When I was in town for the Tampa Bay Beer Week shenanigans this past spring, there was one event I wasn’t going to miss: Beer Kulture’s creole food and dance party.
The party was hosted in a part of town known as The Deuces. Like many neighborhoods in many cities, there’s a clear dividing line between its formerly thriving black community and encroaching real estate speculation, which is spreading through St. Petersburg. The area was isolated, though somewhat self-sufficient in the face of segregation. Eventually, it was dealt an economic blow when it was cut off by the interstate.
Now, sitting right in the midst of it is Chief’s Creole Cafe, run by Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy. The restaurant was founded a few years ago, and some see it as a taking-back of that speculation, a way to slowly re-attract businesses into the area to revitalize and serve the existing community (lest The Deuces become known, simply, as “historically” black).
All night long, fritters came out of the kitchen and Fat Tire and Mural cans were popped and poured at the bar. Guests showed up wearing their bright red-and-black T-shirts, “Beer Kulture” proudly emblazoned across the front of them.
“I’m the only black woman brewing in Alabama as far as I know,” one woman told me, standing about five feet tall, a Willi Becher in her hand. As pointed as it sounds, the fact was offered more as a passing anecdote within a larger story about being a military veteran, and how that experience plays into her worldview.
“It makes me better at everything I set my mind to,” she said. “I love it.”
Next to the bar stands New Belgium’s CEO and the company’s Chain Sales Director. (Chain sales are by far the majority of the brewery’s business.) Fresh off a sales call with Publix (a major grocery store chain in the south), they’re chatting with guests about the local scene. Another small bubble formed around Tampa Bay Beer Week’s founder.
The ringmaster of the evening, Dominic “Doochie” Cook, barely stood still all night, moving from one person to the next with a clear-eyed calmness, making sure they were covered, happy, supplied. As much fun as it was for everyone else, he was hustling. He was connecting. He was consolidating a small, new power.
“You have Chief’s fritters yet?” he asked, as if breaking from a spell.
“That and the wings,” I said.
“Aight, I’ll hit you back in a minute.”
Just like that, he moved on without ever breaking his focus on the patio, assessing the crowd and its newcomers.
[Disclosure: New Belgium underwrites GBH’s Into the Wild series.]