A colorful sign reaches above a plain, white building on Arlington’s busy South Cooper Street. Inside, the dining tables are also draped in white, but the walls are a vibrant, Caribbean orange.
“We try to provide as much different food from the islands as possible,” says part-time chef Billy Kassoon as he takes a break from mopping dance floor. “The bright colors represent for us — happiness.”
The restaurant and bar, which opened about a year ago, is as much about culture, Kassoon says, as it is cuisine.
“We try to promote the culture and get people more aware of the Caribbean food, the actual atmosphere, how we dwell, how we entertain,” he said. “We’re more family oriented. We treat everybody as family.”
If someone is hungry for something not on the menu, Kassoon says, all they have to do is ask and he will either make it for them or guarantee that it will be there the next time they drop in. On our visit, a bartender whipped up a stout, special-order mudslide in no time.
Whether it’s jazz, Jamaican, country or rock, customers can also request their favorite music, Kassoon says, recalling a couple who celebrated their 50th anniversary at the establishment slow-dancing to a requested waltz.
“They said it was the best anniversary they’ve had,” says the soft-spoken chef who hails from Guyana. “It’s all about providing that experience for people. That one love experience.”
While One Love Lounge is not the only Caribbean experience in Arlington (Jamaica Gates is just across the street), it does offer a wide variety of flavors including Panamanian and some American food, as well as dishes from Trinidad. Kassoon says Caribbean food is more fun to eat, and what makes it different is the ample use of certain spices. The restaurant’s menu, which is also available through Uber Eats, includes things like empanadas, goat, oxtail and spicy, fall-off-the-bone jerk chicken.
About 90 percent of the lounge’s customers are American, and Kassoon says they tend to be from outside of Arlington. They drive in from Dallas, Desoto and other places, he says, and when they see the spacious, 5,000-square-foot facility, some, like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), decide to make good use of the venue.
The lounge serves as a meeting place for NORML, Kassoon says, noting that many of the group’s members are in their 50s and 60s. During open mic nights, the lounge transforms into a hangout for 20-somethings. Michael Guinn, founder of the DFW Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slams, will host an event there on Feb. 11.
“He wanted to combine the American Valentine’s experience with Caribbean food,” Kassoon says. “It’s open to the public."
Other happenings include ladies’ line dancing and live bands featuring reggae music. One Love Lounge is also about Jamaican superstar Bob Marley, Kassoon says, both his music and his message.
“We’re all about togetherness,” Kassoon says.
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One Love Lounge open mic nights are “beginning to bring in a lot of people,” says David Conant, founder of Arlington Nights, a website promoting local musicians. He described the hip-hop, rap, R&B fusion as endlessly fun to watch.
Conant, along with Alicia Elam, helps get the word out for local bands. Last year, he even went before Arlington’s City Council and asked for their help. He hasn’t heard from the city, he says, but downtown Arlington was recently designated a cultural district by the Texas Commission on the Arts. Part of Conant’s goal is to bring in big-name musicians, but his true focus is local music and culture in Arlington, he says.
“You’ve got to have people that want to be here and live here,” he says. “And places, like this, to have a beer before the game, not just come and leave.”
One Love Lounge, 2315 S. Cooper St., Arlington