In many ways, Cuties Coffee is simply a coffee shop. The menu is uncomplicated: espresso for $3, cold brew for $5. The teas are made in-house, including hibiscus, lychee black and English breakfast. The snacks are purchased from local businesses, like vegan and gluten-free doughnuts from Erin McKenna’s Bakery on Larchmont, and sandwiches from Friends and Family and Bread Lounge.
Designwise, Cuties is more unicorn vibes than unicorn beverages. A disco ball greets you at the entrance and the space is washed in pink and teal. The sounds of Björk are likely to be flowing over the speakers as you order your coffee and possibly a pronoun pin: she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, he/him/his. Here you’re encouraged to ask people's pronouns, never assume. “All are welcome” is the mantra.
Before opening Cuties, co-owners Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle created the monthly pop-up event Queers, Coffee & Donuts, a gathering of friends and friends-to-be often held in private backyards. After running the event for about a year, the team began the process of building a more permanent space to help decrease social isolation in L.A.’s LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual and all other sexualities and genders) community.
Bauman says such isolation is a problem in every city but that L.A. has specific geographic challenges because it is markedly spread out.
“The LGBTQIA community faces tremendous adversity and oppression,” Bauman says. “Many queer people are rejected from their family of origin. Many queer people don't have the same access to community through work or social organizations that others do. We wanted to create something that helped our community figure out where they want to go when they leave their house.”
In addition to the ongoing Queers, Coffee & Donuts, Cuties hosts a variety of events including craft nights and Gush, an audio variety show featuring music, storytelling and games. The coffee shop is an alternative to the profusion of nightlife geared toward the queer community, and inclusive of those who are in recovery.
When Googling LGBT events in Los Angeles, the first page of results generally is entertainment-focused, mainly dance clubs and drag shows. The Los Angeles LGBT Center offers programs and resources for people in need, and there are queer-friendly congregations like reform synagogue Beth Chayim Chadashim, which hosts movie nights, barbecues and book clubs. But in general, there are a dearth of businesses that aim to make LGBTQIA+ people feel welcome.
Bauman says Cuties’ goal is to give queer people more options and events to look forward to, which the shop communicates through its weekly newsletter promoting community happenings across the city.
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“We are trying to point people to many different interesting things, not just us,” she says. “Hopefully people are getting out more and more because of the work that we're doing. This hopefully reduces isolation, which comes with often dire physical, mental and emotional consequences.”
According to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, there are currently 1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses in the United States. However, most don’t prominently market themselves as a safe space specifically for the queer community.
Cuties is located at Heliotrope and Melrose, right outside of Los Angeles Community College, and directly next door to the cult-favorite ice cream shop Scoops. “You can order an affogato with us by going to go get ice cream of your choice and we'll put espresso over it. It's delicious,” Bauman says.
710 N. Heliotrope Drive, East Hollywood; (424) 744-0348, hicuties.com.