Sleepless in St James

Port of Spain’s “strip” is an eight-block stretch of Western Main Road running through St James — a nightly extravaganza of limers, drinkers, roti vendors, and insomniacs. Photographer Sean Drakes takes in the bright lights

“Save the last dance for me”. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoAcquoon Alexander’s chicken foot, pig foot, and cow heel souse has satisfied the local foot-fetish for over 13 years. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoAll party essentials: trending shades, super-short shorts, and adorning mobile phones. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoAsha’s variety keeps late hours, even on weekends- because, according to Asha, “You never know, somebody dress might collect a spill, or remember they forget to buy a gift for the wife”. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoCool cats don’t run across roofs – they hot-step across the dance-floor, flexing and turning, grooving and making style. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoEnticing, filling, and often stinging with pepper, a roti from Mum’s is the perfect accompaniment to any Friday night lime. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoGirdling up to “dance the moon” at Hosay. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoOne eye on the road and the other in action. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoOver four exhilarating nights, usually the first half of the year, the streets of St James are closed to traffic for the muslim festival of Hosay. The air is dense with the rhythm of the tassa drumming and the smoke from the small roadside fires; crowds gather to watch the procession of flags, moons, and tadjahs, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein and Hassan, grandsons of Mohammed.  Photograph by Sean Drakes/Blue MangoThe florescent glow of local betting spots lures gamblers homeward. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoThe legendary Smokey & Bunty’s is the first place to look for action- and on Carnival weekend this is where all roads end. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoWelcome to the strip. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoWhether it is the solitary clink of bottle on bottle, or a group of friends enthusiastically banging iron on iron, “riddem” has always been the language of St James. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue MangoWith a soft grin and a beer in hand, Linton Thomas perfects the art of watching the world go by. Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue Mango

London’s got a neighbourhood like this, New York too; every real city’s got one, and Port of Spain is no exception. This place: open all night, seven nights a
week, a sure bet for a cold beer or bite to eat, no matter the time of year.
As night falls, the music starts, tables with portable gas cookers appear,
then queues of people, hands to mouths, eating away, leaning against walls,
laughing, talking with their mouths full. As the night gets older the music
gets louder, and drums pound somewhere in the air. After a quick meal, beer
or rum is the next step. Maybe a dancing couple, or two, or three, or — should
it be Carnival, Hosay, or some other excuse to fete — everybody dancing.

When the clock strikes 12 there are no pumpkins here, no, not in St James.
Fairy godmothers are few and far between, and there’s no rush to go home.
The line of cars snaking along Western Main Road late on a Friday or Saturday
makes rush hour seem to fall much later than in the rest of the world, but
these are crews heading out to party, and what night is complete without
a cruise through St James to check out the melée, the bacchanal, the
pool tables, the vendors, the bars, the commotion, and generally maco the