Woodbrook, Trinidad | Neighbourhood

Once a residential suburb, the west Port of Spain neighbourhood is now a hub for nightlife and culture — including Carnival

Photo by Joel HinksonMiguel StreetThe Caribbean Airlines Invaders steelband on stage. Photo courtesy Caribbean AirlinesLittle Carib Theatre. Photo by Aaron Mohammed/TCD MediaPerformance at Alice Yard. Photo courtesy Alice Yard

Streetscape

Though a few taller buildings have sprung up along Tragarete Road and Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook is still largely a neighbourhood of single-storey bungalows. A handful of Victorian gingerbread cottages survive, elegant with fretwork, among dozens of 1920s houses, most of them extended and refurbished over the decades. It’s a leafy neighbourhood, with front gardens and backyard fruit trees, and the original town planners left space for parks too: Adam Smith Square is a neighbourhood focal point, the Woodbrook Playground boasts still-functional century-old swings and a small merry-go-round, and Siegert Square is a quiet retreat tucked away behind St Crispin’s Anglican Church.

Once dusk falls, “the Avenue” transforms into Port of Spain’s nightlife zone, with dozens of bars and restaurants — from longtime mainstays like Veni Mangé with its reliable nouveau creole menu to neon-lit clubs that manage to stay trendy for a year or two. “Venerable” may not be the right word to describe Woodbrook’s oldest watering hole, Brooklyn Bar on Carlos Street. An old-fashioned rumshop for many decades, a recent refurbishment replaced the décor but not the vibe.

 

What’s in a name?

Woodbrook’s oldest streets, at its eastern end, are named after British generals of the Boer War — Kitchener, Baden-Powell, Buller — but the streets of its central section are named for the eleven children of the German-Venezuelan-Trinidadian Siegert family, whose patriarch invented the world-famous Angostura bitters in the 1820s. From east to west: Cornelio, Fitt, Murray, Carlos, Alfredo, Luis, Rosalino, Alberto, Gallus, Ana, Petra.

Some bonus trivia: in the 1940s, a young V.S. Naipaul lived for a time in a house on Luis Street, owned by his mother’s family. The future Nobel laureate’s experiences there inspired his book Miguel Street, which captured the neighbourhood life of mid-century Woodbrook with insight and humour.

 

Carnival capital

The traditional Carnival parade route, running counter-clockwise through Port of Spain, includes a loop through Woodbrook and a stage at Adam Smith Square, where temporary bleachers for audience and judges go up every January. Over the past four decades, and increasingly in recent years, the focus of Carnival activity has shifted away from the city’s downtown and into Woodbrook, where pavements are jam-packed every Carnival Tuesday. The neighbourhood is home to numerous mas camps where costumes are assembled, kicking into high gear in November and December ahead of the Carnival season. Woodbrook is also home to several steelbands — like Caribbean Airlines Invaders, Phase 2, Silver Stars, and Woodbrook Playboyz — popular stops in panyard tours in the weeks leading to the annual Panorama competition.

 

Arting about

The same buzzing energy that feeds the neighbourhood mas camps, plus Woodbrook’s central location, have made it a cultural hotspot. The landmark Little Carib Theatre, founded by Beryl McBurnie in what was then her backyard, is Trinidad’s most hallowed theatrical space. A few streets away, the Big Black Box is home to rapso powerhouse 3Canal, and a relaxed, slightly divey performance venue where you’ll find everything from techno music to poetry readings. Round the corner are the contemporary art space Alice Yard, the upscale Medulla Art Gallery, and the tiny jewelbox of The Frame Shop, where artist Ashraph Ramsaran curates small shows by popular artists and designers.

 

History

At the start of the twentieth century, Port of Spain was a more compact city, but short on housing for a growing population. Immediately to the west, on what were then semi-rural outskirts, was the Woodbrook Estate, owned by the Siegert family — who sold the land to the Town Council in 1911, to be developed as a new middle-class district. Carefully planned as a neat grid of streets, Woodbrook was quickly built up, and within a couple of decades became one of the more populous neighbourhoods of Trinidad’s capital.

Once almost entirely residential, Woodbrook gradually commercialised, a trend which accelerated in the 1990s as the major thoroughfares were taken over by offices and restaurants. By the start of the twenty-first century, Ariapita Avenue was a major nightlife district, buzzing on Friday and Saturday nights. But Woodbrook retains a character and sometimes close-knit vibe distinctive from downtown to the east, St Clair to the north,
St James to the west.

 

Co-ordinates

10.7º N 61.5º W
Sea level