There is something therapeutic about looking out towards the sea. I appreciate those restorative ocean view therapy sessions even more now, not having had access to them, and not having a clear idea of when I might again. Those who are drawn to the sea will always find a way go back, I am confident. For the time being, I will be content to reminisce about beach trips of the past, and continue to dream up ones for the future.
When it comes to assessing beach bars, suffice it to say that I have a few baseline requirements: a vibe that pairs naturally with the island’s culture, is a good place to start. A combination of tourists and locals, to add credibility, authenticity, and a festive air. The food should be at culinary level that seems to match up to the establishment’s look, vibe, and atmosphere. And lastly, a USP (Unique Selling Point) that makes me yearn to go back, months after the holiday has ended.
With the exception of Anegada, I’ve been lucky enough to visit the following five spots more than once. That qualifies me as an expert. An expert in my own personal experiences, that is.
This list is in no way complete, and happily so. While I have been to a fair share of Caribbean islands, I long to explore more—to seek out hidden bars, barefoot-chic dives, and even tourist-infused, swanky, beach restaurants that are tucked away in this idyllic part of the world.
5. Basil’s Bar, Mustique
Island vibe: Understated hideaway
Perched effortlessly on the edge of Britannia Bay in Mustique, Basil’s attempts to camouflage the undercover glamour of this exclusive island. Home to media moguls, models, and celebrities— Mustique’s beauty is hiding in plain sight among the breezy Windward Islands.
Why did Basil’s make the list? Uber-chill Basil’s woos a combination of villa owners, fisherman, and yachties alike, with its trifecta of simple, casual food, a low-key atmosphere, and dazzling sea views. Some might say it is now too popular, too overrun with tourists, and not the well-kept secret hideaway it used to be. Secrets in the Caribbean are not secret for very long, and new secrets are likely already in the works. Yet, I can attest, that with super yachts and schooners anchored in the distance, (an added layer to the already swoon-worthy backdrop), Basil’s still delivers.
USP: A series of connected, simple, thatched huts, and open-air dining spaces, extend the invitation to settle in, with Basil’s signature drink, Hurricane David, while the sun starts its fiery descent. Famous for its Wednesday Night Jump Up, and Sunday Night Sunset Jazz on its sandy dance floor, there is feasibly no bad time to kick off your shoes at Basil’s Bar.
4. Catherine’s Café, Antigua
Island vibe: European escape
To say Catherine’s is comfortable in her own skin is an understatement. Louvre-shuttered, sea-breezy Catherine’s Café on the island of Antigua, lazes about under her warm, butter-yellow Veuve Cliquot umbrellas.
Why did Catherine’s Café make the list? Barefoot-casual Catherine’s feels like the French Riviera. Naked toddlers running amok, with their half-naked mums running after them. It boasts a French-inspired menu, and a well thought-out wine list. Our effervescent bartender, Damien, kept us in good spirits, recommending personal faves from Catherine’s extensive G+T menu. Enshrouded by neem trees, and with an intimate beachfront location, Catherine’s Café practically begged us to spend an afternoon there—so we did.
USP: It’s not often that a place can perfect both the beach bar, and the beach restaurant experience, simultaneously. Neither is sacrificed at Catherine’s Café.
3. Anegada, Cow Wreck Beach Bar
Island vibe: Utterly remote
Seventeen nautical miles from Virgin Gorda, a floating speck on the edge of the British Virgin Islands, is where we found Anegada. A literal pancake of an island, 28 feet tall at its highest elevation, the name Anegada, means ‘drowned island’. That Anegada feels so incredibly far flung from civilization is exactly what makes it so enchanting.
Cow Wreck Beach, on the northwestern coast of Anegada, is a pretty unusual name. I decided to do some Google digging. In 1929, a 380 foot-long steel freighter called The Rocus was en route to Baltimore from Trinidad. The Rocus’s cargo was filled with cow bones that would later be ground into fertilizer. The freighter made an unexpected, and devastating, final stop when she collided with Anegada’s treacherous Horseshoe Reef. Since then, the ocean floor has remained eerily scattered with cow bones. As for the freighter, it’s still lodged on its starboard side, just beneath the water’s surface, and has barely budged since 1929. So the legend claims.
Why did Cow Wreck Beach Bar make the list? Cow Wreck has few true walls. Concrete, colorful peeling paint, plastic chairs, a pitched aluminum roof, and a no frills decor, is what defines this dive-y, yellow bundle of fun, on the edge of the island. The food was somewhat forgettable, but no one seemed to mind, as an escape from reality (along with the stiff drinks) more then made up for it. Sea urchin shells, thousands, in every size, and in all the varying degrees of white that the sun can bleach, line the pristine beach. The color of the sea is one I thought could only be achieved by an Instagram filter. Layers upon layers of foamy turquoise surf rolled up against the wide, white sandy shore.
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 Barths
Island vibe: Over-the-top glam
I don’t know who in our group spotted that last empty table, wooden legs nestled unevenly into the sand, flattened beach pillows, and low stools surrounding it. Regardless, we grabbed that table, and stayed put, for hours. Our time spent at Shellona ‘shell on a’ Beach, on glitzy St Barths, was mood-lifting and laughter-filled. One could while away more than one late, sunsetting afternoon at this Greek-inspired restaurant/bar. The scene often includes caftan-clad models weaving leisurely around the tables—a St Barths catwalk of glamorous women donning the latest island-glam clothing, or lack thereof, from the neighboring boutique.
Why did Shellona make the list? I was hard pressed to tell where the beach bar ended, and where the beach began, as they blur into one on this cozy bay, just a few minutes walk from the shops of Gustavia. What was possibly once a well-kept secret, is a secret no more. And, while Shellona is likely the least hidden of my top five faves, and is soaking up its off-the-charts popularity, it nonetheless keeps me wanting to come back for more.
USP: Glam, glam, and more glam. Part beach club, part beach bar, all-around killer views.
1. The Rum Bar, Cooper Island
Island vibe: Barefoot beach shack
When our sailboat grabbed one of the last available moorings in Manchioneel Bay, off the shores of Cooper Island, I felt like a survivor about to crawl onto a deserted beach. The people who were lazing upon the wooden decks of the Rum Bar were scrappy and barefooted, semi-drunk, and happily marooned. It was as if we had found a hidden outpost, a tiny island jewel box, where a lucky few were escaping the outside world. Idyllic.
Why The Rum Bar made the list? There is an authenticity to Cooper Island that is somewhat unique to the British Virgin Islands, which are often heavy with tourists, and can sometimes feel manufactured. A clear sign that the Rum Bar, part of the modest Cooper Island Beach Club, is all it’s cracked up to be, was that we noticed yacht crews hanging at the tiny bar—the real-life version of ‘Below Deck’. If the Rum Bar was where they were choosing to spend their limited free time, we knew we were on to something good.
Although a shoe box in size, the bar’s atmosphere feels so enveloping, that it is just as tempting to sit inside, as out. Rows of rum stand at attention, waiting to be poured, along the wall behind the bartender. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy for his seemingly fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Caribbean existence. The weathered, and layered, wooden decks, and shabby thatched umbrellas are perched to take advantage of the sailboat views in the bay. The boats who had been fortunate enough to grab an elusive mooring earlier that day. We felt like we were a part of a finite, exclusive club for a fleeting moment in time.
USP: The remote and rickety shack-chic setting that, true to its name, houses 280 different rums.