5 beach bars and restaurants to inspire your next Caribbean adventure
5 beach bars and restaurants to inspire your next Caribbean adventure
There is something therapeutic looking out to sea. I enjoy these oceans view restorative therapy sessions even more, without having access to them and without having a clear idea of when I could be again. Those who are drawn to the sea will always find a way to go back, I am confident. For the moment, I will content myself with remembering the trips to the beach from the past and continuing to imagine others for the future.
When it comes to evaluating beach bars, suffice it to say that I have a few basic requirements: an atmosphere that blends naturally with the culture of the island, is a good starting point. A combination of tourists and locals, to add credibility, authenticity and a festive air. The food should be at a culinary level that seems to match the look, ambiance and atmosphere of the establishment. And finally, a USP (Unique Selling Point) that makes me want to go back, months after the end of the vacation.
With the exception of Anegada, I have had the opportunity to visit the following five locations more than once. That qualifies me as an expert. An expert in my own personal experiences, of course.
Fortunately, this list is by no means complete. While I’ve been to much of the Caribbean islands, I want to explore more – to look for hidden bars, chic barefoot dives, and even chic, tourist-infused beach restaurants that nestle in this idyllic part of the world.
5. Basil’s Bar, Mustique
Island atmosphere: Discreet refuge
Perched effortlessly at the edge of Britannia Bay in Mustique, Basil tries to camouflage the secret glamor of this exclusive island. Home of media moguls, models, and celebrities – Mustique’s beauty lurks prominently among the windy islands.
Why did Basil’s make the list? The Uber-chill Basil’s appeals to a combination of villa owners, fishermen and boaters, with its three simple and casual dishes, its discreet atmosphere and its dazzling sea views. Some might say that it is now too popular, too crowded with tourists, not the well-kept secret refuge it once was. The secrets of the Caribbean have not been secret for a very long time, and new secrets are probably already in preparation. However, I can attest that, with super yachts and schooners anchored in the distance (a layer added to the backdrop already worthy of fainting), Basil always delivers.
USP: A series of connected, simple, thatched roof huts and outdoor dining areas invite you to settle in, with Basil’s emblematic drink, Hurricane David, as the sun begins its fiery descent. Famous for its Wednesday Night Jump Up and Sunday Night Sunset Jazz on its sandy dance floor, there is probably no bad time to take your shoes off at Basil’s Bar.
4. Catherine’s Café, Antigua
Island atmosphere: European escape
To say that Catherine is comfortable in her own skin is an understatement. The Catherine café, at the shutters of the Louvre and sea breeze on the island of Antigua, basks under its warm buttery yellow Veuve Cliquot umbrellas.
Why did Catherine’s Café make the list? Catherine’s bare and relaxed feet feel like the French Riviera. Naked toddlers run sideways, with their half-naked moms running after them. It offers a French-inspired menu and a well thought out wine list. Our effervescent bartender, Damien, kept us in a good mood, recommending personal dishes from Catherine’s extensive G + T menu. Surrounded by neem, and with an intimate beachfront location, Catherine’s Café practically begged us to spend an afternoon there – so we did it.
USP: It is not often that a place can perfect both the beach bar and the beach restaurant experience. Neither is sacrificed at Catherine’s Café.
3. Anegada, Cow Wreck Beach Bar
Island atmosphere: Totally distant
Seventeen nautical miles from Virgin Gorda, a floating spot on the edge of the British Virgin Islands, we found Anegada. A literal island pancake, 28 feet high at its highest elevation, the name Anegada, means “drowned island”. The fact that Anegada feels so incredibly distant from civilization is exactly what makes it so enchanting.
Cow Wreck Beach, on the northwest coast of Anegada, is a rather unusual name. I decided to do some research on Google. In 1929, a 380-foot-long steel freighter called The Rocus was en route to Baltimore from Trinidad. The Rocus cargo was filled with cow bones which would then be processed into fertilizer. The cargo made an unexpected and devastating final stop when it collided with Anegada’s treacherous Horseshoe Reef. Since then, the ocean floor has been strangely dotted with cow bones. As for the freighter, it is still housed on the starboard side, just below the surface of the water, and has barely moved since 1929. The legend claims this.
Why is Cow Wreck Beach Bar on the list? Cow Wreck has few real walls. Concrete, colorful peeling paint, plastic chairs, tilted aluminum roof and unadorned decor, that’s what defines this fun and yellow diving package on the edge of the island. The food was somewhat forgettable, but no one seemed to care, as an escape from reality (with the stiff drinks) more than made up for it. Thousands of sea urchins, of all sizes and in all the degrees of whiteness that the sun can whiten, line the pristine beach. I thought that the color of the sea could only be reached by an Instagram filter. Layers on layers of sparkling turquoise surf wrapped against the wide shore of white sand.
USP: As I often like to say, some of the most interesting places in the world are the hardest to find. Cow Wreck Beach – thank you for proving my point.
2. Shellona Beach Club, St Barth
Island atmosphere: Glam over-the-top
I don’t know who in our group spotted this last empty table, wooden feet unevenly nestled in the sand, flattened beach pillows and low stools surrounding it. Anyway, we grabbed this table and stayed there for hours. Our time at Shellona “Shell on a” Beach, on glitzy St Barths, was in the mood for laughter. We could spend more than one late afternoon in this Greek-inspired restaurant / bar. The scene often includes models dressed in caftan weaving quietly around the tables – a podium of glamorous women from St Barth wearing the latest island-glam clothing, or their absence, from the nearby boutique.
Why Shellona made the list? I could hardly tell where the beach bar ended and where the beach started, when they merged into one on this comfortable bay, a few minutes’ walk from Gustavia’s shops. What used to be a well-kept secret is no longer a secret. And, although Shellona is probably the least hidden of my five favorites and imbued with its popularity off the charts, it still makes me want to come back to find out more.
USP: Glam, glamor and even more glamor. Partly a beach club, partly a beach bar, breathtaking view on all levels.
1. The Rum Bar, Cooper Island
Island atmosphere: Barefoot beach hut
When our sailboat caught one of the last moorings available in Manchioneel Bay, off Cooper Island, I felt like a survivor about to crawl on a deserted beach. The people lazing on the wooden terraces of the Rum Bar were off-putting and barefoot, semi-drunk and luckily brown. It was as if we had found a hidden outpost, a tiny island jewelry box, where a lucky few escaped from the outside world. Idyllic.
Why did The Rum Bar make the list? There is an authenticity to Cooper Island which is somewhat unique to the British Virgin Islands, which are often crowded with tourists and can sometimes feel manufactured. A clear sign that the Rum Bar, which is part of the modest Cooper Island Beach Club, is all it has cracked, is that we have noticed crews of yachts hanging on to the small bar – the actual version of “Under Deck ” If the Rum Bar was where they chose to spend their limited free time, we knew we were heading for something good.
Although a size shoebox, the atmosphere of the bar is so enveloping that it is just as tempting to sit inside as it is outside. Rows of rum are waiting for you, waiting to be poured, along the wall behind the bartender. I couldn’t help but feel a touch of envy for his Caribbean existence seemingly overlooked by the seat of his pants. Weathered and layered wooden bridges and shabby thatched umbrellas are perched to enjoy the view of the sailboat in the bay. The boats that had been fortunate enough to grab an elusive anchorage earlier today. We felt like we were part of a finished and exclusive club for an ephemeral moment.
USP: The chic and trendy setting of the chic cabin, which, true to its name, is home to 280 different rums.