Alaska Life

More than a coffee shop: East Anchorage’s Cafecito Bonito provides safe space for LGBTQ+ community members

drag bingo, queer community, pride month

On a recent Friday night, Jennifer Lopez’s 2011 pop hit “On The Floor” pulsed from a speaker after-hours at a small East Anchorage coffee shop where window shades were drawn and Pride flags decorated the interior.

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 audience members seated at tables and a counter nearby as they feverishly waved dollar bills.

At the end of each month, Cafecito Bonito is transformed to host drag artists who strut through the coffee shop to chart-toppers in between rounds of Mexican bingo.

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

“Star has given us the space to really express ourselves and show our talents and our love for drag,” Badd said. “This event, though, is very groundbreaking for Alaska. To have a cast and a production crew and a venue that is all made up of Latinx people in our community is something that Alaska hasn’t seen yet.”

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

The event, held on the last Friday and Sunday of every month, is open to all ages and features food and drinks, rounds of bingo, prizes and small breaks where drag queens and artists lip sync and dance.

drag bingo, queer community, pride month
Arciniega Street Productions, Drag Loteria

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

Proceeds from ticket sales have gone to mutual aid efforts — including those directed toward people in Uvalde, Texas, affected by last month’s shooting at an elementary school, and toward a second community fridge 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 sparkly pink sombrero hangs on a wall near shelves stocked with gifts, such as a small Frida Kahlo figurine, from family and customers. Below, a large tub of tamarind sticks shared a shelf with cactus-shaped objects and Tajin seasoning while a small rainbow flag leaned next to a small ogre succulent — aptly named Shrek — in a planter.

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

drag bingo, queer community, pride month

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

“I grew up kind of almost at odds with each of my identities,” Manzano said. “Like if 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 the space to celebrate their identities and is the reason they perform at Drag Lotería each month.

drag bingo, queer community, pride month
drag bingo, queer community, pride month

During the event, Rodriguez-Northcutt was awarded an honorarium from the Alaska Legislature that was sponsored by East Anchorage Rep. Ivy Spohnholz.

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

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

The mocktail menu included tamarind agua fresca and hibiscus sangria. Behind the bar, Rodriguez-Northcutt shuffled around while her sister snuck a bite from her plate of churros.

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

“This part of town is very nostalgic for me. This was all I knew when I first moved to Anchorage,” Rodriguez-Northcutt said during a recent interview. Cafecito Bonito “has become less of a coffee shop and more of a community center.”

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

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

“I grew up in a small town as the only openly gay male in my school,” she said. “I faced a lot of bullying and harassment. I didn’t know anybody 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 that night’s audience during Drag Lotería.

drag bingo, queer community, pride month
drag bingo, queer community, pride month

Compared to the drag scene in larger cities, Anchorage’s drag scene is small. Most drag queens know one another by name and performance space is limited. However, the community has been expanding and flourishing, both 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 it progressing.

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

drag bingo, queer community, pride month


Emily Mesner

Emily Mesner is a multimedia journalist for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously worked for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, at the Cordova Times and at the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Michigan.

Sponsored