Blue Caribbean is a bit of home for area's islanders

Community's social and cultural center

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

December 18, 2003|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Blue Caribbean Lounge is much more than a nightspot where patrons can groove to sultry island beats or sip a tropical cocktail.

For members of Baltimore's Caribbean community, the Park Heights establishment is a multipurpose haven, a gathering spot for birthday parties to fashion shows, political meetings and outreach efforts.

"It really is a cultural center for the community," says co-owner Leonard "Terry" Francis, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who immigrated to the United States in 1971. His business partners, Terrence Charles and Kenrick Sealy, also hail from the island.

"As soon as we opened 15 years ago, there has been no shortage of people rushing in for the Caribbean atmosphere," says Francis, a retired state auditor. "They come from every part of the Caribbean, from Jamaica to Barbados. Various races come in. Everyone mixes well."

Indeed, the club is a type of international oasis that appeals to many different backgrounds.

It provides familiarity a touch of home for people of Caribbean descent, deja vu for anyone who has visited the sun-soaked, balmy islands or simply enjoys the culture. Comfortable and unpretentious, the Blue Caribbean is a far cry from pseudo-tropical theme clubs with fake palm trees or waterfalls.

Instead, there are colorful flags of island nations draped over the long bar and bartenders who can whip up an authentic island fruit punch. Popular island beers such as Caribe and Red Stripe are among the diverse offerings. Two in-house DJs spin a lively mix of Caribbean rhythms -- everything from reggae, calypso and soca -- mingled with American R&B. The pulsing, spirited Caribbean beats are perfect for those who want to dance, island style.

You won't find a better place to practice the sensual moves that are famed in Caribbean culture, steps that may seem a bit risque to the uninitiated but which are actually firmly rooted in Afro-Caribbean and African traditions.

There's lots of shaking, gyrating and oh-so-close contact between the sexes. Depending upon the island, it is sometimes called the "wind" in Caribbean-speak (as in winding a clock) or the "rub-a-dub."

For those who don't care to dance, the Blue Caribbean has plenty of tables where club-goers can enjoy a beverage, relax and chat. And occasionally, there are live shows of popular Caribbean acts.

The welcoming atmosphere keeps regulars coming back and attracts newcomers.

"The Blue Caribbean is the Mecca," says Elaine Simon, a native of Antigua who is president of the Caribbean-American Carnival Association of Baltimore, an umbrella group for Caribbean culture and causes. "Every part of the community knows about it."

Each summer, the association sponsors a weekend festival at Druid Hill Park, which kicks off with a costumed "carnival" parade outside the Blue Caribbean.

"They recognize the community's needs," says Simon, a business owner. "Whether it is giving Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, sponsoring a soccer league or giving money when there is a tragedy."

The establishment, located at 5402 Park Heights Ave., is part of a thriving residential and commercial hub for many of this city's Caribbean-Americans.

Situated along the busy stretch leading toward Reisterstown Road are Caribbean restaurants, grocery stores, shops and auto mechanics.

The neighborhood's residential population consists of newly arrived immigrants as well as second and third generations.

"Caribbean families have lived in this area for 30 years," says Simon. "Most ethnic groups never get the positive exposure they deserve, but we are business owners, students and homeowners. We are quiet giants in this community."

To that end, co-owner Francis says the club not only provides a venue for folks to have fun, but to also help dispel stereotypes and break down cultural barriers.

"Yes, we party well. But the club is a way to give exposure to our culture," he says. "It allows people to see that we are no different than anyone else."

The Blue Caribbean is closed on Monday and Tuesday. For hours and more information, call the club at 410-664-1551.

For more club events, see Page 40.

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