Meet the Love City Pan Dragons

pan dragons

By Andrea Milam
Today I’d like to introduce you to something on St. John that is a true embodiment of Caribbean culture, that has had me enamored from the day I moved here, that brings smiles to the faces and movement to the waists of so many visitors and residents. I’m talking, of course, about the Love City Pan Dragons.

The band has been around in varying iterations since the late 1990s. For a long time, the band was strictly a youth steel orchestra, with an offshoot for younger members known as the Baby Dragons. Then, being the only steel band on the island, Pan Dragons decided to open its doors to adults as well. Today, Love City Pan Dragons is made up of approximately 20 members, ranging in age from 6 to 70. Most are children or young adults, and students from Gifft Hill School, Julius E. Sprauve School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean (a high school on St. Thomas) are all part of the band.

As is true for everyone living on St. John this past September, band members fully felt the effects of Hurricane Irma. Some lost their homes completely. But that didn’t stop some of the members from gathering at their Cruz Bay pan yard, which miraculously survived both storms, just three days after Maria struck to start setting back up the pans they’d packed away for safety. They set to work learning a new song, David Rudder’s High Mas, whose opening lines include the phrase “everybody give praise,” an idea that resonated with the band’s instructor and arranger, Ikema Dyer, after the storms. The band built up their repertoire with recent soca hits too, like Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme and Kes the Band’s Hello, all while practicing in a sweltering pan yard. Lack of electricity meant no fans, and a roof from a neighboring building had settled on the pan yard’s exterior wall, blocking windows and any hope of a cooling breeze. Still, the band pressed on, and they made their first post-storm public showing on Thanksgiving at the Rotary Club of St. John and St. John Community Foundation’s dinner in Cruz Bay.

In addition to playing the first Saturday of each month in the Frank Powell Park and kicking off St. John Festival at Panorama on June 2, the Pan Dragons performed at the opening of Festival Village on June 28, and of course, they will make a grand showing in the St. John Festival parade on July 4. Nothing fills my heart with pride for this island more than seeing the band’s double-decker trolley making its way down the road, swaying with the enthusiasm of the steel pan players and their music. It is a truly beautiful sight, and the music is infectious and uplifting.

If you’re interested in seeing the band play, follow their Facebook page, where all upcoming performances are announced, and if you happen to miss them while you’re on island, check out their YouTube channel, where videos of most performances are posted.

I should mention at this point that Love City Pan Dragons is a registered non-profit that relies solely on donations, grants, and fundraisers to keep their doors open. Though the roof that was blocking breezes has long since been removed, the pan yard is still quite hot, and the band’s wish list at the moment includes air conditioners that run on 110. To support the Love City Pan Dragons, visit www.paypal.me/lovecitypandragons.

 

Festival Village: Some of Our Favorite Booths

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.

rehugh

Rehugh Hendricks at Drinker’s Paradise

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's booth (previous year photo)

Love City Nice’s booth (previous year photo)

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.”

The Shuga Shack

The Shuga Shack

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!”

People Profiles: Glen Speer, Creator of Mongoose Junction

Glen Spear addresses the community after Hurricane Irma hit. Image credit: Yelena Rogers

Glen Speer addresses the community after Hurricane Irma hit.

By Chelsea Baranowski

I sat thinking about this interview for days afterwards, and I am still thinking about it two months after the fact. Glen Speer has the kind of calm energy and wisdom you could spend a lot of time let marinate in your head. His passion for the well-being of St. John and its residents is one that needs to be heard. He is the kind of humble most people aspire to be, and that’s what makes his adventurous and hard-working side that much more compelling. A builder by trade, a property manager and landlord by title, and a green thumb, jack-of-all-trades, St. John protectionist, historian, beautifier, Glen built and runs the staple that is Mongoose Junction.

The story of St. John and Glen Spear begins in 1969 when he jumped the pond from California. The “sleepy” island of St. John was a welcome change, Glen recalls doing business during that time was friendly and jovial and there was enough work to go around, a stark contrast from the market he had left. On the island “houses were being built, there were job opportunities for all people, and the cost of living was low” he said. Not only  were things booming economically, “the National Park was evolving, the beauty of the island was everywhere, and it was seemingly to me, an exotic place.”

In 1978, Glen had been building on powerless job sites long enough to have the opportunity to buy the property for, and build from scratch, Mongoose Junction. After 10 years as a contractor, he took on his biggest project. It wasn’t an easy feat, but Glen pulled the money together and built, along with the help of an amazing crew, the landmark of beauty, precision, and hard work, that is Mongoose Junction. “There was real community (at that time). Everyone helped each other.”

Glen sees his years on St. John in episodes, broken up by the major hurricanes that greatly damaged St. John, its infrastructure and economy. Each storm, according to Glen, had in common severe damage, a rigorous recovery process, a post-disaster period, a graduation to a new stage, and most importantly, the affirmation of resounding spirit of the people of St. John.

On September 17, 1989, Hurricane Hugo threw houses from hills, ripped roofs to shreds, and ‘mashed up’ the Virgin Islands. Caneel and Virgin Grande, now the Westin, remained closed until power and phone lines were restored, and the visitors were few. The dynamics changed. It seemed people had to work harder for the same amount of money and competition became part of the mix. Still, people remained who were willing to do the hard work and produce good energy in the community. It became a fruitful period.

On September 15, 1995, Hurricane Marilyn made landfall and sat over St. John for two full days. “People weren’t prepared and damage was immense.” The economic hardship to follow was great. “Corporations closed, markets fell apart, and we flat lined for three years,” Glen said. While the major hotels abandoned ship, including Caneel, the campgrounds at Maho and Cinnamon continued operations, villa rentals expanded, and that growth, again, caused a great shift. St. John had successfully diversified its economy and created a great financial expansion.

“If there is a characteristic about St. John, it’s that we all work together and figure out solutions…When we wake up, there is a new problem to solve. That’s what keeps us all pretty healthy and reliant on the people around us.” This expansion continued for over 20 years. The corporations came back, businesses grew hugely in number, as did the popularity of St. John.

Bam, September 6, 2017 – Hurricane Irma hits and then on September 19, 2017, Maria hits, and it’s devastation overload. “Same thing that happened in Hugo and Marilyn, St. John had to be self-reliant.” And once again, the corporations left, but not Glen…

“I was out there with my crew two days after the storm, doing what we could.” You can feel the emotion as Glen discusses the volunteers and community members after the storms, “climbing out from under the debris to make St. John a better place.” And while it is the nature of the island to revert back to “normal,” we currently sit at this transitionary time in which real change can happen, where real growth has previously occurred. Leaves are growing back new, and this is an opportunity for the next generation to take control of the future of our island and make this next episode of St. John community-minded, environmentally conscious, and congruent with St. John values.

Glen currently mourns that so many residents have left, that we have lost some of what makes us St. John. And rightfully so, with the help of the people who “really love St. John,” we have gotten through this, but where do we stand if we continue to lose our population and diversity? Where do we stand if a hotel at Caneel opens that does not take into account the community’s wants, needs and ideas and is run by an uncaring corporation? And where do we stand if the community does not have a place to be a community?

This is the time. This is the time to be bold, to be strong, to understand what we have been through and where we can go, and to fight for a National Park that works for us, proper facilities to educate our children, proper spaces to facilitate meetings as a community, and to bring in companies that care about St. John.

“It’s depressing to think St. John has outgrown you,” he tells me, but that is absolutely not the case. Glen continues to work hard and teach us what it means to be St. Johnian. No doubt, you will see him around Mongoose Junction, in work boots, dawning a smile, helping the Tap Room guys with their new bar, weeding his incredible garden with his wife, Radha, or being active at a town meeting. Glen’s passion carries on in his work. We connected over my family, his tenants and his employees, his dreams for Mongoose, and St. John as a whole. We should consider ourselves lucky that this man chose St. John 49 years ago. We’re better for it.

Chelsea Baranowski is a lifelong St .John resident. She owns the popular Lime Inn restaurant in Cruz Bay with her husband Richard. The couple has two sons. 

The New Tap Room Opens Today!

Owners and staff from The Tap Room & the Brewtique

Owners and staff from The Tap Room & the Brewtique

After three-and-a-half long years, The Tap Room is finally opening its new space over at Mongoose Junction today! How exciting is that! Here are all the details straight from Andrea Milam…

St. John Brewers Opens New, Expanded Tap Room and Brewery

By Andrea Milam

St. John Brewers is excited to announce the opening of their brand new bar, restaurant, and brewery, the Tap Room, at Mongoose Junction. The reopening comes after a three-year-long renovation process following a devastating fire, further delayed due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The new Tap Room, located on the second floor of Mongoose Junction and built by renowned architect Glen Speer, is fully air conditioned and offers ample indoor and patio seating, a wide bar made partially from the old Tap Room bar that was in place during the January 2015 fire, tables hand-crafted by St. Thomas non-profit My Brother’s Workshop, an expanded kitchen and new menu offerings, wide-screen televisions, and a full brewing operation on the bar and restaurant’s second floor, where St. John Brewers’ beers and sodas will be brewed and served on draft. The brewing setup will be open for tours.

St. John Brewers, founded by Chirag Vyas and Kevin Chipman in 2004, has successfully operated the Tap Room at Mongoose Junction since 2006. The duo’s company steadily grew, and they expanded their offerings from their original Tropical Mango Pale Ale to include Island Summer Ale and Island Hoppin’ IPA beers, and root beer, ginger beer, and a Green Flash energy drink, brewed both on site and in conjunction with an off-island production partner. The Tap Room was enjoying success as a well-established brew pub when the 2015 fire destroyed the popular bar and restaurant. Seven weeks after the fire, the Tap Room reopened in the former St. John Brewers office, and they’ve operated there ever since while working on the buildout of their new, expanded space.

The hurricanes, which destroyed the homes of St. John Brewers owners and staff, brought work to a halt. In the wake of the storms, the company hosted free happy hours on Fridays, giving the community a chance to connect, take their minds off the devastation, and simply enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day. Before the storms hit, the Tap Room was slated to open in late 2017, and though the bar and restaurant only suffered minimal water damage, it took another several months before finishing touches could be completed and the new brewpub could be opened to patrons.

The Tap Room’s five-barrel brewing system is visible to patrons at the bar below, and will allow St. John Brewers to brew more styles and a larger volume of beer, served directly to customers on draft. Outdoor patio seating will continue to be available, and the expanded space will lend itself to live entertainment and events, and of course, Mongoose Junction offers plenty of free parking for customers. The Tap Room menu’s entree offerings will be expanded, and a stone pizza oven will allow for a variety of pizzas to be served. St. John Brewers will also be offering crowlers, or 32-ounce cans that can be filled with any of the Tap Room’s draft beers and sealed for customers to take to the beach.

Cheech, Kevin & Tim showcase the new Tap Room brewing system.

Cheech, Kevin & Tim showcase the new Tap Room brewing system.

St. John Brewers plans to host a grand opening reception at the new Tap Room for local dignitaries and community members alike on a later date, to be announced soon. Follow St. John Brewers on Facebook for the latest news on the island brewing company and their restaurant, bar, and brewery.

And here are a few pics taken earlier this week while the crew was still setting up the place… -Jenn 

new tap room bar

new tap room bars tvs

new tap room dining

The new pizza oven is creating some delicious pies!!

The new pizza oven is creating some delicious pies!!

Please Meet Our New Writers

Hello everyone and happy Tuesday! So as I mentioned a few weeks back, I am going to take a step back from the “news” from time to time as I await the arrival for our little island baby. Today, I’d like to introduce you to three amazing women who are going to provide new voices and stories to News of St. John every then and again for the next month or so. I am extremely excited to have them on board!! So without further ado, please meet my new writers…

andreaAndrea Milam
Good morning all, and hello from St. John! I am very excited to come on board as a News of St. John contributor while Jenn is having her baby.

To tell you a bit about myself, I moved to St. John in 2005, almost immediately after I graduated from college. It was during my college years that I was introduced to West Indian culture; the first (and ultimately best) friends I made at college were from Trinidad and Barbados, and after my first trip to Barbados in 2002, where I jumped up in Kadooment—their carnival parade—I was hooked. Several trips to Barbados and Trinidad later, I knew that I was meant to live in this region, and I was fortunate enough to make St. John my home.

Over the past 13 years, I’ve built a writing career that started at the St. John Tradewinds, back when it was still a printed newspaper. Since then, I’ve written features on Caribbean travel, architecture, weddings, artists, culture, and a slew of other subjects for publications like the former Caribbean Travel + Life, Maco Caribbean Living, Destination U.S. Virgin Islands, and many others. I recently came full circle and re-joined the news world by becoming a contributor to the Virgin Islands Daily News. (If you want to spend a full day reading about St. John and the greater Caribbean, check out some of my stories at www.andreamilam.com).

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to use the News of St. John platform to bring to you stories on this island’s culture, because it is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Keep an eye out for my posts, where I’ll introduce you to an amazing steel band, an adorable group of young dancers, an incredibly talented St. Johnian artist, and more.

-Andrea

chelsea and familyChelsea Baranowski
Chelsea Baranowski was born in Puerto Rico and raised on St. John. She attended lower school and high school on St. John and St. Thomas, graduated from Antilles School, and headed to UNC Wilmington for college, finishing with a degrees in International Studies and Communication Studies. A traveling bug struck with a semester in Australia and New Zealand and after college Chelsea moved to rural China to teach English. While there, she blogged about her adventures and picked up Mandarin along with a love for Chinese people, food, and culture.

Upon returning to St. John, she and teenage sweetheart, Richard Baranowski, revived their relationship, and in 2012, hopped on a plane for a year in Australia and more Asian travels to Thailand, China, Singapore, and the Philippines. They returned 14 months later, took over the popular Lime Inn Restaurant from Chelsea’s parents Rich and Chris Meyer, built a shipping container home in Fish Bay, had their first son, Atherton Danger, and got married. The next year would bring their second son, Mako James.

Chelsea has always loved writing and is intrigued by and constantly amazed by her home, St. John, and its people.

(Chelsea has been writing profiles for News of St. John for the past few months. I am super excited to let you all know that she will continue to introduce you all to members of our community.) 

leah and colinLeah Randall Hanson
My name is Leah and I fell in love with the beauty of St. John back in 2004 on a trip to the islands. I was still in college and my father was working on selling off everything to move my stepmom and little brother down here to buy a scubadiving charter business. He moved down and bought a dive boat called the Laura Leigh, and I have many memories diving off that boat. I had dreams of graduating Texas A&M and moving straight down to the islands. Instead I went the professional route and ended up teaching high school math. I continued to visit my dad and wanted to move here so badly. On my visits we would dive, and I would fall in love with the beautiful underwater world. Finally, I moved. In 2013, I resigned from teaching, sold off all my things, packed the rest and bought my one way ticket. Of course it helped a lot that I met a boy that struck my interest. Being that my dad and I were divers, I have fallen so in love with all things underwater, I find it so amazing and spectacular… Simply magical.

Over the past 5 years since I have been here permanently, so much has happened. The boy that struck my interest is named Colin and he loves the underwater world as much as I do. We’ve been thick as thieves pretty much since I moved here. He has lived here since 1998. He captained the beautiful Breath – built by hand on St. John by Peter Muilenberg – for 10 years and then captained for Flyaway Charters. But most importantly, he and I got together and we are now married. We left St. John right before Maria hit and made it to Texas where I am from. We got married on September 23rd, right after Irma. We needed some positivity. We were supposed to be married 4/21/18 at Annaberg, but we threw together a beautiful wedding in three days in my parents’ backyard.

We also own Flyaway Charters. The owner of Flyaway Charters was ready to retire, so we signed our contract to own it the May before Irma. We are now the proud owners of Flyaway Charters! And our charter boat did survive with some repair, and thankfully we are able to charter!

We lived on an all wooden beautiful gaff rigged ketch named Buxom prior to the storms, but she was totally destroyed. Our lives are now on the sea floor. But, while we only had two suitcases, our dog and maybe a bag or two and my backpack left, we are confidently moving forward! We love St. John and its people. We are so thrilled, we have been given S/V Breath, the boat Colin captained for 10 years, so now we have a home. She is in desperate need of repair and lots of love, and we have lots of love to give! We have already done so much- we repaired 32 square foot hole in three days!! She will sail again, and we are incorporating parts of Buxom into Breath.

I am humbled and thrilled to be able to write for News of St. John while baby News of St. John makes its debut! It is such an amazing opportunity I am humbled to be able to accept! I love St. John so much, it is my home, both on the island and the underwater world. Looking forward to talking with you St. John lovers again! Until then, happy days!

-Leah

The Latest on the Hurricane Hole Cleanup

Hurricane Hole - Image taken from Google maps

Hurricane Hole – Image taken from Google maps

Hello everyone and happy Monday! For those of you who read the site regularly (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who do!!), you may recall us telling you about a meeting that was held back in March about the removal of boats from Hurricane Hole. At the time, the National Park hoped that the remaining vessels would be removed by June 1st, the start of hurricane season. Unfortunately that has yet to happen. The good news, however, is that removal should begin very soon. Here is what the VI National Park had to say last Friday:

We, like many island residents, are anxious to see the sunken and damaged vessels removed from Hurricane Hole and other areas of the park. We are charged as an agency, and as a park, to protect the resources of St John that are under our jurisdiction. The vessels strewn about the park and specifically in Hurricane Hole are persistent daily reminders, to you and us, that we are not doing that.

We have been asked many questions since the storm about why boats are still here and the answer is quite simple: The Stafford Act. This law, signed in 1988 by President Reagan, allows FEMA to provide funding and assistance to address hurricane damages. However, the act prohibits FEMA from providing funding or assistance to Federal agencies when those agencies have a legal responsibility and management oversight to address the damages. That is why the U.S. Coast Guard and their contractor, Resolve, could not remove boats from park waters or off park lands. The National Park Service needed special funding from Congress to pay some entity to remove the boats. While Congress did pass a bill and sent it to the President to sign, which he did in February, the money did not start flowing until June 14 to the NPS and the parks affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

The park began discussions with the U.S. Navy this past winter and all parties agreed that the Navy could assist the park, but they needed a letter requesting help, an agreement to transfer the funding, and a check to get started. None of these have been quick in coming. While the needed agreement and documentation were done quickly, they still must be reviewed at many levels including the solicitors and Department of the Interior officials. While everyone agrees this is an important and necessary thing to do and do quickly, on-the-ground work cannot start until we receive a signed letter, the agreement is approved, and money is in hand.

I am pleased to say that the check was cut last night and the letter has been sent to the Navy. The agreement has yet to be signed, but soon the Navy and their contractor will set sail from the States to St John. It will take a while for them to get here with all their resources, but once they are close, we will be posting regular updates on our Facebook page and communicating with affected boat owners.

We appreciate your patience and understand your frustration. We are right there with you on that!

Want to keep up-to-date on what’s happening with the VI National Park? Click here to check out their News Releases page and click here to check out their Facebook page.