Toñita’s, a Puerto Rican Landmark in NYC, in a Fight To Keep Its Doors Open
Supporters of the Caribbean Social Club in Brooklyn, lovingly known as Toñita’s, gathered together Thursday morning (June 1) in solidarity with its owner, owner Maria “Toñita” Cay, as she faced a court hearing today about the future of the Puerto Rican landmark.
Toñita’s has served the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn for generations as a hub for Puerto Rican culture. Cay opened it as a social club approximately 40 years ago as a place where people could come and drink beer, play pool and dominoes, eat food, and chat with others in the community.
“[Puerto Ricans] feel like they’re home, so they come,” Cay told the ABC affiliate in New York City.
In 2018, The New York Times described the venue as “a social club where music, food, and friendship sustain bonds that were forged decades ago when the neighborhood was a bastion of the Puerto Rican working class.”
Even Bad Bunny stopped by last year to experience the Puerto Rican spirit that Toñita’s provides to the community.
According to Brooklyn Paper, Toñita’s legal trouble may stem from payments it owes on a 2016 workers’ compensation insurance policy but also due to changing demographics in the area that go hand-in-hand with gentrification. Univision also reports there are unpaid fines that have been levied against Toñita’s for violating alcohol regulations.
Whatever unpaid payments Cay owes, many of her supporters believe it’s being used as an excuse to push her out of the neighborhood – another example of gentrification in the area. A flier inviting supporters on Thursday reads, “In the context of rising rents and changes in demographics, Toñitas finds itself in the crosshairs facing constant fines and increasing pressure and surveillance. “She needs our support and solidarity.”
Cay said that in the past, people have come to her asking if she would sell the property to them. She has always told people that it is not for sale. “[It’s] not worth money,” she said. “What is worth is being together with the community.”
After the court appearance, she spoke with supporters and thanked them for coming out and supporting her. “Yo los quiero también, los amo y los adoro! Y que sigamos todos juntos hacia adelante, no come clientes pero como una familia.”
Check back for updates here or on Toñita’s Instagram.