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Barfly - Big ups to the Royal Peacock

Shaking down the blues on Auburn Avenue

Wednesday October 6, 2010 04:00 am EDT

Up a rickety stairwell and past a peacock ablaze in blue flames, rambunctious Rasta beats are trying as hard as they can to shake down these Auburn Avenue walls and take them back to the Caribbean.


Deep reds and blacks accentuate a vibrant dance hall as the checkered dance floor slowly fills beneath a once magical stage touched by the shoe soles of legends.

My mind drifts: James Brown. Sam Cooke. Muddy Waters ... .

“BOOM!” the DJ interrupts a historical daydream with his bombastic Jamaican accent, “Big ups to allll my African laaadies. But it’s my Caribbean ladies who whine da best, mon!”

Wake the town and tell the people, the Royal Peacock’s doors are unshuttered and back open for business.

“Don’t fuck wit da DJs,” he pleads into the mic. “Now gimme a RAT-A-TAT TAT TAT!”

It’s Friday night and the dance floor is filled with the pounding of rock steady and dancehall. The fast beats are rhymed over with the mostly incomprehensible broken English of Jamaican patois. To an untrained ear it’s gibberish, but the wind-up rhythms of the women dancing make everything comprehensible. The translation warms my bloodstream.

The DJ is mixing Biggie and Hova club-bangers in with the aggressive reggae. It’s a worldly vibe and a wild scene in the Peacock tonight, much different than the one here last Tuesday evening.

From the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church to the gentrification chaperoned by the ever-expanding Georgia State University, Sweet Auburn is as historical and spiritual as it is torn and frayed. The ’70s and ’80s took their toll on this thoroughfare, but things are looking up.

As the brutal summer made way for a slight fall breeze on a recent school night, the neon Peacock glowed with pride. It was the official grand reopening of the historic club, but it was more like a family reunion. Covered dishes and old-timers were scattered about, having a few drinks and shaking a few arthritic legs.

The gorgeous bartenders in their smart red and black numbers looked like they’d taken an early flight from the Kingston Hooters just for tonight. And they poured heavy-handed whiskeys that hit harder than Ike smacked Tina.

The smoke and the sour mash hypnotized in unison with the percussion of the band on stage. I could feel it in my bones, all the things that room has seen: The Four Tops. the Supremes. Otis Redding ... .

“I hope errybody ain’t dead out there,” the emcee, Willie Hill, chimed in from the stage, breaking up the daydream with a raspy voice. “Now y’all make some noise if you alive!”

On Sweet Auburn, the fiery Peacock is alive and well. Big ups, mon.