Desperately seeking Boricuas

Teonna Rector and Chanel N. Singleton at Old San Juan.
  • Teonna Rector and Chanel N. Singleton at Old San Juan.
Release Date: 2009-09-23

Having spent more than a decade in New York City, I was lucky enough to meet a lot of Puerto Ricans. While living on the Lower East Side, I frequently awoke to the tinny sound of bachata music emanating from parked cars on the street below (yes, I know bachata originated in the Dominican Republic), and began to love songs by Aventura and Monchi y Alexandra, which were staples in most of the neighborhood jukeboxes.

When I returned to SA, I missed the Puerto Rican element that was so much a part of my NY experience — block parties full of wisecracking folks who personified hotness regardless of the weather. As luck would have it, I recently met a foxy lady from the great land of the valiant and noble Lord, and we quickly became lunch buddies. `Kathy was the web-designer for the Current, but she has flown the coop, and we’re trying to forgive her.`

Since Kathy is curious about SA’s Boricua population, I started forwarding her announcements I came across advertising Puerto Rican mixers around town. “We should go!” I kept encouraging her, doubting that we would ever get around to it. Last Friday, another one of these mixers popped up, and we made plans to meet.

We had fun imagining what the crowd would be like. I was hoping to find something resembling the scene at Josefina’s Beauty Salon in Brooklyn, where I used to have my hair highlighted amidst a sea of Boricuas with sculptured nails and low-cut tops, their simultaneously tough and manicured-looking boyfriends loitering outside in wife beaters and oversized caps that seemed to float atop their heads. Kathy just hoped she would fit in and meet people her own age — she didn’t quite have the whole fantasy sequence going on the way I did.

When we arrived, the mixer was well under way, and it looked more like an office party than anything else. “It looks like they all know each other already,” Kathy said, sounding a little intimidated. The attendees were dressed for success, and there was a lot of clapping after a series of announcements that reminded us of multi-level marketing luncheons. “Do we have to go in there?” she asked, gesturing at the restaurant’s closed-off dining area.

We went outside to plot our next move. “Let’s go to Old San Juan! You made me dress up, and I wanna dance,” she said. Neither of us had ever been to the Old San Juan Restaurant and Diskotek, but we’ve been talking about it for as long as we’ve known each other.

When we arrived, the parking lot was nearly full and loud reggaeton music was thumping. “Do you think this is the place?” I joked. After our IDs were checked at the door, we learned that Friday is free for “Ladies and Military.” Kathy slipped in, while I paid a $4 cover. This place also was nothing like we had expected. On the main stage an R&B band called InSoul was playing while several women were doing what I can only describe as urban line dancing. As fabulous as the scene was, we were searching for Boricuas.

Out on the patio, OSJ’s house band, Salsa Brava, was playing bachata to what looked like a private party (crashing birthday parties is becoming a Bar Tab theme). Balloons, cake, and presents were scattered around, and a full bar was laid out on a folding table with a bartender mixing drinks.

I ordered a Grey Goose and soda ($6), while Kathy opted for a fruity rum punch ($4) and we quizzed the bartender about the setup. Indeed it was someone’s birthday, but it wasn’t a private party. Regarding the music inside, she informed us, “This is a new thing — the Latin music used to be inside, but now we’re attracting a big hip-hop crowd, so we’re on the patio tonight.” Picking up a flyer, I noticed that Friday night’s theme is “the best of both worlds.”

By this time, Kathy’s friend Lindsay had arrived, and the two girls hit the dance floor. I snapped a few pictures, thinking they would make a great illustration for the Bar Tab. OSJ has done a great job decorating the small space with mod light fixtures and a sequined disco curtain that give the patio a bit of a South Beach vibe.

On the way out, the bartender suggested that we come back around 2 a.m. for the free buffet: “We’re open till 4 a.m., and since you already paid, you should come back and eat.” We liked the idea, but were ready to call it a night.

In my car, I decided to review the night’s images. Having found her pictures unflattering, Kathy had deleted them while I was in the bathroom! Never trust a technologically advanced Boricua with your camera.

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