Ah, the reverie of a tropical vacation: I remember it well.
My skin accepting a well-appointed kiss from the sun, drinks before noon customary, the ocean pouring itself over my new bathing suit, fresh seafood satiating my appetite and sending me into a luxurious afternoon nap, I stirring only at the chirps, hisses, bellows of the indigenous fauna. Plenty of nighttime hijinks were to follow, with me whipping around the narrows and bends of a tiny island in an open-roof jeep, the roads only lit by the glowing moon above.
Sadly, such activities are not on the agenda of a fledgling writer these days.
I instead must escape the capricious Northeast weather in other creative ways. An active imagination always helps, my mind whisking me off to diverse destinations far, far away, while living vicariously through my globe-trotting friends lessens the harsh reality I haven’t left American soil in over a year. But I have also found that living within such a diverse metropolis as New York, you can find yourself transported elsewhere by simply turning a corner, taking a subway ride, or in this case, following a scent.
I am by no means promoting the invasive exercise of cultural relativism, but rather suggesting that separate worlds orbit on this tiny island and finding them is surprisingly easy and refreshingly transportive. Perhaps this is why I found myself visiting Soho haunt, Miss Lily’s, several weeks in a row.
The brainchild of the same team who brought us La Esquina (a spot I visit weekly for a meal that reminds of me abuela’s homecooking), Miss Lily’s is a scrumptious eatery of Jamaican dishes. Think oxtails, rice and beans, and coconut encrusted corn on the cob for the hipster set. I had heard rumblings of the spot for weeks leading up to my initial visit: every young Black creative directing me to its Houston and Sullivan St location with haste and a smidge of condescension. “You haven’t been yet?!” they snickered. No, I’ve been a little busy.
Finally when Shala and I were planning a major catch-up session, she suggested Miss Lily’s, and I considered it a sign. We made reservations and I began making mental images of the innards of this locale. My premonitions were somewhat correct.
It, like its Mexican sister, La Esquina, is a perfectly curated hub of aesthetics and epicureal delights, the staff made up of off-duty Amazonian models who whisk you to your table within a billow of bouncy curls and gossamer maxi skirts. The lighting dim, the dining room is punctuated with electric-hued booths, a smattering of wall art that consists of Caribbean flags, record covers from beloved dancehall hits, with its centerpiece the beguiling figure of Sintra Arunte-Bronte, she hanging under a spotlight against the pastel yellow tiled walls. Quaint silverware and plastic food baskets reminiscent of diners past are set before you, while instinctually you sip on Red Stripe and pluck into a pile of plantains.
The bar is small, consistently packed, its beautiful patrons having to shout over the rumbling of the ferocious sound system above. As much as the food offers the right amount of spice and salt, Miss Lily’s integral ingredient is the culture that surrounds the cuisine, one buttressed by the attached bookstore/record store/radio station, and juice bar, unwittingly known as Melvin’s Juice Box. Stocked with coveted records and coffee-table books on dancehall legends, the bookstore houses Miss Lily’s own radio station, Radio Lily, which was abuzz with good vibrations when we stuck our heads in before being seated.
The whole enterprise seemed to cast the right amount of authenticity rather than the “bastardization” of Jamaican culture Cleon often curses, and I couldn’t stop thinking of the stylish savvy of island life. Rita Marley…Grace Jones…Marcia Griffiths…Lauryn Hill: they each brought forth the groove and spirit of Jamaican culture in distinct and personal ways, without ever assuming a costume or posturing. There is clearly an easiness to Caribbean daily life that defies the bustle of urban enclaves, and these aforementioned songstresses displayed such a sensibility in their dress. Never overcomplicating the silhouette, these stylish women stuck to pared down staples (see: threadbare tanks, maxi skirts, light-weight denim), letting color and texture instead dominate. Hair, of course, was another huge centerpiece of any ensemble: dreads, tufts of ‘fro, twists, or flat-tops as signature as the mash up of red, green, and yellow.
Having acquired a mesh tank in a recent vintage quest, perfectly emblazoned in the colors of Rastafarianism, I wondered if I too could achieve a similar intent.
I tucked the Jamaican sartorial staple in to a pair of high-waisted wide-leg trousers in a complementing shade of mint, adding a clashing printed platform sandal, and cinched in the waist of my ensemble with a woven belt. It was coordinated, to be sure, but I wanted the accessories to break that uniformity up. With a nod of assurance from Cleon, a Spanish Town, Xamiaca*-native, we took off for lunch at Miss Lily’s bustling juice bar. Packed for the lunch hour, the diners inside lit up at my presence, and we quickly ordered a bevy of delicacies, including a fish sandwich that knocked me on my feet and a costly shake that remind that I was indeed still in Soho proper.
But as Cleon bit into his gourmet beef patty, he let out a sigh of relief: we may not be basking under the tropical sun, but we were close.//
Scroll through the remaining images of “Miss Ting” below and check out the LADYPANTS Big Time Mash Up Tunes playlist.
Vintage tank + Vintage trousers + Bikini top by Lisa Marie Fernandez + Vintage belt + Vintage necklace + Bag by Mayle + Sandals by Chloe + Sunglasses by Karen Walker
**Many thanks to the lovely staff of Miss Lily’s, 132 West Houston St