Reggeaton star Bad Bunny decided to celebrate the launch of his album “Un verano sin ti,” in an unexpected corner of New York City in May 2022.

He went to a modest Puerto Rican bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, called the Caribbean Social Club. It’s decorated with LED Christmas lights, flowery tablecloths and walls full of family photos, baseball posters and framed newspaper clips. It creates a vibe that feels like someone’s grandmother’s living room.

The owner is María Antonia Cay, but everyone in New York City knows her as Toñita. She’s a tiny, old woman with frizzy, white blonde hair who’s always smiling. Her fingers are almost taken over by these giant, colorful rings that she exposes in front of her chest in photos, like a peacock opening its tail.

Toñita’s opened its doors in the 1970s as a gathering place for the local baseball team and players’ families. Over time, it has become a safe haven for Puerto Ricans and other Latino communities, a place where customers can celebrate who they are.

Read the episode transcript here.

50 years later, Toñita’s is still standing in Los Sures, in south Williamsburg—the most gentrified neighborhood in New York City.

But as the neighborhood changed, Toñita has faced more and more challenges running her club the way she’s always done it. In this episode of Latino USA, we follow Toñita through the latest hurdle, a court battle, and we learn how the Puerto Rican community in Los Sures has kept its culture alive.

For many decades, the southside of Williamsburg was also known as “Los Sures,” because the majority of its southern streets —from south first to south 11th— were populated by people from Puerto Rico and, later, from the Dominican Republic.

However, this once vibrant Latino community is declining. In the last two decades, gentrification has put an end to many of the salsa block parties, baseball games and domino competitions.

There’s still one place on Grand street that is fighting to keep the legacy of “Los Sures” alive—the Caribbean Social Club.

Yet in the last two years, noise complaints and inspections have been on the rise, challenging the future of this Puerto Rican haven as the neighborhood becomes less and less affordable. The median sales price of a home in Williamsburg is $1.2 million, and a two-bedroom apartment rents for $6,000 a month on average.

But Toñita says she has no plans to sell the building. “As long as I’m alive, we will continue to be open,” Toñita says.

Featured photo by Marta Martinez.

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