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Boyle Heights’ Juan Gabriel-Themed Gay Latinx Bar, Noa Noa Place, Is Now Open

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]midst the dread of small business closures and the newly reinstated stay-at-home-order in Los Angeles, three Latinx entrepreneurs from the L.A. and Orange County area took on the bold venture to create a space to be unabashedly flamboyant in Boyle Heights. Meet Noa Noa Place, a Queer Latinx bar in Boyle Heights.

For avid listeners and loyal fans of the late musical legend Juan Gabriel, the words “El Noa Noa” bring about joy and memory of one of his most famous ballads. A song about a bar in Juarez’s border town, where the ambiance was lively, and everything was different and exciting, and where he first had the opportunity to showcase his music in the 1960s before becoming a globally glorified star. You can say Juan Gabriel’s dreams began to flourish in this space, and for Deysi Serrano, Luis Octavio, and Donaji Esparza,  Noa Noa Place in Boyle Heights is the beginning of one of their dreams, too. 

Donaji Esparza, Luis Octavio, and Deysi Serrano. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

Each of the freshly minted bar owners brings their talents and skills in different ways, working together to pull off perhaps the most exciting bar opening in the area since Xelas opened in 2018. Serrano, owner of Milpagrille, who Octavio and Esparza both call “mama luchona, that makes shit happen,” runs the popular, healthy eatery and supports philanthropic community efforts such as the Boyle Heights community fridge. Octavio is the founder of the renowned and largest Latino community market, Molcajete Dominguero, which brings together hundreds of artists and vendors to provide unique shopping experiences for folks in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Northern California areas. And Esparza is a popular Spanish radio show host, currently with Univision network’s KLOVE, who has worked as a radio talent for 14 years and uses her platform to support and uplift Latinx communities differently.

What do they have in common? Love for community and a desire to create intentional spaces that do not exist permanently for the LGBTQIA community. 

“There are several gay nightclubs and bars in L.A. that make room for the Latinx LGBTQ communities, but we always just get a night, an off night at that. It’s either Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday...but we are not just a night, we are not a themed night, we are queer Latinx people 24/7, so why isn’t there a space?” 

Octavio shares, “There are several gay nightclubs and bars in L.A. that make room for the Latinx LGBTQ communities, but we always just get a night, an off night at that. It’s either Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday...but we are not just a night, we are not a themed night, we are queer Latinx people 24/7, so why isn’t there a space?” 

Outside Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

He shared that for Queer Latinx identified folks, diverse bar, and club options are limited. Pre-pandemic, if you wanted to enjoy a night out and dance to Latin music, you could choose from places like Nuevo Jalisco or Club tempo. If you wanted the option to listen to newer music, folks usually drove to West Hollywood. Still, Octavio, Serrano, and Esparza wanted to create a space where it’s all available under one roof. 

Inside Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

Noa Noa Place has been a dream in the making for some time; they all began taking the crucial steps to make it happen in July 2020. After a series of life-altering surgeries, Octavio shared that he didn’t want to let life pass him by without seeing this kind of space unfold. It took the group two months to choose the space, mobilize, clean up, and open. 

Co-owneer Luis Octavio poses with a bottle of Fabuloso inside Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

Finding the space was special for reasons beyond the geographical location. Octavio shared, “Everything fell into place little by little. When we did a walk-through of the space, it looked familiar, and I realized that it was previously Tenno Sushi... I went on a blind date, before I was out of the closet, to Tenno Sushi. So when I remembered that, I thought to myself, ‘HOLY SHIT if this isn’t a sign of letting me know that we are going to make this happen, I don’t know what is.’” 

Take-out cocktails at Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

As some would assume, they had concerns about how the surrounding community would receive the news about a queer Latinx bar opening in the area. Esparza shares, “The difference that this space is making in the Boyle Heights community is really eye-opening. I didn’t see it until people started sharing their stories on social media about how a space like this is so important to them.” 

“When we chatted with some of the elderly Latinx community that would walk by the space and let them know that a queer Latinx bar would be opening, we were met with the warm response,Ah que bien’ ‘Oh that’s good’ which was amazing.” Their worries about receiving negative feedback, rooted in systemic homophobia in Latino upbringings, were calmed.  

She mentions that she feels that older generations of Latinos are often assumed to be closed-minded when it comes to queerness, but she wants to honor and highlight that things are changing. She witnessed this change firsthand when talking to the venue’s neighbors, “When we chatted with some of the elderly Latinx community that would walk by the space and let them know that a queer Latinx bar would be opening, we were met with the warm response,Ah que bien’ ‘Oh that’s good’ which was amazing.” Their worries about receiving negative feedback, rooted in systemic homophobia in Latino upbringings, were calmed.  

Chef Sergio Mora tossing a pizza dough. Photo by Laura Tejeda L.A. Taco.

The venue is located in the middle of Boyle Heights, on First and Soto Streets. It is currently open strictly for take-out cocktails and food. To maintain safety, they have committed to honor the strict usage of masks, take guests’ temperatures before entering, and check IDs for alcohol consumption. Aside from safety, you feel their efforts in creating a welcoming space as soon as you approach the entrance. When you lay your eyes on three instagrammable photo opportunities, hear loud music similar to the kind you’d dance to at your cousin’s quinceanera, and smell their comfort food from their appealing to-go menu, curated by Chef Sergio Mora with some help from Jonathan Perez of Macheen. 

Wings at Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.
Al Pastor "Piczaa" at Noa Noa Place.

The menu items consist of bar food with a creative, delicious, and Latinx flavors inspired twist. They have items such as the “AhhhL Pastor Piczaa,” a pizza with al pastor-flavored sauce, grilled pork, pineapple, cilantro, quesillo cheese, and jalapeno ranch. The “En LA Mole MushRoom Piczaa,” another pie topped with mole poblano, mushrooms, quesillo cheese, squash blossom, and sesame seeds. (This item can also is available with vegan cheese). The Carne Asada THOTs are perfectly crispy tater tots, topped with grilled asada, melted nacho cheese, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo and wings. The delicious food speaks for itself and the name of the items on the menu, which are a play on Queer and Latinx jargon, contribute to how the owners hope the space stands out.

"Thots" at Noa Noa Place. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. Taco.

For their drinks, Octavio describes their “Aguadrinks” cocktails in a way that illustrates two worlds beautifully colliding. “Imagine a martini from the Abbey in West Hollywood meeting an agua fresca from the swapmeet and then falling deeply in love.” Patrons have a choice of “poison.” They will carry tequila, vodka, or gin. Along with a full agua fresca menu: pepino con limón, jamaica, or horchata. Along with Jarritos to choose as mixers. They are all currently served in convenient and aesthetically pleasing reusable bottles decorated with funny images and phrases. 

Once it becomes safe to do so, they plan on organizing queer Latinx brunch on weekends, drag shows, karaoke in Español, and more. 

For now, they will continue to support keeping the community secure by only offering take out, but the three owners shared that they have significant goals for the space. Once it becomes safe to do so, they plan on organizing queer Latinx brunch on weekends, drag shows, karaoke in Español, and more. 

Once it becomes safe to do so, they plan on organizing queer Latinx brunch on weekends, drag shows, karaoke in Español, and more.

The pandemic has put a halt to their plans, but they are ready for any challenges that come their way. Serrano shares, “I think it's a shock for a lot of people that we’re open. But again, our strengths, us believing in our project, and more than anything, because of the community’s support, is what’s fueling us to stay open. Y si nos va duro pues a echarle ganas, if it gets tough, well we’ll try harder and hang in there.” 

After a wildly successful opening weekend, the team's morale is high. They are ready to continue to provide a place full of ambiance where everything is different for everyone who stops by. They want all future and returning patrons, especially those that identify as LGBTQIA, to know that “You can be your true self here, bienvenido a casa, welcome home, this space was created for you!”

Noa Noa Place is open from Thursday to Saturday 4-9p, Sunday 12-9p. For the most up to date information, visit their Instagram page. 

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