Amid a strip of bars pounding with top hits, Novo is surprisingly refreshing. Soft pinks and blues illuminate the small bar bustling with people and servers carrying appetizers while a DJ stands bobbing his head near the front window. The music is upbeat, but quiet enough that patrons can talk over the din.
Welcome to Beleza Nights at Novo: a free, unique experience that sprouts up in Downtown San Luis Obispo twice a week.
The name “beleza” shares Novo’s lingual origin: Portuguese. Novo means “new” and beleza means “beauty” or “beautiful.”
“It’s also a greeting in Brazilian culture,” said Molly Kiely, Novo’s marketing manager. “People walk up to their friends and call out ‘Beleza!’ to them.”
Students looking for a distinct atmosphere downtown — or those who may be without a reliable watering hole after SLO Brew’s doors closed earlier this month to work on moving — may want to head to Beleza Nights, running 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.
Beleza Nights has been an official staple of Novo for about three years, according to Kiely. The event offers unique features such as an appetizer menu that’s accessible until midnight and an outdoor dance floor open during warmer months.
Kiely described the atmosphere as a place for “young professionals,” including “fourth- or fifth-year students who aren’t into going crazy, but still want to have a good time.”
Additionally, Novo keeps a rotation of four to six local DJs who work to make each night different.
“With the group of DJs that we have now, we each have individual styles and ability levels,” Novo DJ and Cal Poly alumnus Damian Camacho said. “But I think that the one thing we really excel at is being responsive.”
That’s important for Novo. With a bar that caters to wide age and personality ranges — usually people in their mid-20s to early 40s — the DJs have to be able to gauge what music fits the crowd at any given time and create a festive mood for the group.
“I think you just gotta play it by ear,” Novo DJ and biomedical engineering junior Jack Ross said. “If an older crowd shows up then I go for disco, but if a younger crowd shows up, I go for throwbacks … I figure if people are throwing their hands up in the air and singing along, then I’ve accomplished the atmosphere I want.”
Because of that, Beleza Nights feature a more diverse array of music that isn’t as common in other bars.
“If I go to MoTav, I’m gonna hear Fetty Wap,” Ross said. “If I go to The Library, I’m gonna hear Fetty Wap. If I go to SLO Brew, guess what I’m gonna listen to: the newest Fetty Wap song. And they do what they do really well, but Novo comes along and provides the atmosphere of something different. Like, do I play Fetty Wap? Yeah. But not all the time.”
Not to say that Novo doesn’t get some of its inspiration from other bars. The nightlife in San Luis Obispo is, after all, extremely condensed, and most people in the business know and appreciate each other’s work.
“It’s a very difficult thing to quantify, really,” Camacho said. “Because we do play a lot of the same music that other DJs play … and a lot of (DJs downtown) have been doing it for years, and they work really hard and a lot of them are better than me. Like, I’ve gone out and heard something and just been like: ‘What — what is this? This is incredible!’ So, I’m simultaneously a fan, but trying to do the same thing.”
Novo’s attempt to create a unique space based on who’s at the bar on a given night allows them the opportunity to make Beleza Nights one of a kind.
But one of Novo’s biggest draws — the fluidity of its music — is also one of the DJs’ biggest challenges.
Trying to find a balance between what songs the DJ loves and what the crowd is responding to can be difficult if the DJ and the crowd just aren’t on the same frequency, music-wise.
“I think it’s important to check my ego at the door, in a way,” Camacho said. “Because, you know, every DJ puts in hours of trying to find music and things they really love and the things you want to play sometimes don’t go over that well.”
“I don’t want it to sound like we’re doing something revolutionary,” Camacho said. “We’re just playing dance music … but I think the packaging — the outdoor dance floor and just the vibe of people — makes a big difference.”
Altogether, the Novo staff works to bring a collective unique experience to the downtown nightlife.
“I think the staff does such a good job of that,” Ross said. “The bartenders are amazing … the bouncer knows every single person who walks through that door… So I can’t help but feel lucky to work here.”