Noa Noa Place bar-pizzeria in Boyle Heights caters to LGBTQ Latinos

A just opened queer bar-pizzeria in Boyle Heights is dedicated to a famous song from iconic Mexican singer Juan Gabriel.

It’s also the only LGBTQ Latino business in the East Los Angeles city.

“Our community has been longing for a space like this,” said co-owner Luis Octavio, 38, who identifies as queer. “Our community needs a space like this, and we need it now.”

El Noa Noa

Noa Noa Place, which opened Saturday, takes its name from Gabriel’s song “El Noa Noa,” an anthem for the queer Latino community.

“The title of the song and the lyrics basically say, Noa Noa is a place where you will dance all night, everything is different, and you will have a good time,” Octavio said.

“Those lyrics give me a sense of belonging and make me feel like I’m in a safe space where I can feel like myself,” Octavio said during a recent interview. “For that reason, we knew it was the perfect name for the space. People will know this is a space where they will feel safe.”

Noa Noa Place Boyle Heights

Noa Noa Place is a queer bar-pizzeria in Boyle Heights that’s dedicated to a famous song from iconic Mexican singer Juan Gabriel. It’s also the only LGBTQ Latino space in the East Los Angeles city. Photo: Noa Noa Place.

Noa Noa Place

Due to COVID-19 health orders that closed outdoor dining, Noa Noa Place, located at 2321 E. First St., is open only for takeout. Management enforces all COVID-19 safety requirements, including mask wearing and social distancing.

The bar-pizzeria is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Once restaurants are allowed to resume outdoor dining, Noa Noa Place will open its patio.

Previous to the queer Latino space, the building once housed a sports bar, and previous to that business, it was Tenno Sushi.

When customers arrive at Noa Noa Place, they will be greeted by drag queen Melissa Befierce.

Customers waiting in line can enjoy Instagramable setups that reflect the LGBTQ and Latinx community.

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On the menu

“We have flavorful pizza that represents our Latinidad,” Octavio said.

Here are three pizzas on the Noa Noa Place menu.

  • The Shortyzo includes refried bean spread, quesillo blend cheese, chorizo, cilantro, and bell pepper mix.
  • The Mole Mushroom includes mole poblano, mushrooms, quesillo blend cheese, flor de calabaza, and ajonjoli.
  • The Al Pastor has al pastor spread, grilled pork, pineapple slices, cilantro, jalapeno ranch, and quesillo blend cheese.

Vegetarian and vegan options also are available.

Drinks menu

The menu also includes a variety of agua drinks, a mix of agua frescas and alcohol. For example, jamaica flavored with tequila, vodka, gin, or mezcal.

Also, WhoreChata, which blends horchata and rum.

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LGBTQ Latino history

For more than 50 years, Boyle Heights was home to the lesbian bar Redz, also known as Reds and El Chuparosa (The Hummingbird). The bar opened in the late 1950s and catered to a predominantly working class, Mexican and Mexican-American lesbian crowd.

The bar represented an important intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual identity until it closed in 2015.

In 2016, Circus Disco and Arena Cafe, two iconic and historic gay Latino clubs in Hollywood, closed and were demolished. They were safe spaces to the LGBTQ Latino community for more than 40 years.

Luxury condominiums were built on the sacred space.

Noa Noa Place could be an oasis in a desert of LGBTQ Latino spaces.

Alessandro Negrete, a longtime Boyle Heights resident and community activist who identifies as queer, says the space is important and needed.

“Latinos are the majority in Los Angeles, but the places that cater to us are seldom,” Negrete said.

“We are at a very interesting time in history for the LGBTQ community and people of color. Representation and visibility are really important. To have a place like Noa Noa Place is definitely needed and important, welcomed.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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