Caribbean dreaming

For those with blissful dreams of the Caribbean but budgets that’ll barely buy a weekend in Toledo, there are still plenty of opportunities to experience the fun and sun of the islands right here in metro Detroit.

A good place to start is at the ethnic festivals held in Detroit’s Hart Plaza, with three specific weekends quickly coming to mind. The Afro-American Music Festival (July 23-25) and the African World Festival (Aug. 20-22) are both prime times to experience Caribbean culture, music, food and history in the context of a larger African diaspora. For more info, call 313-863-5554, or 313-833-9800, respectively.

Of course one should not forget the ever popular Caribbean World Festival (Aug. 13-15), which attracts performers and vendors from all over the world. Entertainment is still being lined up so call 313-877-8077 for the latest updates.

But Detroiters don’t have to wait until late July to enjoy a taste of the Caribbean.

On any given night dancers and music fans can listen to both live music and DJs playing the latest sounds, in addition to classic rhythms. In these parts, reggae, salsa, merengue and bachata are standard fare, although soca, zouk and other musical genres also get play.

Although it’s hardly a reggae-exclusive club, the Majestic Theatre (4140 Woodward, Detroit, 313-833-9700) is one of Michigan’s premier venues for internationally known reggae performers. On Friday, May 7, reggae favorites Toots and the Maytals and Morgan Heritage kick things off for what looks to be an interesting summer.

Various other bars and clubs in the area are good for showcasing area talent such as Jo Nab and Black Market. In Royal Oak, Fifth Avenue (215 W. Fifth Ave., 248-542-9922) mixes live reggae bands with blues and jazz in its weekly rotation, and even Chesterfield Township gets into the action with live music at Lago’s (47646 Jefferson, 313-875-6555).

For world-class salsa and merengue bands, no place can compete with Club International (6060 W. Fort, Detroit, 313-841-0020) in southwest Detroit. Also catering to the region’s growing Mexican population, the popular nightclub has brought in superstars such as Elvis Crespo. Tonight, May 5, you can catch La Makina, live and direct from Puerto Rico as well as Detroit’s own La Orquesta Sensacional.

Beyond live entertainment, weekly DJ nights permeate the metro area, oftentimes with free dance lessons.

On Wednesdays, DJ Cisco spins the best in Latin house, salsa, merengue and bachata at downtown Detroit’s Club 2000 (299 Woodbridge, 313-567-1292). If you miss him there, you can also catch him Saturday nights at southeast Michigan’s premier Latin night at the Parabox (1927 Michigan Ave., Detroit, 313-877-3071).

Reggae, dancehall and world beat fans can find it all at Tropical Hut (14925 Livernois, Detroit, 313-861-5340) and the Sierra Afrique (19325 Plymouth, Detroit, 313-838-3833), while dancehall and hip-hop fans should check out the Gold Dollar on Wednesdays (3129 Cass, Detroit, 313-833-6873) or the African-Caribbean Restaurant (18456 Grand River, Detroit, 313-270-3060) on Friday nights, the latter being an after-hours set that runs until 5 a.m.

Other venues that consistently have Caribbean-oriented functions include the Victory One Social Club (15775 James Couzens, Detroit, 313-342-3650), the West Indian American Association Hall (2015 E. 7 Mile Rd., Detroit, 313-893-3311) and the Billiard Gallery (47 E. Adams, Detroit, 313-963-7665).

But before heading out to "wind your body" or mambo the night away, there are plenty of places to fill your belly.

On Detroit’s west side you can stop by Rono’s (20211 W. McNichols, 313-531-0660), the aforementioned African-Caribbean restaurant or the Caribbean Bakery (17750 W. 7 Mile, 313-534-3226). For those even farther west, be sure to check out Ann Arbor staple, Bev’s (1232 Packard St., 734-741-5252).

On the east side, the upscale Kokomo’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (76 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens, 810-496-4774) and Waves (24223 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores, 810-773-3840) should fulfill your culinary desires.

Just south of us, Windsor’s large West Indian population gets represented by Lil Ochie (21 Wyandotte St. E., Windsor, 519-253-4655) and Irie ’n’ Mellow Under de Corner (211 Dougall Ave., Windsor, 519-254-3110).

Interested in trying your hand at preparing your own Caribbean dishes? The Caribbean and African Food Store (16926 W. McNichols, Detroit, 313-838-6637) and the Tropical Food Mart (3020 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit, 313-972-5656) should more than meet your needs.

Find a soundtrack for your summer at Strictly Roots (15734 W. 7 Mile, Detroit, 313-836-8686), which has a wide selection of music, books, videos and more.

Of course this is far from an exhaustive list of resources, but as you begin planning your summer excursions, you may be surprised just how much the area has to offer.

Yeah, Michigan is far from the tropics, but as the weather warms up and you check your pocketbook, your escape from the dreariness of winter may be right down the street.

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