Caribbean Articles & Reviews
Top Caribbean Beach Bars
Soak up the sun and surf while sipping on a cold cocktail at one of these sandy spots.
By Karen Schaler
“I’d like a Painkiller, please.”
Dripping wet, wearing only a bathing suit and a grin, I pulled a drenched $20 bill out of my bikini top. I was about to join the ranks of thirsty sailors who have swum ashore for a cocktail at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. “We’ve been waiting for you,” said Mickey, the bartender, motioning toward my sailboat, anchored a couple hundred yards off the beach. He handed me the drink I had requested: a wickedly delicious mixture of dark rum, coconut, and fruit juices, with fresh nutmeg sprinkled on top. I strolled over to a hammock and happily lost myself in the magic of the setting. The drink: $6. The experience: priceless.
A blissful Caribbean beach bar experience is something vacationers have sought out for decades. The Caribbean Tourism Organization estimates that close to 18.5 million tourists have already visited the region this year, many heading straight to the nearest sandy drinking establishment to kick back and relax. And with the brutal economy, Caribbean bar owners say, more people than ever are worn out mentally and physically and are looking for an escape.
“A lot of temporary life reassessments happen here,” says JD, the bar manager at da Conch Shack & RumBar on Turks and Caicos. “I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t relax at da RumBar.” Keeping it simple, RumBar puts tables right on the sand and serves up entertainment and economy-friendly cocktails starting at around $3.50.
At Basil’s Bar on Mustique Island in the West Indies, bar owner Basil Charles says that despite his establishment’s celebrity following (Mick Jagger, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp), right now it’s all about value and keeping it real. Contributing to the unpretentious vibe is the bar’s thatched roof, open-air dance floor, and wood deck, which is perched on bamboo stilts over the water.
While authentic and casual Caribbean beach bars are getting a lot of play right now, on the other end of the spectrum, some new ultra-luxe bars are offering an oasis of glitz and glam on the sand. The gleaming black marble Infiniti Bar at Grace Bay Club, on Turks and Caicos, stretches 90 feet across the beach. Another showstopper is the white marble, open-air Dune Bar at One&Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where parts of the James Bond film Casino Royale were filmed.
Whether you’re looking for upscale or down-home, the Caribbean offers a trove of beach bars where you can rest, relax, rejuvenate, and toast a future full of possibilities or just enjoy living in the present.
Rick’s Café, Negril, Jamaica
The Scene: Grab your camera before heading to this scenic beach bar. Not only is Rick’s Café known as one of the best places to watch a sunset in the Caribbean, it’s also famous for its gutsy (some say crazy) cliff diving, which goes on right next to the bar. Even though signs warn patrons not to take the plunge, it happens all the time. For more than 30 years, owner Richard Hershman has worked hard to keep Rick’s hopping, including rebuilding after four hurricanes decimated the place.
Signature Drink: Rick’s Famous Planter’s Punch, with a secret mix of rum and fruit juices; $4.
Don’t Miss: Watching the local “diving troupe” and bar customers soar off the cliffs.
Infiniti Bar, Grace Bay Club, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
The Scene: Chic and sleek, this swanky newcomer, decorated with blazing blue and gold Bisazza glass mosaic tiles, was designed by Keith Hobbs of United Designers, known for his work with Nobu and London’s W Hotel. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a seat here, because according to Grace Bay, this is the longest bar in the Caribbean. The black marble construction stretches 90 feet across the beach and true to its name, Infiniti, seems to extend indefinitely into the ocean.
Signature Drink: The Infiniti Martini, Hpnotiq, Malibu rum, and pineapple juice; $13.
Don’t Miss: Grabbing the best seat in the house to watch a sunset at the end of the bar closest to the water.
Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
The Scene: Just steps from the water’s edge, this simple shack has walls covered with quirky sandcastle murals and only 10 wooden stools at the bar. Wander a few feet down the beach and you’ll find plenty of hammocks and beach chairs, where you can sip one of the Soggy Dollar Painkiller rum drinks, now a famous Caribbean cocktail. Dating to the early 70s, this watering hole is a favorite with sailors because until recently the only way you could get here was to swim ashore from a boat (the owners recently added a road).
Signature Drink: The Painkiller, dark rum, cream of coconut, and juices, sprinkled with fresh grated nutmeg; $6.
Don’t Miss: Chilling out on a hammock before swimming back to your boat.
Basil’s Bar, Mustique Island, West Indies
The Scene: Sitting over the Caribbean on bamboo stilts, with a thatched roof and Balinese décor, this formerly tiny rum shack has expanded over the last 30 years, hosting everyone from Academy Award winners to royalty. Owner Basil Charles says the place is as laid back as it gets; it opens at 8 a.m. 365 days a year and closes “when the last man falls.”
Signature Drink: Hurricane David, vodka, two rums, CrÃ¨me de Cocoa, and lime juice; $10.
Don’t Miss: Ordering the house special, fresh lobster, or trying the banana pancakes for breakfast.
Azure Beach Bar, CuisinArt Resort & Spa, Anguilla, British West Indies
The Scene: This small, picturesque resort beach bar gives a taste of the Mediterranean in the Caribbean the owner built the property to resemble the Greek island of Mykonos. With a panoramic view of the Caribbean, the breezy outdoor bar is bathed in whitewashed décor, with sparkly blue tiles. Fresh ingredients for the cocktails (basil, sage, cucumbers, and tomatoes) come from the resort’s own hydroponic farm.
Signature Drink: Pyrat Pineapple Punch, with Pyrat Pistol rum, Galliano, apricot brandy, and tropical juices; $16.
Don’t Miss: Chatting with the head bartender, Garvey Lakes, a local musician who can tell you the best places to get your groove on in Anguilla.
Frangipani Beach Bar, Bequia, Grenadines
The Scene: Fabulous at more than 40 years old, the low-key Frangipani Bar on Bequia continues to make waves by serving up creative, affordable cocktails (it’s $4 for the house special, the Frangi Fever). This is one tough beach bar to leave just ask Oprah Winfrey, David Bowie, and Harrison Ford, who have all visited. Maybe it’s the comfy, cushion-topped bar stools, the friendly service, or the bar itself, which is made with a gorgeous local hardwood called purpleheart.
Signature Drink: Frangi Fever, with rum, orange juice, ginger ale, cinnamon, and angostura bitters; $4.
Don’t Miss: The Thursday night barbecue special, featuring local cuisine and steel-band music.
Dune Preserve, Anguilla, British West Indies
The Scene: Using pieces of shipwrecked racing boats and washed-up driftwood, owner Bankie Banx and his best friend, Bullett, built the Dune Preserve in 1994. Four hurricanes later, the landscape has changed, but the spirit of the bar is still going strong, and it’s been the site of live performances by Jimmy Buffett and Kevin Bacon. “It’s the only beach bar in the world where you are likely to run into a former president, a former pirate, and a former Wall Street bigwig all in the same day,” says the Dune’s business manager, Olaide Banx, noting that Bill Clinton has swung by twice.
Signature Drink: Dune Rum Punch, with “top secret” ingredients; $6.
Don’t Miss: Arguing with Bankie about global economics and letting Bullett teach you how to build a world-class racing boat.
Foxy’s Beach Bar, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
The Scene: If you’re looking for a party, Foxy’s is always raging with nonstop entertainment, whether you’re listening to Foxy, the charming owner, spin one of his fascinating tales or rocking out to live music. General manager Paul Mason says the infamous hangout attracts “superstars, boat bums, schooner trash, and everyone in between.” The bar itself is made from old driftwood, and the walls and ceiling are plastered with personal paraphernalia, including license plates, T-shirts, caps, calling cards, and underwear. “You can’t help but get in the party mode here,” says Mason.
Signature Drink: The Dread Fox, with Foxy’s Firewater Rum, sour mix, and cranberry juice; $6.
Don’t Miss: Foxy’s small brewery behind the bar, where you can feed a carrot (bring your own, if you’re good at planning ahead) to Lagerhead, Foxy’s donkey.
Piet’s Pier Bar, Hyatt Regency, Aruba
The Scene: This 15-year-old hot spot is named after Piet, a Dutch sailor who used to travel the world and bring his maps back to the bar to show everyone where he’d been. Meranti wood makes up the bar itself, and bright, colorful umbrellas and loungers cover a deck that’s always jumping with a lively cocktail crowd.
Signature Drink: Aruba Ariba, with vodka, rum, banana liqueur, and Grand Marnier; $8.75.
Don’t Miss: Nightly karaoke, where the bartenders join in. The more you drink, the better everyone sounds.
da Conch Shack & RumBar, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
The Scene: With picnic tables right on Blue Hill Beach, this locals’ favorite is as laid back as it gets. Another big draw is the fresh conch that’s kept in pens on the water’s edge. If you’re on a serious cocktail mission, try the Shipwreck, but be careful that you’re not left stranded on the beach.
Signature Drink: ConchKnocker, with a blend of rums and a secret ingredient; $3.50.
Don’t Miss: Anything with conch conch fritters, conch salad, cracked conch, conch sauté, or conch chowder.
Deadman’s Beach Bar, Peter Island, BVI
The Scene: Don’t let the name scare you off. Sure, legend has it Blackbeard marooned 15 mutinous men nearby and it didn’t end pretty (rum and a sword were involved), but that just makes this Caribbean hideaway more interesting. The bar, camouflaged by sea grape trees, towering palms, and a cedar shake roof, also gets special kudos for allowing passing sailors to stop by for a drink even though this is an exclusive private island.
Signature Drink: The Peter Island Special, three rums, apricot brandy, and tropical juices; $12.
Don’t Miss: Sunday’s steel-drum band at lunch and Wednesday’s stilt walkers.
The Dune Bar, One&Only Ocean Club, Paradise Island, Bahamas
The Scene: Relive your favorite James Bond moments at this sexy, open-air beach bar on Paradise Island where parts of Casino Royale were filmed. Attracting world-class athletes, actors, filmmakers, and musicians, the place is a celebrity magnet. French interior designer Christian Liaigre created a classy British colonial feel that’s topped off by a pristine white marble bar. The bar menu fits the upscale atmosphere, offering up foie gras, quail, and caviar.
Signature Drink: The Dune, with gin, coconut milk, curaÃ§ao, and Cointreau; $16.
Don’t Miss: Ordering the Black Plate a decadent seafood medley (enough for two) from the bar menu.