Oscar Rodriquez. Photo by Alex Garland

Oscar Rodriguez Brings Some Pride to Beacon Hill

Under his ownership, Baja Bistro gives the LGBTQ community a place to gather while providing the neighborhood with jobs and goodwill.

Oscar Rodriguez has been on Beacon Hill since 1991.

How he got there is a familiar story, but from a different time. Rents were rising on Capitol Hill in 1991, and he and his brother Luis were feeling the squeeze. They found relief with a two-bedroom apartment just a little farther south in North Beacon Hill. But something was missing. In the time of coffee carts and start-up cafes, Oscar realized the only spot on Beacon Hill to get a cup of coffee was the local Shell station. Motivated by a friend’s purchase of a new car, Oscar thought “I can invest less than that and maybe do something here. So that’s what I did. I had a couple of credit cards. I bought a machine and rented this little space and that’s how it all started.”

Ten years later, Luis took over the coffee business and opened The Station, while Oscar rented out what is now the kitchen and bar area and opened Java Love, now Baja Bistro. Originally from Mexico, Oscar wanted to showcase the recipes and methods that had been passed down in his family. The menu was a big hit.

Rodriguez soon made friends with local drag queen Atasha Manila, who performed at Inay’s across the street, adorning the walls with her photos. A member of the LGBTQ community himself, it was a natural fit. Since he was often working as a bartender, Rodriguez’s friends would stop by often for a drink and conversation. Occasionally customers would come into the bar, not realizing how popular it had become in the gay community, and make comments about the number of gay customers there. So Rodriguez hung up a rainbow flag—“It’ll be sort of like a filter,” he says now. “You know if you see the flag and you have a problem with it, don’t come in. That attracted more people. It just sort of became a little haven for the gay community.”

That flag proved a life-changing experience. “I met my partner here,” he says. “He came in and asked me out. I told him I don’t date customers; I don’t go out with my customers.” The lovestruck customer told Rodriguez that he wouldn’t come back as a customer unless he got a date. “That was almost 18 years ago.” This isn’t the only tale of romance in this tucked-away corner of Beacon Hill: “At least five couples have met here and got married,” Rodriguez says. He’s thrilled that Baja Bistro has become a community gathering space. “We meet our neighbors here. On Capitol Hill, you disappear into the crowd, but here, people want to get to know each other or want to talk to each other. You rarely see people on their phones.”

Rodriguez’s business isn’t just a refuge for the LGBTQ community, it also serves a banging diner breakfast and a praiseworthy asada torta. The bar is tiny and often crowded, but always welcoming to everyone. “I am very proud of the fact that we have created a little place where everybody is nice and everybody is nice to each other, and everybody is themselves.” He says that he appreciates the diversity of Beacon Hill, especially in light of Capitol Hill’s shifting demographics. “I’ve been here so long that I know the prostitutes and the homeless people,” he says. “One of the things that we do is, we don’t say no to someone who wants to use the bathroom just because they’re homeless. We try to treat everyone, including people on the fringe, with respect.”

Not only does Rodriguez provide a safe community environment for Baja Bistro’s LGBTQ patrons, he’s also created 18 jobs for the community. “It feels really good because when you hear all the rhetoric that’s coming from the president—the crap that he said about Mexicans being criminals and rapists or taking other people’s jobs—I made my job, and we created jobs for 18 of our neighbors.”

food@seattleweekly.com

Read the rest of our Profiles in Pride series.

More in News & Comment

Teen Immigrants in Washington Programs Claim Sexual Assault and Rape

Police reports from federally-funded facilities in Renton and Fife call the minors’ safety into question.

It’s Official: Safeco Field Will Get $135 Million in Taxpayer Funds

Critical King County Councilmembers call plan “a fleecing” and “irresponsible.”

The Westin Seattle workers represented by Unite Here Local 8 gather at Gethsemane Lutheran Church after voting to strike on Sep. 14. Photo by Abby Lawlor
Hotel Workers Vote to Authorize Strike

The Westin Seattle employees will picket to demand higher wages from Marriott International.

King County Moves to Expand Pre-Booking Diversion Program

Three cities could get money to link low-level drug offenders to services and keep them out of jail.

Immigrant Youth Vulnerable to Abuse in Centers

Federally-funded facilities struggle to maintain health and safety of minors stuck in limbo

Tourism Organizations Lose in Safeco Field Funding Plan

Money previously intended for Seattle and South King County organizations might go to stadium maintenance.

Photo by Cacophony/Wikipedia Commons
Safeco Field Will Get a New Name Next Year

Seattle Mariners could make over $100 million from naming rights.

Seattle educators gather at a rally outside of John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence on Aug. 16, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Teachers Union Approves Contract Agreement

The new contract that offers a 10.5 percent pay increase now awaits the School Board’s vote.

At a Sept. 4 press conference, Neil Fox, secretary of the National Lawyers Guild’s Seattle chapter, opposes City Attorney Pete Holmes’ tough stance on demonstrators who block traffic. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Protesters Vow to Continue Tactics Despite the Threat of Prosecution

The Seattle City Attorney has taken a harder line on demonstrations, but activists aren’t budging.

King County Council Approves $135 Million Public Investment in Safeco Field

A council committee voted to advance a last-minute “compromise” plan to fund stadium maintenance.