Cheers & Catfish Shared Over Obama Win

Patrons at Sylvia’s lounge in Harlem cheer as the results of the U.S. presidential election rolled in. PHOTO: Jennifer Arellano

Patrons at Sylvia’s lounge in Harlem cheer as the results of the U.S. presidential election rolled in. PHOTO: Jennifer Arellano

Written by Cori Capik & Jennifer Arellano, as featured in the Metropolitan Monitor:

Worry wafted through the air Tuesday night, when 120 or so patrons gathered at Sylvia’s lounge to watch and wait for the election results.

By 8 p.m., ABC’s coverage was blaring in the background; red, white and blue balloons flanked the walls; and waiters were decked out in black uniforms stamped with rhinestones that spelled “Obama.” Patrons dined on the famed restaurant’s signature soul food, taking bites of fried catfish, fried chicken and waffles between their gasps and cheers as the results rolled in.

“We have a lot riding on this,” said Trenness Woods-Black, granddaughter of the restaurant’s founder, Sylvia, who sat in the back to escape the booming music, the blaring TV, and the hearty boos and cheers of her customers.

As a DJ played funk tunes, folks talked back to the TV and talked to each other. Others turned their tables and chairs to face the screens and hung on anchors’ and analysts’ every word. At one point, when Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod mentioned Mitt Romney by name, a moan ran through the crowd.

At 9:20 p.m., the anchor announced Obama had won Pennsylvania, and whoops, claps and smiles were exchanged. While this was a big win, guests stayed focused on the screen as more polls closed across the country.

At one point, Melinda Chirinos stepped outside to have a smoke and escape the tense room. Chirinos said it was clear she would not be included in Romney’s plans, which is why she voted for Obama: “Romney was pretty straightforward in regards to the  tax cuts. He wanted to help his people — the people in his tax bracket — and not us.”

Around her, 125th Street was in a temporary lull — devoid of the frenzy and jubilation following Obama’s 2008 win because it was still too early to call the winner of the race. Four years ago, after the results were announced, crowds swarmed 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and partied through the night.

Inside, the fervor was more palpable, as were the convictions. Like so many others in Sylvia’s, Alma Estrada, 25, voted for Barack Obama. “Women’s rights are so important to me,” Estrada said. “When I was voting for Barack Obama, I felt I was voting for everything the suffragists’ movement stands for.”

A staff member flipped the channels from one news station to the next, and the crowd frantically looked from the screen to the DJ, who announced that the staff was trying to “nail down” whether Obama had won the election.

The crowd’s confusion evaporated once they saw cheering Obama fans on TV. Instantly, strangers hugged and one couple kissed. Young Jeezy’s My President is Black drowned out the political talk, and guests danced through that song and into Lady Marmalade, even breaking into impromptu conga line. But within 30 minutes, the crowd cleared from the restaurant, their mission finally accomplished.

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