Doorwoman Confessional: De Real Ting

If the walls of 128 Adams Street could talk, folks might lose their jobs, and, possibly the respect of a family name.

Fine. I’m projecting. Before the building housed De Real Ting Cafe (and nightclub), The Milk Bar drew rebellious 90s youth to the tune of mosh-pit inspiring performances by Fugazi, GWAR and L7, to name a few. Others, I barely remember.

Xers. We went hard. 20 years passed since I entered those doors. Gone was the decorum of grunge-filled angst, personified with grimy porch-worthy couches, nude mannequins backed with black light. Instead, I found a bright colorful Caribbean oasis, amid the concrete jungle this downtown dweller calls home. That’s where I chatted up Hannah Kissoonlal, who has looked after De Real Ting’s door, long before there was one. I broke out my pathetic island jive to say, “Gyal, tell me ‘bout a ting a de gwan.” (Translation: Tell me what goes on here.)

“We’ve been open for twenty years this past February. My father actually first started at festivals, so we were those festival kids, riding around in the truck, in the tents, working. In ‘97, we turned brick and mortar, and opened on Monroe Street, where the new library is now. For me, De Real Ting is a hidden gem of the city. Even though we’ve been here 20 years, a lot of people don’t know about it.”

For a casual island vibe, bring the whole family on a Friday night. You will find authentic Jamaican fare, paired with live reggae music around 8 or 9 p.m. Venture downstairs on a Saturday and ‘nice up’, to get down. That’s when the nightclub draws a vivacious crowd, hot for dancehall, which has become widely popular in recent years. De Real Ting has long been a meeting spot for the Caribbean community in Jacksonville. Hannah says “It’s larger than most people expect. Because of the Navy, people come from all over the islands.”

Enjoy authentic Caribbean food and drinks, alongside live reggae, on Friday nights

As we chatted, Hannah’s adorable children merrily bounced about, testing hot mics, strumming guitars. Family vibes filled the space, as her father’s stew chicken recipe filled my heart. It came with the best plantain I have had, outside my mother’s kitchen, so I asked Hannah to tell me di real ting ‘bout having Caribbean parents. “It’s awesome. It taught us a beautiful discipline in life. The work ethic, the mannerisms, all that. You know the Jamaican saying, ‘We have five jobs’, so that counts from when you’re a kid. Everything is irie. If you worry, you worry yourself to death.”

I asked if one might wind up pan de floor, if the dancehall beats mekka dance. She laughed and said, “It depends how much fun you wanna have!” As anyone with a big Caribbean family knows, nothing’s shocking, though others’ jaws may drop. “You have the different dance moves as the music has evolved, from the dancehall before, to what it is now, with the ladies dancing on their head-tops, and crazy moves like that. We do have some stories with that.”

That all sounded fairly standard to me, so I told her I might want to invest in a crash helmet, and neck brace for my next off-duty visit. She said,“You’ll fit right in with a few of the dance crews here!”

Though the scene at 128 Adams has changed over the years, one thing remains the same, mosh pit, or conga line. Descend into the basement, and leave your cares behind.

Downtown Obi Brown is a Jack contributor who writes our monthly Mover Shaker column. She also runs a Photo Blog.

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