First-time visitors to Cafe Caliente might pass right by. There are no signs outside the former Women's Building at 1720 N. Spring St. that hint at the explosion of color from murals and paintings inside the newest outlet for local Chicano artists and musicians.
The building houses studios for artists such as Patssi Valdez and Alex Gomez. The downstairs space, which was once used as an art gallery but has been vacant for years, came to the attention of singer Eddie Chavez Ayala when he moved his rehearsal studio to the building in June.
Ayala, 30, gathered artist friends this summer and presented his idea for a cafe that would be a place for avant-garde artistic expression.
A fund-raiser for the cafe that drew 500 last week included Chicana poets Y Que Mas?, performance artist Zoot, and the Boyle Heights band Homegrown. Ayala also performed songs from his band, Cactus Flower.
"The energy behind Cafe Caliente is pretty intense," Ayala said. "It's time for Chicano poets, musicians, artists and writers to get angry and focus on what the anger is about. We are being erased (from mainstream media) and that's where Cafe Caliente comes in. What that event proves is that we are starving for a multimedia theater to do our thing."
The cafe, which features paintings by Paul Botello, Gronk, John Valadez and Diane Gamboa, has a front portion with a stage designed by Patssi Valdez, a kitchen that may eventually dispense cappuccino, and a rear Chisme Lounge, where a deejay spun records last weekend until 4 a.m.
A rock music event is scheduled for Dia de los Muertos, Oct. 30.
The cafe joins the few venues that cater to Chicano art and expression.
The Aztlan Cultural Foundation, in the former jail in Lincoln Heights next to the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, had its inaugural event during the summer. Troy Cafe in Little Tokyo has also made its mark promoting Chicano talent with events each weekend.
They join Plaza de la Raza and Self-Help Graphics, which do not have regular programming for showcasing the talent on the Eastside, but have annual events that have developed their own followings. Self-Help Graphics showcases the visual arts and offers space for weddings and quinceaneras that keep it booked almost every weekend.
There are still not enough outlets to accommodate Latino talent, said Tomas Benitez, of Self-Help Graphics.
"Our point of view is unequivocally in support of any other endeavor because the history has been such that there is a policy of exclusion," Benitez said. "The cafe is to be commended because they're doing things there that are experimental and avant-garde, whereas at Plaza de la Raza there are guidelines and Self-Help has its programming policy. They're claiming their space and doing it."
Ayala, who was a founding member of Los Illegals and Oddsquad punk bands in the early 1980s, said he decided to return to East Los Angeles after trying for years to break into the Hollywood recording industry.
"I think this is important," Ayala said, sitting in front of the orange satin stage curtains. "It's beyond me at this point. People are basically believing that this space is happening."