“We raise our sails in Tortola,
Drop a hook in Jost van Dyke.
Kill our Pain at Soggy Dollar,
Foxy’s and the Paradise…”
– Singer Eric Stone
British Virgin Islands Bars, nightlife
By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com Nightlife Blogger
There is a place that makes the mind wander, the soul shift and the spirits soar.
Where rum flows into drinks like the Painkiller and Bushwhacker at places like the Jolly Roger and Soggy Dollar Bar.
It is the British Virgin Islands or “the BVIs,” as veterans know them, and they know them as well as a clove hitch. There’s a list of bars in the BVIs on any sailor’s nautical chart, as this is where they mark their course on island time.
They include the Soggy Dollar, Foxy’s, Willie T’s and, if there’s a full moon in the sky, the legendary Bomba’s Shack.
It’s an ideal”pinch yourself” lifestyle. Cruise up to a location, “drop a hook” as Eric Stone sings and enjoy a day or night in paradise. Aqua blue water crawls up to soft, sunglasses-needed white beaches where small shacks await with ample island treats. At night, bands playing island music make for the perfect Caribbean experience.
Every bar has outstanding rum and pours it freely. A standard “rum punch” is $5 at most places.
But there IS a catch. It takes a boat to get from one spot to another. A live-aboard sailboat is ideal, for one can simply pick up a mooring ball in the harbor and dingy to the shorefront bar.
The ferry system, while good, is limited to Tortola and Virgin Gorda and does not hit all the spots, though “hotel hopping” is indeed possible from island to island. Water taxis and even occasional party boat trips are available, too.
Also, many of these places are open only during the main tourist season, which runs from late October thru May, with the peak being November thru March.
The bars of the BVI take American currency and while mosquitos are often prevalent and persistent, they seem to ignore the folks who have consumed the most rum in search of less fumigated victims.
The Bars of the BVI – Jost Van Dyke
Two of the BVI’s legendary landing spots are located on Jost Van Dyke.
One is the aptly-named Soggy Dollar Bar, where people pretty much have to swim to the place.
There are no moorings and anchorages can be challenging. While dingys can pull up to the super-white beach, most BVI’ers prefer to jump off the stern and swim to shore. A clothesline with closepins sits behind the tiny bar to dry out the soggy dollars.
The bar itself is a slice of life’s paradise. It’s cut back into the trees from the beach and should be in Webster’s next to the word “relaxation.”
Unless one happens upon the place during one of its wild winter days or during the annual airline industry’s Interline Regatta in October. Then it can turn just plane (pun intended) silly.
The Soggy Dollar bar created the painkiller, the rum-heavy drink made of cream of coconut, pineapple and orange junice, topped by freshly ground nutmeg (which, locals say, is an aphrodisiac, but only when freshly ground). This is the drink featured throughout the islands on every bar on every beach.
The bar’s big attraction – other than the painkillers – is the sand and the view, plus the people whose dollars are drying out on the clothesline. A tiny gift shop does a brisk business and some play the ring hook game against the tree. Sometimes, a local musician drops by with a gift of island tunes.
Soggy’s does not sit alone on White Bay. Just down the beach, Gertrude’s is said to have created another island specialty, the bushwacker. This one is comprised of dark run, Kahlua, cream of coconut, dark creme de cacao and milk, blended together as a dark and frozen concoction. Gertrude, moving at your typical Caribbean pace, may be chatting on the phone for a while before she acknowleges the occasional patron; at some point, she waves her hand and her teenage son starts pouring ingredients into the blender.
Eventually, Gertrude puts down the phone, looks in the blender, shakes her head and dumps half a rum bottle into the mix. If you didn’t know you are in the Caribbean before visiting Gertrude’s, you do now.
For those who get too bushwhacked or need to have more pain killed, there are accommodations at The Sandcastle. There is food available for lunch and dinner at the Soggy Dollar and the other small shacks on the beach.
Around the corner from all this lounging is Foxy’s. Those seeking more lively activity should pull up anchor and head there, especially if it’s New Year’s Eve. That’s when Foxy’s reaches its peak.
Often Eric Stone plays and thousands come to enjoy it. Skippers arrive two days in advance just to get a mooring spot and the chase for the undistinguishable dingy afterward is quite the scene (tip: bring a dingy key).
Foxy’s also has a Halloween party, a music festial in March and a wooden boat regatta in May.
Then again, who needs a special event to enjoy this place?
The Bars of the BVI – Norman/Treasure Island
Willie T’s is an anchored old pirate ship in a fantasyland known better as Treasure Island than it’s real location, Norman Island.
At Willie T’s, people who have been inspired by painkillers and other rum drinks climb to the top deck and jump off the stern into the sea. Naked. (By the way, a swim ladder on the dingy dock would be a nice addition.)
Officially known as the William Thornton, it peaks at Happy Hour; go at night and the diners in the front half of the ship are entertained by the nude people coming back to the bar. Be sure and ask the bartender for the “family album.”
It’s a perfect spot to go after snorkeling The Caves, one of the BVI’s aquatic highlights.
The Bars of the BVI – Virgin Gorda
What is most beautiful place in the BVIs? Many feel it’s The Baths. There’s a gorgeous beach with huge boulders at the sea. Climb through them and wade through the ankle-deep water and it’s a Caribbean version of the Turkish baths.
This up-and-down and around trail emerges at the incredibly gorgeous Devil’s Bay, where the water is so clear seeing the angelfish does not even require a mask.
Moorings are a decent distance from the beach and dingys are not allowed to pull up to the beach. Instead, a few dingy moorings serve the need.
This way, people get to wade onto the beach where the sand is so soft feet sink into it upon contact. Cold beverages await a few steps away at the Poor Man’s Bar, which is nothing more than a covered deck and plywood counter. But as we said, the beer is cold.
Sailboats sit in the disance in the Baths, BVIs.
A steel drum band and phone to the beach would make this the “tops” in our mind.
And it’s needed for the journey; In fact, grab a roadie or two if you plan to take the long route to the summit. The ultimate destination is the Top of the Baths, a bar and restaurant above it all. There are two trails, the super-scenic one through the baths or a more direct one that bypasses the rocks. Tip: Take the baths route to the bar and the quicker way back to the sea.
The reward is a nice, relaxing spot with food and drink. There’s even a small pool by the cliff with a spectacular view. Be prepared to spend some time here. The service is slow even by Caribbean standards.
PubClub has two suggestions for the Top of the Baths: 1.) Put in a phone by the Poor Man’s Bar to pre-order the first round of cocktails. 2.) Have a steel drum band playing to help people find the bar. Upon emerging from Devil’s Bay, the long route winds through a cactus field – yes, a cactus field – and there’s no bar in sight.
It would be much easier to simply follow steel drum sounds to what by now is a highly-anticipated painkiller, rum rummer or bushwhacker.
A close second for Most Beautiful Place in the BVIs is a short sail to another part of Virgin Gorda. The Bitter End Yacht Club combines a gorgeous shore in a lush, tropical-style paradise. The approach is greeted with white roofs standing out from thick trees in the hills. Many a skipper and crew have been known to comment, “I could live there” upon it coming into view.
But the real treat of the Bitter End is that is has a dock. No more mooring balls or dingy trips! It’s such a treat to step off the boat and right into the British Emporium Pub.
The rum punch is bit pricy- everthing at this resort seems to be about 10% higher than the other islands – but may be the best anywhere. The 16-ounce cup is more generous than the standard 12-ouncers, so the $9 price tag does not seem to sting after a couple of rounds. Neither does much else, for that matter.
Upon sitting down at the patio and having one of those rum drinks, it is indeed tempting to stay there all day and night. But that would mean missing a great meal and experience at Saba Rock, a mini-resort all its own. Be sure and check out the huge tarpin swimming through the lights at the edge of the restaurant’s patio. A free ferry makes regular runs all day and night and the post-dinner call is to be back at the Emporium.
The Bars of the BVI – Tortola
Bomba’s! That’s Bomba’s Shack, famous for its full moon parties and mushroom tea, .It’s at Cappoons Bay next to Apple’s Bay.
Built in 1976, Bomba began holding full-moon parties in 1989. Seems his wife would go off to party every night and in order to keep her at home, he made his own bar.
It’s straight out of “beach paradise” –made of driftwood and whatever else happened to float ashore – so the unique concept fits its unique culture. Bomba brings in live music and women are encouraged (by the mushroom tea and peer pressure) to leave their underwear, ahem, behind.
Bubba himself them hangs them from the ceiling. It’s not an everyday place, but the place to be for the full moon parties.
The natural lauching point for an adventure on the usually calm seas of the British Virgin Islands is Tortola. Just the name brings to mind images of old pirates and their pleasures.
Tortola is the largest of the BVIs and has an airport with planes coming in from San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Croix. It has a main port but also several landing spots for sail and motor boats, each with its own unique personality. And bar.
It doesn’t take long to find the first one – it’s right behind the airport. The Last Resort in Bellamy Cay is a small island adjacent to a big and popular mooring bay. It has a nice restaurant, a stage, an obviously outstanding viewing area of landing planes and an excelllent British bartender who is a real estate agent by day. Be careful of the large and shallow reef; even dingys get scuttled here.
Yet for most, the BVI journey begins in Road Town. It’s a place of celebration, for British slavery was abolished here in 1834. Tourists are now slaves to the British in another way – the British Navy’s Pusser’s Rum. And the place to have it is at Pusser’s Road Town Pub, of course.
Pusser’s Pub is just as one might envisoin a British pub to be in the BVIs. That is to say small and cozy, made up of wood walls and floors with interesting decor throughout. Like the mermaid bow bust and old photos on the old walls. It also has a variety of rum drinks with numbers denoting the potency of the mixes, not the size of the glass. There’s food ranging from roti to jerk chicken but most popel opt for the pizza ($12-15). Pusser’s is located across from the ferry dock.
For the most part, Road Town is pretty rustic. It has its hidden gems, though; for specifics, refer to PubClub’s guide to Road Town.
The Jolly Roger used to be the first thing to greet sailors upon entering Soper’s Hole but it is now closed. Hey, happens down here in the Caribbean.
Soper’s Hole does have a very nice Pusser’s Landing pub and a few upscale tourist shops. Mooring spots here are limited, so grab one early in the high season.
When women and water are in short supply and there’s not enough dope (or rum) for all to get by, there’s Cane Garden Bay. Made famous by one of the original Jimmy Buffett sailing tunes, Manana, it is a gorgeous harbor best approached just before sunset.
Myett’s Beach Bar and Restaurant is the destination.
Right off the heart of the beach, it’s a large garden-style bar with a stage to the right and rum drinks to the left. It’s large enough to explore and a has so much vegetation it almost looks like a Disneyland jungle cruise (except, of course, one has a rum drink in hand).There is a gift shop and ATM around the corner, though it may or may not work.
There’s no dingy dock so pull up on the sand. And yes, from Cane Garden Bay the lights of St. Thomas can be seen 20 miles to the West. You can indeed see General Electric still doing its best.
Hanging out on the East End of Tortola is Trellis Bay Beef Island. Watch out for the loose mongooses at de Loose Mongoose, a bar right on the beach with a tiny – and we mean tiny – shack of a bar.
For daytime adventurers it has a bookshelf pluck a selection to enjoy reading on the sand. The Mongoose is “painfully” close to The Last Resort.