By Andrea Milam
Festival Village opened on Thursday night, signaling the beginning of a week of liming, feteing, and dancing in the heart of Cruz Bay. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a night of bacchanal in Festival Village, let me set the scene for you. The last week of June, the Cruz Bay Customs parking lot transforms into a lively event space. The perimeter of the parking lot is lined with booths where residents sell local food and drinks, and a stage is set by the waterfront, where some of the Caribbean’s top artists perform nightly.
Today, I want to introduce you to just a few of the booths you’ll find at Festival Village, open nightly through July 4.
Drinker’s Paradise, owned and operated by Rehugh Hendricks and Raymund Athanase, has occupied its corner spot in Festival Village for about 15 years now. Don’t let the booth’s name fool you—in addition to serving up a wide variety of drinks, food is also sold at Drinker’s Paradise. Rehugh’s mother is typically the booth’s cook, but she evacuated to the states following Hurricane Irma, and she remains there today. So there’s a new cook in the house, and the menu includes chicken legs, johnny cakes, fish, mutton, and more. While most booths are only open at night, Rehugh says they may sell lunch some days. So where did the idea for the booth’s name come from?
“We party a lot on St. John,” says Rehugh. “Me and my friend Raymund, who owns the booth with me, it just popped in our head. We drink a lot in paradise.”
Rehugh says he loves seeing friends and family who come back to St. John just for Festival time.
“It’s hard work, but we make it fun,” he says of running the booth. “It’s all about having fun. Just come on by, get drinks, get drunk, and have fun with us.”
Love City Nice, on the opposite corner of Drinker’s Paradise, is perhaps the longest-running booth still on the scene today. Claudine Scatliffe-Daniels, who operates the booth with her son, Kurt Marsh Jr., says it’s been in the family for about 50 years, starting with her grandmother. When asked why it’s important that they continue the tradition, Claudine and Kurt answer enthusiastically and in unison: “Culture.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” says Claudine. “It’s our celebration. It’s the one time of year you get to cook all the local cuisines.”
The booth also serves as a family reunion home base, says Kurt. St. Johnian families don’t grow up in close proximity to one another like they used to, and Festival time brings friends and family back to the island.
“We have a table and chairs outside the booth, and some nights you’ll come here and literally everyone is just family,” he says. “All the people who gather here, we all played in the same Coral Bay yard at some point. It’s an important part of the family structure.”
Kurt says he loves to experiment behind the bar using local flavors like tamarind, passionfruit, and soursop, so be sure to stop by and try one of his libations.
“We have lots of fun,” says Claudine. “We’re the happiest booth in the Village.”
Shuga Shack, on the Village’s eastern perimeter, celebrates its 13th year this year. They are perhaps most notable for their unique food offerings. While most booths sell traditional V.I. foods like kallaloo, goat water, conch, and pates, Shuga Shack sells Greek specialties like falafel and gyros. They do also sell delicious johnny cakes, and their specialty is the adult beverage electric lemonade, served in blinking glow cups with a glowing straw.
The idea to bring Greek food to the Village started when Val Prakas, who ran a popular Greek night at the Inn at Tamarind Court, took over the booth from her husband’s mother.
“She helped us and showed us the ropes, and we went from there,” says Val, who also owns and operates the Little Olive food truck.
Shuga Shack is a family affair, with Val’s sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew making appearances behind the counter. A new item on the menu that’s sure to be a hit with late-night partyers is Greek donut holes, the perfect bite-size fried sweet treat.
“Running the booth is a lot of work, but we have a fun time doing it,” says Val. “Everybody’s out to have a good time and we enjoy it. We look forward to it every year. We hope everybody has a fun and safe Carnival!”