Bar hopping through BVI

Article by Kerri Tucker, photography by Julie Guaglardi

I am a big fan of bar hopping. I have practised all over the world—London, New York, Texas, California, the Caribbean.

I know all the rules—pace yourself, be friendly to the locals, wear comfortable shoes, always have a designated driver. So when I found out that my parents were sailing away for seven days to the British Virgin Islands, I immediately thought: hmm, uncharted territory of unique watering holes.

I had a worthy group of companions for the expedition— family and friends. After a long cramped journey, stepping on to our vessel (my father’s pride and joy, the 55-foot catamaran, Destiny) felt as though I were going through a portal. I swear there was an audible sigh from all, and we rushed to peel off our sweaty travel duds and change into the appropriate battle gear for the mission. Ten minutes later, in my red bikini, turquoise cowboy hat, slathered in sunscreen and with a frosty mimosa in my hand, I finally felt that the quest was underway.

Captain Chris (or Dad as I call him) chartered our course to begin, ironically, at the Bitter End. Our first day was disappointingly cloudy, so we sailed past the Baths, peering glumly through a sheet of drizzle. But once we arrived at the Bitter End Yacht Club, we decided, what the hell, you don’t need sunshine to get sloshed, do you? So we all jumped in the dinghy and headed for the bar.

To my surprise the captain steered the dinghy past the Bitter End on to a little place called Saba Rock. It is what it sounds like—a rock in the middle of the ocean, with a tiny hotel and an oceanfront restaurant. While an above-ground pool featuring remnants of the wreck of the Rhone distracted the men, the ladies hightailed it to the cocktail menu. We each decided to try something different, so we could all have a taste. (Gluttony tempered by sharing). I went with the unofficial drink of BVI, the Painkiller. (I would come to learn that pretty much every bar in the BVI claims to have invented this concoction.) This is made up of rum, more rum and a splash of rum. This is all topped off with orange juice, pineapple juice and a touch of coconut cream, kissed by grated nutmeg. This drink goes down so sweet and refreshing that you don’t realise how many you’ve downed until you attempt to stand up. My Mom went with the Bushwhacker, another infamous drink of these islands. This frosty concoction is made up of rum, vodka, Kahlua, amaretto, coconut cream, Baileys and Grand Marnier. Quite a mouthful right? What makes it really lethal is that is tastes like a chocolate-coconut-heaven-paradise hybrid. Ever heard the expression “makes your mouth happy”? After four rounds of drinks and a few baskets of conch fritters, the sun came out in all of us, even though it continued to rain. On the way to the dinghy, we had a run-in with a kamikaze seagull who seemed to have had one too many Bushwhackers. The afternoon came to a close when we all passed out on a nearby beach.

The next morning we headed out early—destination Marina Cay. The sail was only about an hour and 20 minutes, the perfect time to sit out on the nets and let the wind and surf blow away the inevitable hangover. The sun was out (for real!) as we pulled up to the pink and turquoise gas hut at Marina Cay. We took a dip first—the water was impossibly warm and clear here, shallow as a bathtub. As we approached the Pussers bar, we heard strains of John Lennon’s Imagine coming from a merry group already seated there. There was a man with a guitar and we helped him through half the Beatles’ repertoire by the time I reached the bottom of my third drink. I tried the Grog at that bar (a mixture of water, lime juice, sugar and rum), and it must have got me high pretty fast, because I remember looking around at all the sunburned faces acting out their versions of John, Paul, Ringo and George—and I felt euphoria. We headed upstairs to hear the Singing Pirate, and switch to a now familiar cocktail. We had our Painkillers in an official Pussers tin cup with the recipe printed on the side. At first, the Singing Pirate couldn’t compare to the pseudo-Beatles, but true to the Painkiller moniker, I ended up feeling no pain.

Day 3: I woke up this morning and walked straight off the deck. I knew a shock of cold water was the surest way to satiate the pounding in my head, and looking out my porthole, I noticed that there was an expanse of it conveniently located outside. My idea was contagious and soon we were all rearing to go again. We headed to the little convenience store to stock up on vitals—ingredients for a Bushwhacker. Soon the sails were full and the blender was buzzing as we headed to Jost Van Dyke. As we pulled into White Bay, the colours were absolutely dizzying. Sun and sky dazzled off the clearest blue water I had ever seen. This is the home of the famous Soggy Dollar Bar—christened so because there is no dock, and customers have to swim ashore with their $$$ in hand and when they slap down their first soggy dollar, it’s supposed to afford them their first drink. Nowadays, your first dollar is merely a contribution to your first drink, but I was assured that THIS was the birthplace of the Painkiller (“See, it says so right there on the cup!’’) We were feeling pretty friendly after a couple of these, and Soggy Dollar has a great laid-back, quintessential island feel—with slightly mischevious undertones, making you feel like you’re on Spring Break again. Everyone limes in the water in front of the bar, with boats tied together blaring tunes and people from Puerto Rico to New Zealand swaying to the beat. It felt like we were all natives of the Soggy Dollar Republic. None of us wanted to leave – and it was actually kind of sad pulling away from White Bay— but we realised the importance of our mission, and had to move on.

Probably the most famous bar in BVI is named after its singing owner —Foxy’s. The original Foxy’s Tamarind Bar is also on Jost Van Dyke, in Great Harbour. This place supposedly started out the size of a lemonade stand and was supposed to be open for only one day! Owner Foxy Callwood limes amongst his customers, and loves to meet everyone and will even break into a spontaneous calypso about you, if the moment feels right. The atmosphere is infectious; everybody is here for a good time. There are T-shirts and flags hanging about, left from past patrons hoping to always be a part of that exuberance. Painkillers abound, of course, but there are also the signature drinks Sly Fox and Dread Fox, made from Foxy’s own rum—or you can choose from Foxy’s draft beers, made from his very own microbrewery! Foxy’s also boasts one of the most outstanding New Year’s Eve parties in the world. (I’ve already booked my tickets.)

After four days of partying, we decided to do like the Great Man Above and take a day off to rest. We decided to spend a whole day at Sandy Cay. This is exactly what one imagines in a desert island. Located to the east of Little Jost Van Dyke, this is literally a strip of sand in the middle of the sapphire deep. We pulled up the dinghy, unpacked the cooler and stretched out. We were not straying too far from course, as we had created our own little bar right there. We christened the beach Destiny’s Escape; please feel free to make it your own.

On our way to Soper’s Hole we decided to make a quick stop in Norman’s Island for some snorkelling. This is the reputed locale of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island—and we managed to find our very own pirate’s booty. There, in the middle of the bay is anchored a pirate ship! Our curiosity aroused, we decided to go check it out. As we approached the red and white striped vessel, we were greeted by music blaring from the speakers as a naked body jumped off the top deck! Yes, this place is hedonistic for sure—a floating Babylon, complete with restaurant and bar. Willie T’s is famous for its T-shirts that read, “I jumped naked at Willie T’s!” After talking to the (very cute) bartender we gathered that the margaritas are the house drink and are so strong that they get people doing, ahem, interesting things. A look through the in-house photo album defined interesting for me in more ways than one. But don’t think that you have to be a young ‘un to jump. I witnessed eight jumps—five by people who collect social security. I had about six margaritas myself but alas, I never earned a shirt.

We pulled into Soper’s Hole at twilight and were immediately charmed by the pink, turquoise and lime green port. This is what I imagine Disney in the Caribbean would look like. We enjoyed a very satisfying dinner of lobster at the Pussers restaurant and hit our bunks. The next morning we explored the gourmet grocery store and found fresh croissants, pain au chocolate and imported cheeses and meats—the perfect send off as we prepared to sail back to Beef Island to catch our flight the next day.

Our journey was coming to an end, and even though we were poignant about it, I don’t think our livers were. As the sun set on our last night, we toasted with ice cold champagne. We had made it through. But there is one more bar that you shouldn’t miss—the coffee bar in the airport. Good conversation, Internet access and the only AC in the airport makes this place very popular. And if you haven’t had enough yet, there is even a Painkiller on the menu.

PS: If you’re wondering about who really came up with the recipe for Painkiller, research has proved that the inventor was Daphne Henderson of Soggy Dollar, but it was re-invented by Charles Tobias at Pussers Rum. The great thing is you can decide for yourself which one is better—and I suggest major experimentation.M

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