Always on the search for character bars, I now have an outlet to document unique watering holes. Being a Ramona native, the bar has been set, so to speak, by the infamous Turkey Inn. Kathy and Gail, where are you? I need help documenting dive bars the world over. Yep, it’s a tough assignment, but who couldn’t use a little joviality in their day? First Port of Call, the South Pacific:
Wandering around the artsy outpost of Pacific Harbour, looking for a cool beverage, I hear classic blues music wafting through the air, it draws us in like the sweet smell of honeysuckle on a hot August Mississippi evening.
We plop down on cushiony chairs next to a lagoon filled with fuchsia water lily flowers. What is it about this place that seems so familiar? Thinking the Blues was a blip on a shuffled playlist, another sweet Southern Blues song plays at the perfect volume to enjoy, yet speak easily with your table mates.
I note the large neon sign saying “Baka Blues Cafe”. Feeling like we’ve stepped into a cozy enclave off Bourbon Street, this place is as authentic as it comes, considering New Orleans is 6,942 miles away.
We are warmly greeted by Stella, the proprietress, who in her words, is a “mix-up of Fijian, British, French and basically a United Nations of Heritage.” That explains the popularity of her welcoming hub for guests from around the globe, who she considers her cousins.
Baka is the Fijian word for Banyan, the National tree of India. Stella loves the definition of Banyan, named after Hindu merchants who, along with their donkeys, gather under these sprawling behemoths to barter and rest. Baka Blues Cafe is blessed with such a tree, providing tranquility and shade for thirsty travelers. No donkeys today, just Captain Jack Sparrow, resident feline in charge of guest relations.
No stranger to music, Stella’s brother is Jese Mucunabito, well loved Fijian singer, and her daughter Tadra (Fijian for dream) is a Blues vocalist. Author Ed Kopp from “A Brief History of the Blues” lends a perfect description as to why Stella chose a Blues themed joint, “While Blues lyrics often deal with adversity, the music itself goes far beyond self pity. The Blues is also about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down and simply having fun. The best Blues is visceral, cathartic and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.”
Stella’s appetite for life is intoxicating. Having no prior experience in the restaurant business, she persevered with pure passion, serving up plates of joy and foot tapping music that makes you want to stay for hours.
Living on an island naturally brings deep respect and love for the ocean, the eclectic and entertaining Stella loves swimming in the sea, corralling her curly locks with a cowboy hat!
The bayou like surroundings lend themselves so perfectly for this venue, which hosts live Blues music over the weekends. My new favorite watering hole, I visit often for girl night out, perch myself on a barstool and chat with patrons and Stella in between her rounds of Southern hospitality. She lived in Nigeria for a spell and met some folks from Louisiana who were working there, she latched on to their joie de vivre and charm. She even picked up a few phrases, such as “Y’all come back now, ya hear!” And I certainly will.