Above: a performer at Les Mardis in Grand Case (All photos by CJ)
By Alexander Britell
GRAND CASE — It began with a ti’ punch, as it should have. But the night before, there would have been no ti’ punch here.
The streets of Grand Case were teeming with art vendors and grills and sounds of zouk, things that did not exist only a few hours before.
A few hours before this had been a quiet fishing village, a few cars passing through and a few people finishing lazy afternoon lunches.
Now, a sign boasted of ti’ punch for $2, so I naturally obliged and told the woman serving them my order.
She was not a ti’ punch vendor, though.
By day, she was a waitress at a nearby hotel.
But now she was cutting limes and pouring cane syrup and filling cups just so.
Because on Tuesday night, everything in Grand Case becomes something else.
This was one of Les Mardis de Grand Case, the Tuesday night Mardi Gras-style event that turns the quaint fishing town known for its superb restaurants into a bustling boulevard that would make Bourbon Street look over its shoulder for a moment. They’re every week during the season, usually from January through March.
On Tuesdays in Grand Case, the restaurants spill out onto the street, the carnival bands jam and locals and tourists from across St Martin (and Sint Maarten) converge.
During the night hours on Tuesdays, this is the place to be in St Martin, the hub.
And that was true at Auberge Gourmande, the old-fashioned French eatery with the perfect foie gras, where the ti’ punch came in handy waiting for a sought-after table.
Then dinner started and soon after one of the carnival groups paraded into the restaurant, shaking the place and lifting the seats.
The ti’ punch transformed itself into a glass of HSE (Habitation Saint-Etienne), the distillery in the Gros Morne section of Martinique that has become arguably the most popular rhum agricole in Saint Martin, although J Bally and La Mauny might argue.
And then it was time to head back into the Boulevard, where the crowds had expanded and the bars had grown louder, the blues from Blue Martini and a Cuban sound from the Calmos Cafe up the street.
It was the latter that drew interest, a bright yellow building that secretly housed a beach bar, where HSE again appeared and the band played the music of the Buena Vista Social Club.
The music shifted to a Dominican beat, and then to a kind of French-hip-hop-reggae fusion.
The latter was a sound you don’t hear very often. And it was the kind of night you don’t experience very often.
Except every Tuesday in Grand Case.