Recently I was lucky to chance upon a watering hole that’s truly right in the water. You don’t belly up to this bar, you sail to it (you could also swim, though it would take longer). And while there’s no menu, an incredible meal can be had as well. On a trip to Jamaica’s tranquil and less traveled south west coast is the town of Treasure Beach. During the two and a half hour drive that winds south from Montego Bay’s airport, our driver, O’Neil, advised us to check out the Pelican Bar, merely saying it was in the middle of the water. Taking his advice a few mornings later, we arranged the visit through Jakes, our low key-high charm resort. We were merely told to walk down to the beach and meet our ride.
As promised, at the tiny beach we met our gregarious captain, Bernard (sporting a Boston Red Sox cap, but insisting, in case we were from NY, that the B stood for Bernard) and first mate, Zeb, sporting a “Mr. Nice Guy” T-shirt that I soon figured out was the uniform of the eponymously named boat that would take us to our destination. Bernard and Zeb helped us scramble over some rocks and wade through the shallow water to board the brightly painted Mr. Nice Guy.
We set out in a south-westerly direction and were lucky to have some dolphins for company for part of our route. After about 30 minutes of motoring, the Pelican Bar came into view. Situated about a half mile from shore, it is a wonder of carpentry and creativity. Balancing on a set of thin, almost insectile stilts was this round hut surrounded by nothing but water.
We docked the boat, swam up to the Bar and climbed its wobbly stairs. Inside was an empty bar and no furniture other than a table and wooden bench. The bar’s sole decoration was a plaque from of all people, the band Little Feat, acknowledging Floyd, the bar’s owner, for creating one of the coolest places to have a beer in the whole Caribbean. There were of course no windows, no doors, and no facilities But there was plenty of charm in hanging out in what’s best described as an aqua tree house. Outside in all directions was nothing but sparkling turquoise water, below, if you peeked through the floorboards, you’d catch glimpses of fish and stingrays. Above, the pelicans who perch on a nearby reef and give the bar its name, were circling overhead, angling for lunch. What’s true in Manhattan was true here: location, location, location!
As we were soaking in this Robinson Crusoe bar adventure, Floyd and his sous chef/first mate arrived in yet another colorful boat, toting a cooler full of beer and another full of provisions. As the cooking commenced, we jumped into the waters for a quick swim around the bar. Once back inside and within minutes of opening our first Red Stripes of the day, we could smell the zesty aroma of Caribbean spiny lobster tails cooking over charcoal. Soon enough we and our fearless crew were feasting on lobster in jerk sauce with steamed vegetables over coconut rice. Using little more than a bit of backyard barbecue equipment and, as we say in the restaurant industry, fresh and local ingredients, Floyd had cooked us the most memorable meal of our trip. Tipsy, stuffed and thrilled, we swam from bar to boat for the return trip, and with a smoky puff from the motor, the Mr. Nice Guy was off.