• The Star Staff

Hurricanes a pandemic and gov’t bureaucracy didn’t stop this inclusive unique business from blooming

Queer- and trans-led Restaurant-Bar Coffeeshop Loverbar is open to provide a safe dining experience for the LGBTTQIAP+ community, and for everyone

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Although the passing of Hurricane Maria nearly three years ago set businesses back, and the COVID-19 pandemic has led many to shut down indefinitely, Restaurant-Bar-Coffeeshop Loverbar has opened its doors to provide an accessible and hearty menu to the Río Piedras community and to serve Puerto Rico’s queer and trans community, as owner Jhoni Jackson told the Star on Thursday.

Jackson said the concept was a plan that she began developing with trans non-binary chef Bex Suculentx Bianchi back in 2017 as they wanted to open a nightlife spot that served as a safe haven for trans, queer and non-binary people. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until Aug. 20 that they had the opportunity to open up a daytime venue as both the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s executive orders has sent queer nightlife in Puerto Rico into the digital world.

The freelance journalist also said she wanted to build a space that would cultivate “queer ethics,” a place where both employees and clients would stand against transphobia, homophobia, racism and sexism, which are the rules painted on the wall as you enter the establishment.

“Everyone is welcome as long as you respect the queer ethics that we firmly planted up front; everybody has to respect that”, Jackson said. “Here, respectful treatment is guaranteed.”

Meanwhile, Jackson said her future vision for Loverbar is for it to be an enterprise that provides safe and respectful employment for the LGBTQIAP+ community, as members tend to be susceptible to low incomes, misgendering, microaggressions and harassment.

“I want to provide employment where people can just be themselves completely and not have to worry about that bullshit. And the more we expand, the more communities we can reach, the more we can serve,” she said. “In a post-COVID world, I want to stay open during the night and day.”

As for the food, Bianchi, who is the head chef of Loverbites by Ubuntu Kitchen (Ubuntu means “I am because we are” in Zulu), said their menu is varied and economically priced, with both vegetarian and plant-based options, such as the Ubuntu-Style Beyond Burger, which has garlic, three cheeses, red onions, cilantro aioli, garlic oil and paprika, served on waffles or bread and with plantain chips on the side. Meanwhile, for a healthier menu, there’s “La Jartera,” which is a breakfast dish that includes two eggs, waffles, oatmeal and a fruit salad.

“These plates come from a more refined culinary experience, but I wanted to bring this experience to Río Piedras at a more accessible price range for [university] students, professors and other members of the community to have a delicious and substantial meal at a good price,” Bianchi said.

Bianchi, who goes by the pronouns they/them, said that once Jackson told them that Loverbar was open for business, they felt marvelous as there was the opportunity to provide happiness through the kitchen. Likewise, the chef welcomed the feeling of liberation as they can be themselves and work at a judgment-free place.

“They use my correct name, my correct pronouns,” they said. “I have that freedom of expression and [the opportunity] to support my community from the kitchen, which is what I am passionate about. It’s great to be in a healthy and blessed place.”

Jackson, meawhile, told the Star that after she resigned from the local live music venue Club 77 in September 2016, she wanted to open up a queer nightlife spot. Despite raising up to $1,000 with local fundraisers she organized and produced, Hurricane Maria set her goals back to zero. The founder added that both landlord-tenant disputes and delays in acquiring her enterprise’s operating permits from the island State Department kept setting her back; however, she kept at it until in early June she finally had every legal document in hand.

“We kept waiting and waiting, trying to build up the space, getting the kitchen ready, as there wasn’t one,” Jackson said. “This is not like it was before, at all. It looks completely different now.”

Loverbar is located on Ponce de León Avenue in Río Piedras and is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m till 6 p.m. Face covering masks and physical distancing are required.

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