Nigel Spence: In Brooklyn, Requiem for a Pan Yard


Brooklyn’s disappearing pan yards

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

The Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the summer in New York City.  It’s the last weekend for barbecues, block parties and most outdoor events before kids head back to school and the cooler weather works its way in.

It is also my favorite weekend of the summer as this is when Brooklyn comes alive for the annual West Indian Day Parade and the many festivities leading up to it on Labor Day Monday.

My yearly trek to the pan yards in Brooklyn has been somewhat bittersweet this year. With the break neck pace of gentrification taking place in the neighborhoods, the pan players have been pushed out of the spaces they used for practice in years past and are struggling with the cost of renting new spaces to tune their drums and perfect their beats for the Panorama competition that takes place over the Labor Day Weekend.

“Playing pan” as they call it, is already a dying art form in Trinidad due to the lack of interest from the younger generation, but had hope here in Brooklyn as it resonated well with the youth of Caribbean heritage who wanted to keep in touch with their roots. The exorbitant cost of space in Brooklyn has caused the bands to downsize.

The neighborhood demographic has also shifted significantly and the new residents seem to have little tolerance for the sounds of pan. This has forced the bands to shut down as early as 10:30pm with help from the NYPD, who have implemented strict time constraints in keeping with the new “quality of life” standards being put in place. This has severely impacted the practice time for the ultimate panorama showdown competition (and my party time). Despite all these changes, pan players and band participants alike seem to be making the best of a challenging situation. With all these major changes taking place in Brooklyn, if you have never visited a pan yard to watch them practice, I suggest that you put it high on your priority list, as it is only a matter of time before this event unique to Brooklyn starts making its way into the archives.

The pan yard that I frequent also had to downsize and move to a new location, so there was no longer enough room for the awesome food stalls that were setup within in years past.

In a dark corner of this smaller space, I saw a young hip looking Rastafarian girl sitting quietly with a large basket of which I inquired about the contents. (When I am hungry, I leave no stone unturned). She said she had sandwiches, but they were made to feed the band members (one of which is her daughter) since there was no longer a food stall in the yard. This meant that it was not for sale to the public, which also meant I would stay hungry.  After a lengthy conversation with her about the “new” Brooklyn, the death of the pan yard and the vegan lifestyle, she broke down and opened the basket to hand me what she called her latest invention.

It was a VEGAN tuna fish sandwich.   One bite and I was not convinced that it was NOT tuna in between the bread. The banter for the rest of the night was me trying to pry the information out of her to re-create the “not” tuna and to pry another sandwich out of the damn basket she guarded so closely!


Here is my version of her tuna salad.

You will NEVER miss tuna ever again!


2 cans (15 oz)chick-peas, drained

4 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise (Hellman’s has a good one)

1/3 cup celery, finely chopped

1/4 cup red onions, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons sweet pickles, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon sweet pickle juice

1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 Tablespoon kelp powder or any seaweed flakes

1 tablespoon fresh dill, fine chopped

1/2 teaspoon smoked salt (optional)

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon soy sauce
In a medium bowl, mash the chick-peas with a large fork, making sure that all beans get mashed. Mix in the mayonnaise, then pickle juice and soy sauce, then all remaining ingredients. Use on sandwiches or on a bed of salad greens.

Feel free to double the recipe as this NOT tuna moves out fast.

For a diabetic friendly sandwich, serve on sprouted bread, with horseradish, tomatoes and lettuce.


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