-hours speaker at a small East Anchorage cafe where blinds were drawn and Pride flags decorated inside.

When the bass dropped, drag queen Brenden Badd did backflips while wearing 4-inch black latex thigh-high boots and a pink miniskirt. Cheers erupted from members of the public seated at tables and a nearby counter as they feverishly waved dollar bills.

At the end of each month, Cafecito Bonito is transformed to host drag performers who strut their stuff through the café to get noticed between rounds of Spanish bingo.

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

“Star gave us the space to really express ourselves and show off our talents and love for drag,” Badd said. “This event, however, is very groundbreaking for Alaska. To have a Latinx-only cast and production crew and venue in our community is something Alaska has yet to see.

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

The event, which takes place on the last Friday and Sunday of each month, is open to all ages and features food and drink, bingo games, prizes and short breaks where drag queens and performers hang out. synchronize and dance.

“When I was a queer young person in Anchorage, I didn’t feel safe going out…and I was always frustrated with not feeling safe, not feeling a sense of belonging,” said said Arciniega. “So as an adult I kind of saw an opportunity that I had a chance to change that.”

Proceeds from ticket sales went to relief efforts – including those for residents of Uvalde, Texas, affected by last month’s elementary school shooting, and 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 shimmering pink sombrero hangs on a wall near shelves filled with gifts, like a small Frida Kahlo figurine, from family and customers. Below, a large jar of tamarind sticks shared a shelf with cactus-shaped items and Tajin seasoning while a small rainbow flag leaned over next to a luscious little ogre – aptly named Shrek – in a planter.

Through her partnership with Arciniega, Rodriguez-Northcutt continues to amplify Latin and queer voices, and people say she fills a need in the community.

Zaide Manzano performed as drag artist Dela Rosa to another sold-out crowd on June 24.

“I grew up almost at odds with every one of my identities,” Manzano said. “Like I’m queer, it’s almost like I’m not Hispanic enough. But if I’m too Hispanic, it’s like I’m not queer enough.

Manzano, who has been performing drag for five years, said the event allows them to celebrate their identity and is why they perform monthly at Drag Lotería.

During the event, Rodriguez-Northcutt received an honorarium from the Alaska Legislature, sponsored by East Anchorage Representative Ivy Spohnholz.

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

“I think a lot of people think East Anchorage is Muldoon’s strip,” Spohnholz said. “Estrella creates a space where we can come and spend money in our home community.”

The non-alcoholic menu included tamarind agua fresca and hibiscus sangria. Behind the bar, Rodriguez-Northcutt strolled while his sister ate a bite from her plate of churros.

The fee came as a shock to Rodriguez-Northcutt, who watched the show between orders.

“This part of town is very nostalgic for me. That’s all I knew when I first moved to Anchorage,” Rodriguez-Northcutt said in a recent interview. Cafecito Bonito “became less of a cafe and more of a community center.”

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

“I grew up in a small town as the only openly gay man in my school,” she said. “I faced a lot of bullying and harassment. I didn’t know anyone else who was going through the same experiences as me…who knew what I was going through.

She has only been performing since January but commanded the audience that night during the Drag Lotería.

Compared to the drag scene in big cities, Anchorage’s drag scene is small. Most drag queens know each other by name, and performance space is limited. However, the community grew and flourished, Badd and Manzano said.

Badd notes that drag queens and the queer community still face homophobia and racism, but spaces and events like these are what keep them going.

“Drag is becoming very big in Alaska right now,” Badd said, “and I’m grateful to have entered the drag community at a time when we are finally being accepted, represented, and celebrated for our craft. of art.”