“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.