THE BEACH BAR EXPERIENCE
We know chartering in the BVI is all about sailing and sun, but no cruise would be complete without a visit to one or two of the islands’ iconic beach bars. Often no more than rough-hewn counters plunked down beneath a tin or thatch roof, these places are funky monuments to leisure, proud bastions of relaxation, and sandy strongholds of fun.
So if the sun’s over the yardarm, you realize you’re humming a Jimmy Buffett tune, and you just can’t get excited about a breezy beat to weather, it sounds like it’s a beach bar kind of day. Embrace it. Take your T-shirt-shorts-and-flip-flops-clad crew to the nearest hangout and swim and sip away the afternoon, try your hand at some bar games, or boogie into the wee hours.
Some beach bars spring up overnight, or seem to come and go like the tide, but if there were a BVI Beach Bar Hall of Fame, it would surely include a handful of legends that have been revered yachtie havens for decades.
Surely the granddaddy of all the beach bars is Foxy’s Tamarind Bar on Jost Van Dyke; and Philicianno Callwood (aka Foxy), is the granddaddy of all BVI bar owners. Back in 1966, Foxy set up a makeshift bar so members of the nearby Great Harbour Methodist church could have a place to celebrate the harvest, and he’s been hosting some of the best parties in the BVI ever since. Every night’s a good time here, and there are barbecue parties every Friday and Saturday with live local bands. Foxy’s annual Halloween bash and the December 30th-31st Old Year’s Night Party are hugeif you’re planning to go, arrive and anchor at least a day in advance or you’ll have trouble finding swinging room.
The photo is a screenshot of Foxy's webcam on his site - check it out).
Foxy is such an institution he’s even received an MBE from Queen Elizabeth for his long career in island hospitality. This barefoot, calypso-singing raconteur obviously hasn’t grown tired of his role (though there’s now an “epoxy Foxy” likeness to greet patrons when he decides to take a night off). Playing his guitar and singing mischievous ditties, he takes great pleasure in gently teasing his customers, but it’s all in good fun.
In addition to a full selection of fruity rum drinksSly Fox and Dread Fox are the house specialtiesFoxy also pours beers crafted in his own microbrewery. There’s a full restaurant, too, plus a large gift shop with local items as well as the obligatory Foxy’s T-shirts. You just may need one if you decide to shed an article of clothing to add to the array on the ceiling. The hodgepodge dangling overhead includes caps, burgees, license plates, business cards, and even underwear.
Also on Jost Van Dyke, White Bay Beach’s long stretch of pearly sand is home to The Soggy Dollar, so-named for the tradition of swimming ashore to the bar and arriving with a pocketful of soggy dollars. Conveniently, Mitch, the bartender, has a clothesline where he pegs up the money to dry it out. Regularly voted one of the world’s best beach bars, the Soggy Dollar is where that velvet hammer of a drink called the Painkiller was invented. The proportions of cream of coconut, dark rum, pineapple juice, and orange juice may be a secret, but you can watch Mitch line up a dozen or more plastic souvenir cups on the bar and pour a plenitude of Painkillers all at once. The main picture on their website is also a webcam, so the site can take a while to load.
The Soggy Dollar is an afternoon party place and a great spot to people watch (hint: the beach is also known as bikini beach). Another popular pastime is the simple but simply maddening ring and hook game. It looks so easy to swing the tethered ring so that it drops over a hook stuck in a nearby palm tree! Back in the days when there was no road to White Beach, this was purely a yachtie hideout. The road has brought a lot of landlubbers, but they certainly don’t deserve to wear one of the T shirts that say “Swim in. Drink Painkiller. Swim back. Repeat.”
In Cappoons Bay on Tortola, bar owner Bomba was into recycling long before it became fashionable. A former shipwright, he’s cobbled Bomba’s Surfside Shack together using driftwood, old telephone poles, broken surfboards, corrugated tin, and a huge jumble of flotsam and jetsam. Begun in 1976 and still a work in progress, it’s a structure that would make any dedicated packrat/beachcomber proud.
Graffiti covers every wall, with messages such as “Free T-shirts if you get naked for Bomba” and “Give Bomba your panties and be blessed” encouraging patrons to cast off their inhibitions as well as their clothes. The assortment of ladies’ panties and bras adorning the ceiling attests to the success rate. This is definitely a party hearty place. The biggest draw is the monthly Full Moon Party, when crowds sometimes numbering nearly 1000 fill the street and drink and dance the night away. Bomba’s is also known for the mushroom tea which, in addition to having a good slug of rum, is said to contain local mushrooms, but the jury remains out regarding their potency.
Strictly speaking, The Willie T, at Norman Island, isn’t a beach bar at all. Instead, it’s a floating bar/restaurant that really rocks, at least in the figurative sense. Anchored just offshore in the Bight, this 100-foot steel schooner was named for William Thornton, a Scotts-born architect who designed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. No doubt he never dreamed he’d be immortalized by the BVI’s nexus of naughtiness.
When you tie up to The Willie T’s floating dinghy dock and climb aboard, be prepared for anything. Things are usually somewhat under control during the day, but as the rum flows and the afternoon turns to evening, it gets livelier and livelier. Bare feet and bikinisor less seem to be the no-dress code. It used to be you’d receive a free T shirt if you jumped off the upper aft deck sans clothing. After a woman nearly drowned a few years ago, the management tried to put a stop to it, erecting a barrier and a No Jumping sign. But traditions are strong, and the practice continues even without the T shirt reward.
The best thing about the BVI beach bar experience is there’s one for just about everyone. If you’re up for a hot time, Willie T’s and other crazy, raucous places are ready to oblige. If you prefer to chill with a drink in a hammock slung between two palms, there are plenty of little beachside shacks made for doing just that. Take a look at our personal guide, and ask around for local knowledge. You’re sure to find what you’re looking for on the legendary beaches of the BVI.
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