Darder gets down

Axé Lounge: Food, Spirits, and a Side of Santeria

The sound of Brazilian drumming heralded our arrival at Uva 69 Sunday night. A live drummer, laying down a funky backbeat as Djinji Brown manned the ones and twos. “I’ll House You” by the Jungle Brothers, Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara,” and Rick James’s “Mary Jane.” He kept the hits coming all night. A small crowd had gathered near him, to dance under a light summer rain. The evening was exceptionally moist, but by 9:00, the heavy clouds had parted and a cool breeze wafted through the bustling al fresco restaurant. The manager, Geo Darder, floated through it all with an irrepressible grin. Clad in flowing white robes befitting a santero, he presided over the celebration and made sure everyone felt welcome. That’s his goal for Axé Lounge, a new weekly gathering that’s breathing fresh life into the downtown scene.

Co-hosted by the exuberant and beautiful Donna Marie, the crowd at Axé was eclectic, diverse, laid back, artistic, and most importantly – friendly. No nose-in-the-air South Beach snobs here, thanks. “It’s like an extension of your home. Imagine having a dinner party, inviting 10 people over for dinner. And over there, there’s another party. And another, and another. And everyone’s just enjoying each other’s company. You can just come for dinner or drinks, or to dance and just hang out with us. It’s whatever you feel,” said Darder. He sat with us for a while, and explained his spiritual beliefs. We had an amazing steak and miso-glazed salmon, and washed down the delicious dinner with mojitos and Peronis.

After dinner, Geo called me away from the table and my skeptical husband, and led me behind a ficus bush. He began sprinkling me from head to toe with liquid that smelled like rose petals. He gave me predictions for the future, and some sage, unsolicited advice.

“Is it alright if I write about this, and quote you as a santeria priest?” I asked. He smiled, shrugged, and thought for a while.

“It is what I am,” he replied. A few others waited nearby for their turn to be cleansed. I left so they could have their experience in peace.

This was my first experience with santeria – many people speak of it in such mysterious and foreboding terms, and I had no idea what to expect. My experience was positive. I gotta admit, I left Uva 69 with a spring in my step, and a flush in my cheeks. I prefer to think it was the cleansing, more than the mojitos. --Patrice.Yursik

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