Covering L.A. nightlife for as long as I have, you start to notice cultural shifts, some for the better and some not so much. Bottle service, for example, was bad as it started to divide people based on money and status, taking away the ability to chill and soak up the scene for those without it. But there has been so much good, and when it comes to gay nightlife, Nacho Nava (aka Ignacio Nava Jr.) is a figure who automatically comes to mind, not only for his creative ideas but for his sweet and open nature, which ultimately served to unite not only the LBGTQI community but people of color in L.A. as well. Nava died of pneumonia on Saturday, Jan. 19, after battling the illness for several days. He was surrounded by friends and family as the difficult decision to pull life support was made, and almost immediately, social media was flooded with the sad news.
For those in the clubbing community, his death has been particularly difficult to accept. I reached out to many close to him who wanted to share thoughts but were still in too much pain to do so. The L.A. native's best-known endeavor, Mustache Mondays, fostered a family-like atmosphere in which all were welcome. Even those who weren't close to him or part of the core group of DJs, promoters and performers were made to feel part of it every time they joined the fun. This was a notably different vibe from the stereotypical gay club scene represented in West Hollywood, which some felt had become too shallow, prioritizing looks and hooking up over creativity and connecting, and didn't really feel welcoming to people of color, nor trans or people who identify as gender-fluid, both of which represented such a huge part of the community in L.A.
I first met Nava in the basement of Club 740 at the Alexandria Hotel where Mustache went down before moving to La Cita on Hill Street. As patrons pranced, posed and vogued around us, Nacho, who used the last name “Biz” back then (though he always made me feel like it was my “bizness” to know what he had to share), spoke about art, and nightlife as art, and how DTLA might one day turn into a new queer hub, an inclusive alternative to the tired WeHo scene, with parties like his as well as Ryan Heffington and Nina McNeely's Fingered and Wildness at the Silver Platter. Mind you, this was well over a decade ago, and downtown was a very different place. A lot of the residents, restaurant goers and bar hoppers who frequent the area now wouldn't come near it after dark then.
Mustache found its perfect home at La Cita, where other clubs such as Dance Right had just started bringing in the non-ranchero crowd. The divey setup, narrow dance floor, pumping patio and Christmas light–adorned bar brings to mind places that many Latinos like myself felt familiar with growing up. Mustache Mondays' Latin-heavy patronage enhanced this energy with hot, sweaty, sexy movement and merriment throughout.
Mustache's magic can't easily be explained but it was one of the warmest, wildest and most joyful atmospheres I'd ever seen and felt — and that's really saying something for a writer who'd made it her mission to cover all of L.A. after dark. It was a place where even a straight chica like myself felt welcomed (not always the case in queer spaces). I became a regular, if only to see who Nacho booked on La Cita's tiny sliver of a stage next (and there were big talents from the worlds of drag and music, including everyone from We Are the World to Maluca to Kingdom to Lady Tigra to Brooke Candy to Ongina and Raja of RuPaul's Drag Race fame). I also came to hear Josh Peace and Total Freedom's infectious mixes and dance with my boys (and girls), and to see the outrageous looks and antics of host Fade-Dra Phey and the beautiful smile of Miss Barbie-Q at the door. It was one of the few events that could actually get me out on a Monday night, and I never regretted it the next day, even hungover.
When Mustache left La Cita, there were more fun fetes at various locales to follow (bashes at the Belasco, a performance by Christeene at the Globe Theatre, a stint at the Lash) but the La Cita heyday always felt special. When I wrote about La Cita in my book Los Angeles' Best Dive Bars, I had to include a photo I shot at Mustache, and even though he was a bona fide club king at that point, Nacho was very grateful. He may have been the most gracious person I ever wrote about.
When he joined forces with performance art legend Ron Athey last year to present DOLORES, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, it seemed his knack for recognizing fierce fringe, inventive provocateurs and audacious artists might go next-level. I have no doubt whatsoever that Nacho had so much more to show and share with Los Angeles before leaving us too soon. What he started with Mustache was a movement, and it changed not only the LGBTQI scene but nightlife as a whole in L.A. The vision he told me about over a decade ago has come to fruition: Downtown is inclusive and brimming with creativity. Though the rents are higher now, the sense of community and acceptance he helped bring to the region has brought a true diversity and all types of people want to not only come but stay and contribute to the culture. I wish he could've stayed, but I'm glad he got to see it happen before he left.
A GoFundMe page has been created to present a celebratory event in Nava's honor (to be held at the Resident on Feb. 3) and to set up scholarship and memorial funds in his name to benefit the nonprofit causes to which he devoted his life. More info at gofundme.com/weloveyounacho.
A few words from friends and nightlife peers who knew him well, below.
Kim Anh, DJ/promoter
The only way I know how to describe Nacho’s impact on our community is that he was a beacon. And those who sought shelter under his light were never turned away. Even though he’s gone, his light continues to burn and will impact generations of queers to come. He was an innovator, a leader in culture. He reclaimed spaces. And he fed both the spirits and livelihoods of countless artists from all around the world. He was kind and a good listener. He was a problem solver. He created safe spaces before the term was coined across the web. He gave me some of my first gigs in L.A. and I am forever grateful. There were times early in my career that his bookings helped me to make ends meet. He booked women, queer women, women of color and nonbinary folks long before it was a trend. He was a master of creating authentic spaces. I miss his laugh. I miss his physical energy. This is a devastating loss that is affecting an entire community. My hope for us is that we can continue to honor his legacy.
Rudy Garcia-Campos aka Rudeness
Nacho was like a brother to me. He was a mentor for me in nightlife and business. His parties brought many beautiful souls together. I met my husband at Mustache Mondays. Downtown L.A. will never be the same without him.
Nina McNeely, Fingered/We Are the World (performed at Mustache many times)
Nacho adored the art of dance and brought in our small community, including but not limited to Ryan Heffington, Marlon Pelayo and Denna Thomsen, to perform regularly at Mustache Mondays. He gave us a stage and it became our laboratory. Nobody knew who we were and we didn't care. We were poor but passionate and resourceful AF. We'd go to Home Depot to get our looks or rip a curtain off the wall, belt it and throw on a kitten heel. There was no pressure because he created a safe place that allowed us and inspired us to get experimental and take risks. We wouldn't be the artists we are today without that opportunity. Nacho had a very keen eye for talent and originality. Like a powerful conduit, he would match people together, resulting in lifelong collaborations and friendships. His warmth, laughter and that backwards wig could brighten anyone's day. It was never about him — it was always about the community. He gave us confidence and our own world where we were accepted and encouraged to be fearless. We are forever grateful and he will be in our hearts for eternity!
MJ Brown aka Miss Barbie-Q, hostess/door queen at Mustache Mondays (2007-2011)
Nacho had this knack for sniffing out talent. He knew what was going to be the next thing before anyone. I loved that so much about him. He accepted everyone as they were and encouraged us to shine. He was no angel — we had our spats and we made up like family. I was always treated like royalty by him no matter where we were. Because that is what he created, what we created in DTLA. Family. He brought in new people and let others go their ways to grow and become the stars he always knew we were and let us come back and tell him all about it. Let the music take us and unite us always. Love you Nacho.