Rest and relaxation is the order of the day on the Caribbean island of Antigua, so slip on your sandals and call in the cocktails at the island’s best beachside bars and restaurants. Words by Peter Thompson.
It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’ bubbly mixologist David declares, before working his magic at the bar.
I’m not sure if he’s referring to Prince Harry, who visited Antigua – the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands – last year, or Daniel Radcliffe who’s sat at these very bar stalls and sipped David’s superb cocktails. Both VIPs were commended by locals for their down-to-earth friendliness.
It seems this blissful Caribbean island, brings out the best in it’s rich and famous visitors. Feeling comfortable in these stunning surroundings, A-list celebrities flock to soak up year-round sun and enjoy magnificent hospitality.
But with so many restaurants, bars and beach shacks to choose from, even regular visitors need some helpful guidance.
Jacqui O’s, in St Mary’s Parish, is among a plethora of watering holes and restaurants on a Beach Bar Trail launched by the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority. I’m visiting to road-test their selection, which includes 31 venues across Antigua and sister island Barbuda, a short 90-minute ferry journey away.
I’m focussing my attention on Antigua. With so many bars scattered around the 108 square-mile island, it is a trail to tackle in stages – although many are within walking distance. I’ve selected six of the best…
Jacqui O’s Beach House, Crab Hill Beach
A toe-dipping distance from the turquoise sea, beneath the shade of swaying palm trees, Jackie O’s is quintessential beach bar material. Serving cocktails and French-inspired cuisine, it’s much more than a seaside shack. Over the years, it’s been rebuilt several times, but is still a firm favourite with returning visitors to the island. Sit in dreamy, shaded cabanas by the shore, where waiter service is provided, or grab a high stool at the bar and sample one of the many excellent cocktails on offer.
Secret tip: If arriving by yacht, anchor just off the beach.
When to go: Sunset pre-dinner drinks
Dennis Cocktail Bar and Restaurant, Ffryes Beach
Two of Antigua’s top beaches – Ffryes and Jolly Beach – are within easy reach of this friendly hilltop restaurant, with views sweeping down to the sea. Owner Dennis learned how to cook from his mum and serves Eva’s Breakfast in her honour. Jerk chicken and seafood are specialities on the menu and the goat curry attracts diners in the know from across Antigua. Arrive early to secure a dinner table. On Mondays, there are special roast suckling pig and wine nights.
Secret tip: Fans of spicy food will love the jerk pork.
When to go: Lunchtime, to make the most of the view
Sheer Rocks, Ffryes Beach
Part of the Cocobay Resort, this cliff-edge bar is perfectly positioned to watch the sun dip into the sea. During the day, white linen drapes flutter above wooden trellises, as sophisticated diners share tapas on carefully laid tables. Afterwards, visitors can sleep off their long lunch by curling up on one of the daybeds. By night, the rocks below are floodlit, forming a romantic spot for couples. Ask the experimental barman to conjure up one of his rum-based cocktails.
Secret tip: Bring your bathing suit to make use of the plunge pool.
When to go: Lunch, for superb tapas and wine
Trappas Restaurant & Bar, English Harbour
Although by no means a budget option, the prices here are very competitive, offering some of the best value on the island. The English Harbour location means it does attract a yachting crowd -although the prices and quality of food and drink bring in the locals. Service is speedy (unusual for the Caribbean) and alcoholic serving measures are generous (not so unusual). Alongside cocktails and beer, a good wine list is available.
Secret tip: Arrive early to grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables.
When to go: Any evening. It’s open every day of the year (except New Year’s Eve).
Beachlimerz, Fort James Beach
This small, friendly, family-owned bar with wooden tables and copper light fittings is dripping in rustic charm. From 1pm onwards, people arrive for the tasty jambalaya lunch special. Afterwards, they digest by sitting on the rocks and admiring the beautiful northwest coastline. Most people come here to chill out, or lime, as it’s known. Beach clothes are fine by day, but trainers are not allowed at night. Bizarrely, hair curlers are also banned!
Secret tip: Being only a 10-minute drive from St John’s ship dock, it’s a popular place for cruise ship passengers, so it might be worth checking what time the ships come in if you want a quiet drink!
When to go: Late afternoon to relax and laze.
Boom, Nelson’s Dockyard
The poolside bar of The Admiral’s Inn hotel is a smart place to wine and dine. It’s a short distance cross the water from the main hotel, although a free shuttle service is available. Set in from of Gunpowder House, it’s perfectly positioned for a post-historic sightseeing drink. Swing on hammocks or splash in the pool, while the barman prepares an Antiguan Hemmingway – a rum and gin-based cocktail.
Secret tip: Make this your jump off point for the famous Shirley Heights parties, held at the nearby lookout point.
When to go: Head for lunch and hang out for the afternoon.