Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ah Sey One

Part of a fantastic mural outside of the Harlem Restaurant
Last night Sarah and I went to a fantastic event, "Ah Sey One", organized by Sceneopolis and inTO, and held at the Harlem Restaurant on Richmond Street East. I won a "plus one" entry through a contest that The Grid ran on their Twitter feed last week, by answering the simple question: "What is your favourite song by The Sattalites?" I knew nothing about the event at that time, only that I really love The Sattalites (a long-standing Toronto Reggae band; only Rush is an older Canadian band right now) and that Sarah and I really needed an evening out. But it wasn't just a show by The Sattalites (whom I had seen several times in the past): it was an event which was all about the mood and the mingling. Food was included, as well as two drinks each, and the people at the Harlem Restaurant -- to which we'd never been but will definitely return -- were absolutely fantastic.

Sarah and her free hat
The event was hosted by Cameron Bailey, co-director of TIFF, and that was a real coup to begin with, because the Festival opens in just eight days and he is incredibly busy right now. I guess that speaks to his strong love of Reggae music; it can't have been easy for him to give up a full night at this time of year. He and the band began the show at around 9:15, but the doors opened at 8 so Sarah and I got there early to make sure we didn't miss any of the food. We needn't have worried: tray after tray of roti, coconut shrimp, catfish rolls, quesadilla and on and on and on kept rolling out right through the evening until the very end. There was a fresh tray in front of us at the upstairs bar as The Sattalites played their last notes. The staff delivering the food and serving the drinks were incredibly friendly, courteous and efficient, the rum was wonderful, the Red Stripes were frosty and the food was absolutely amazing. In fact, there wasn't a single thing about the evening that wasn't pretty much perfect.

Grumpy P and his jaunty chapeau
When we first arrived we were greeted by two women at a table set up in the courtyard adjacent to the restaurant. After they ticked our names off of the list they gave us a couple of free hats (check the pictures to see them) and two drink tickets apiece. We were still sorting ourselves out when one of the organizers, Marcello Cabezas, came up to us and introduced himself. We chatted for a bit and reconnected several times during the course of the evening. There were a couple of people being served at the outside bar so we stepped just inside the door and grabbed our first rum-based bevvies there. We wandered upstairs to scope out the venue for the presentation, then came back downstairs and outside to view the beautiful mural on the wall of the courtyard. We chatted with a few of the other attendees, hung around the lower level for a while listening to the various conversations going on around us, then eventually went back upstairs to stake out a spot at the bar (we didn't feel like sitting in one of the limited chairs set up in front of the stage). We had another rum & pop each and then I switched to Red Stripes for the rest of the evening.

Upstairs at Harlem Restaurant (love the chandeliers)
It got pretty crowded upstairs, but the one thing I have always liked about Reggae concerts is that they bring out the best in people. We were never struggling for space, never felt like someone was being a jerk. The music, I think, has a very calming effect on listeners and last night was certainly no exception. Before the band took the stage, Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene was spinning Reggae tunes to get us all in the mood, for about 45 minutes. When it was time to begin, Marcello introduced the band and Cameron Bailey, both to huge applause from the crowd on hand. Sarah and I stood against the upstairs bar and listened to Cameron discuss the roots of Reggae music with The Sattalites, who would describe certain styles and beats and then play a song or two to demonstrate what they meant. It was a fascinating evening of music and education and everyone there seemed to have a terrific time.

There is a terrific review of the evening -- with even better pictures -- on the "bestfan" blog site. Check out all the white hats in those pictures! Everyone really got into the spirit of the evening; it seemed like about 60% of the people in attendance put on the giveaway hat and wore it for the whole night. I am definitely eager to go back to Harlem Restaurant for another event, but it will be very hard for them to do it up any better than they did last night.

Here, just for fun, are a few more pictures:

More of the outside mural...
...and yet more of that mural

A beautiful old gramophone
in the main entranceway
Ella Fitzgerald, one of a series entitled
"Black Diamonds"

A pretty great way to spend a summer Wednesday, all in all.


  1. The hats and the rum were provided by Brugal Rum. Yummy! (the rum, not the hats per se.) I liked it even more when I realized it is a product of the Dominican Republic. We drank a lot of amazing rum while on vacation there.

    1. We did, indeed. I don't know what make it was, though, but anything that says "Dominican Republic" on it is ok by me.

      Here are some great shots in a Flickr pool taken at the event by someone from Rockit Promo.


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