Keep your head down - Sunset Beach Bar, St. Maarten. Photo by Jan Hein
Photo by Jan Hein

A beach and a bar form a perfect union. Working together, they create a venue where thirsty clients can heat up and cool down while enjoying a watery view. However, they’re not created equal – these bars on the beach – which accounts for a range of character spanning from fancy to funk. Size doesn’t seem to matter but the quality of seating bears a lot of weight. Refined touches like table cloths, proper menus or uniformed staff are unnecessary accouterments because really, it’s all about location.

My favorites are little more than a shack on the sand; colorful, floorless structures sheltering customers while they knock back a cold one and catch some culture. Every island has a few; just follow the signs to the beach. Some are here today, gone tomorrow, blown away by Mother Nature or the wrath of economic winds. Those that stand the test of time become legendary. A few in the Caribbean rank high on world-class lists of must-see-and-do places.

I’m thankful for the ones I bump into when I row my boat ashore, like Elvis’ Beach Bar in Anguilla. The bar itself is a boat with decked sides, providing space where drinks are delivered and devoured. There really is an Elvis and he’s usually ‘in the house’, along with an array of locals, yachties, and high-end hotel guests. The cable guy hangs out there and the fishermen pop in; all hoping for the return of Paris Hilton.

Elvis’ bar was built by Bullet, an Anguillian builder who has transformed several of the island’s old race boats into beverage serving counters. The Elvis hull came from a burnt out Class C vessel called Main Event. Elvis’ owner, Brett Fetterolf, jokes, “It’s one of the few local boats that makes money.”

Keep your head down – Sunset Beach Bar, St. Maarten. Photo by Jan Hein

How you get to a beach bar will color which one you like the most. Cruise ship passengers delight in the first sandy establishment encountered off the ship. It’s an even bigger thrill when they find one at the end of a lengthy taxi ride. Saint Martin’s Orient Bay holds a village of beach bars with lounge chairs spilling to the sea, all featuring dangerously low priced drinks. On the other side of the island, The Sunset Beach Bar sits at the end of a major runway providing ringside seating for a show of jumbo jets attempting to clear the bar and runway fence.

Since the BVI is a hub for charter boats, it’s no wonder that the archipelago holds a treasure trove of beach bars. Tiny Jost Van Dyke has over a dozen sandy establishments, a staggering amount for a lightly populated island of three square miles. Deciding which one to visit is usually determined by proximity. If your boat sails into Great Harbour, it’ll be Foxy’s for sure. Relocate to White Bay and it’s an easy swim to The Soggy Dollar, which, according to the sign over the bar, is the Best Beach Bar in the Caribbean. (All At Sea readers voted it so in 2005 but you’ll figure it out after one of their signature Painkillers.)

Soggy Dollar Bar – Jost Van Dyke. Photo by Jan Hein
A look inside Ivan’s Stress Free Bar – Jost Van Dyke. Photo by Jan Hein

Down the beach is the laid back, shell adorned, Stress Free Bar, owned and operated by Ivan Chinnery. On my first visit, I was minding my own business, watching the stress-free customers and studying the overlapping posters when Ivan asked, “You know Kenny Chesney?”

“Not personally,” I replied.

Ivan announced, “He come here and make a video for his CD, No Shirts, No Shoes, NO Problems. Right here.” He pointed to a photo of the two of them, arm in arm.

I couldn’t imagine since the place is so small so I prodded, “Was it crazy? Lots of people?”

“No, no problem. Dey just come. Everybody have fon.” he clarified. How could they not, I wondered, in a bar that has an honors system. Customers serve themselves, placing money in a can. If help is needed, some might show up.

He definitely has not left the building – Elvis’ Beach Bar, Anguilla. Photo by Jan Hein
Photo by Jan Hein

One popular watering hole for cruising sailors is Roger’s Barefoot Beach Bar, located on Hog Island off the south coast of Grenada. It’s a no-frills place that began as a lean-to, sheltering owner/operator Roger and his coolers of beer. It’s had several renovations, instigated when storms blew bits away. There’s no power on Hog Island, no facilities, either, but no worries, that’s how it’s been for over 20 years and chances are, it isn’t going to change much.

When it comes to ordering, forego the blender and name-brand booze; loosen up and go local. There’s nothing better than sampling a beer or rum concoction made with island pride and homegrown ingredients. If you want to live dangerously and try something with more frills, most beach bars serve a specialty drink you’ll long remember either for the name or the punch it delivers. But if you do, proceed with caution.


Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end: