Words by Jesse Serwer, Photos by Daison Osbourne—
Head north from Miami and make your way all the way west on Griffin Road until you can’t go further without driving into the great swampy expanse that is the Everglades. There, every Wednesday night, in the parking lot of a gas station and truck stop on an otherwise desolate stretch of US Route 27, you’ll find as many as 2,000 people (and sometimes more) dancing to dancehall and soca as the smell of jerk chicken wafts from smoky grills.
Located about as far as you can get from South Beach without leaving the Miami metro area, Cafe 27 (a/k/a Chickee Hut, or Tiki Hut), the outdoor Tiki bar area at the remote Seminole Travel Center in Weston, Fla., turns three nights a week into Florida’s best Caribbean dance party. What does Truck Stop have that other parties don’t? Besides the unusual location, food. Really good food—jerk chicken, jerk pork, escoveitch, sometimes even mannish water. And no one seems to eat anything without getting a festival or two on the side.
Truck Stop and the Chickee Hut are actually a fortunate result of 2005′s Hurricane Wilma. The Seminole Travel Center’s new owners built the set of thatched huts on a part of the property that had been damaged beyond repair by the storm, with the aim of turning it into “an oasis on the edge of civilization,” as its website says. Truck Stop founder Omar (just Omar) held the first Jamaican parties there shortly thereafter in 2006, spreading the word exclusively by word of mouth. This is still how Truck Stop, which strives to create a feel that’s as close as you can get to yard without actually being there, is mostly promoted.
Each of Truck Stop’s three nights has a different flavor. On Wednesday, the biggest night, it’s all about dancehall, with music by resident selector Dutty Dex and some of South Florida’s top sounds, like Black Chiney, Eccentrix and Nocturnal. Saturdays bring an older crowd and, sometimes, special soca events. Friday nights offer a blend of Latin and Jamaican flavors, with DJs playing reggae and salsa for a mixed crowd. Each night, the food starts cooking around 5, with DJs on at 8 or 9 and the party over at 2 on the dot. On non-Truck Stop nights, the Chickee Hut is a biker hangout, hosting live bands and auto club meets.
The legend of Truck Stop, meanwhile, has reached back to Jamaica. While the original intent of the party was to bring yard vibes to Florida, its popularity led Omar to open a Kingston restaurant called Truck Stop in 2008. Open seven days a week, the Truck Stop Grill & Bar (no, not Bar & Grill), located near Devon House on West Kings House Road, is Jamaica’s answer to a Texas roadside BBQ. Offering an even wider selection of Jamaican street food, it has the same laid-back vibes as the Florida party, but without the music/DJ element.
Scroll through Daison Osbourne’s Truck Stop photo series on the next few pages to get a feel for a night at Florida’s most unique party. And next time you’re in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday (but especially a Wednesday), take a trip out to the Chickee Hut, and check the vibes. It’s worth a drive to the edge of civilization.