2241 1st Ave
New York, NY 10029
Hours: Open daily 3p, Sat 4p
Subway: 6 to 116th St
Written by: Emily Niewendorp
Culture, history, camaraderie and home; the night these aspects of Camaradas el Barrio came together Afro-Puerto Rican roots music was pulsating, the bar was packed and owner Orlando Plaza’s mother’s recipes were streaming out of the kitchen. Orlando and his fellow partners, Raúl Rivera and Jay Zhao, learned then that their patrons were calling Camaradas ‘church.’ Deeply rooted in Puerto Rican traditions and the local community, their crystal-clear vision of a public home for all people had finally come to fruition.
Camaradas is one long, narrow room, with a bar and wooden tables for dining. The stage is very small, but that does not stop live bands from playing regularly, and dancers quickly filling up the space. Traditional Puerta Rican tapas are served, while the bar boasts an international and island selection of beers and large tasty sangria pitchers. Art work is displayed on the rustic brick and corrugated tin walls as a rotating gallery.
Camaradas is known in New York City for its Latin music, drawing an array of skin colors and age groups. The spirited music and dancing may take first-timers by surprise, but everyone quickly embraces the music as wholeheartedly as the regulars. Nearing its sixth year of business, Camaradas routinely hosts Navegante, self-described as “electro-land funk.” Camaradas and Navegante’s partnership—based on mutual trust—supports both parties and adds a vibe of creative freedom. The weekly calendar is chock full of Afro-Caribbean bands from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Colombia; DJs; Ladies Night; and various fusion bands.
In Camaradas, Orlando and his partners are producing a feeling. Orlando mentions courageous family businessmen, his work as a historian, a Puerto Rican bookstore on Avenue B, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and tales of the Palladium days from the ’40s and ’50s as his inspiration. In those days, musicians from the Barrio (Spanish Harlem) proudly played in the Barrio. Setbacks from poverty and crime over the years dampened some of the neighborhood’s culture, but Puerto Ricans and locals in el Barrio have fought to preserve their culture through social programs, clinics and museums such as El Museo del Barrio. Camaradas has become another vital establishment, where the neighborhood can celebrate their heritage.