I was rushing towards Times Square around 5:20 p.m. a few weeks ago when I noticed the unmistakable colors of the Jamaican flag high atop one of the buildings in the heart of the square.
I slowed my pace and looked. Sure enough, it was the flag. It was emblazoned on the finely chiseled body of a man, his arms outstretched as he prepared to take a dive, his movements magnified frame by slow motion frame. I was still fixated on his body when I it registered: the Rick’s Café logo.
Before I knew it, before I remembered that I had my digital camera in my bag, the ad was gone, replaced by another not so memorable one. Darn!
I did the next best thing: I took out my phone and sent a text to everyone in my address book. “Rick’s Café is 40, they have an ad in Times Square!!”
Yes, folks, Rick’s Café, voted the Best Beach Bar by the Travel Channel, is 40 years old. Forty? I was surprised. When did that happen? Wasn’t it just the other day? Time sure flies, I thought.
I still remember the first time I heard about it. I was in a taxi on my way to JFK to catch an Air Jamaica flight home. The driver asked where I was going and when I told him, he asked if I’d ever been to Rick’s Cafe. I hadn’t, even though it’s located in Westmoreland, close to where I was headed.
Rick’s Cafe was founded in April 1974 when Negril, then mostly a fishing village with few amenities hadn’t even started dreaming of tourism – at least, not on the scale it is now.
I can’t remember the first time I visited but after that, it became a regular place to hang out and watch the sunset, a place to take friends who were visiting. Seriously, if you’re in to watching the sun as it slowly paints everything in its path orange, purple, red, gold, blues as it moves behind the horizon, drink in hand, then Rick’s Cafe is the place for you. (That finely chiseled body, I mentioned earlier, yeah, Rick’s known for that too. They’re usually several more like him and they’re like the icing on the cake.)
The next day, I told all my Jamaicans friends at work to go check out the ad and I looked for it every day after that, camera and phone at the ready, but I didn’t see it. I was disappointed. Did I imagine it?
I returned for several more days, no luck. Honestly, I kinda gave up. Then one morning, as I was passing through at 8:30, which is late for me, I glanced up halfheartedly, and caught the last frame of the ad. Big smile brightened my face. Okay, I though, it’s still playing. And it seems to rotate on the hour at the half hour.
But just to be sure, I made a plan: I’d pass through Times Square at 5:30 to see if I’d catch it. Sure enough, I did. I left work late, the following evening not even thinking about the ad and saw it again. This time, it was at 6:30.
A few days later, I ran into Paul, one of the people I had told about the ad, in Times Square. He was in the right place – at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway — but he was looking away from the ad.
I set him straight and we waited together. Several ads cycled through then without fanfare, the Rick’s Café ad appeared. Paul was still holding his cell phone staring at the ad instead of taking a photo – it happened to me too. I shouted at him, “Paul, tek di picture!”
That night, I sent out an email to my friends. We were going to Hell’s Kitchen for dinner the following evening. Let’s meet in Times Square, I said, so we can catch the ad together. Despite the rain, I hustled to the spot we had agreed on but they didn’t make it. Their loss, but I’ll try again. (Seeing it is such a joy, it’s like watching Usain (Bolt) or any of our athletes win. It fills me with tremendous pride, a pride we all share. It’s a Jamaican thing, an island thing. You understand?)
I have no idea how long the Rick’s Cafe ad is running but if you’re ever in Times Square and would like to see it, head for 43rd and Broadway. If you stand at the northeast corner and look up at the billboard above Europa, you’ll see it. It seems to run every hour on the half hour. At least that’s when I’ve seen it.
Happy Birthday, Rick’s Café! You’re aging gracefully and still managing to maintain your wild side. Here’s to another 40 years of providing us the best vantage point to enjoy the most spectacular sunsets in Negril.
Rick’s Cafe is located on West End Road in Negril, Jamaica. 876-957-0380