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MY BEACH BAR CRAWL IN ANTIGUA
Monday 30th October 2017

Article taken from The Sunday Times - Laura Whateley samples spiced rum cocktails and Red Stripe at the island’s coolest seaview watering holes.


The Sheer Rocks Restaurant is run by a British chef who used to work for Marco Pierre White

I am swinging in Silvio Berlusconi’s favourite hammock. Or at least I would guess it is, with its million-dollar view across the electric blue sea towards Montserrat on the horizon. Pavarotti is booming from the speakers — a nightly sunset ritual at Jacqui O’s — when the mixologist Zuki dispenses his big bottle of spiced rum, hand-infused with cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and dozens of mysterious, locally sourced roots. Zuki, real name David, from fellow Caribbean island St. Lucia, tells us he was a big friend of Amy Winehouse, a “sweet girl”, who, while recuperating in the sunshine, would buy lobster and steak for stray dogs on the beaches.

“It’s nice to be important,” he tells me with a wink, handing over a rainbow- coloured cocktail topped with a maraschino cherry and paper umbrella, “but it is more important to be nice.”

As the sun sinks, there often follows dancing on tables, says Lance, the pink shirt and chino shorts-wearing owner, who tells me that his regulars include the former Italian prime minister. There can be few more scenic, laid-back locations for a bunga-bunga party.


Jacqui O’s is a celebrity favourite

Everything is indeed beautiful in Antigua, which fortunately escaped the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma to its tiny neighbour, Barbuda. And, handily for its marketing department, there are 365 pretty damn amazing beaches, one, as the advert goes, for every day of the year, despite its diminutive size at 14 miles long and 11 miles wide.

On many of these there is at least one independently run beach bar, from shacks selling cheap but dangerously delicious dark ’n’ stormy cocktails to shabby-chic celebrity favourites such as Jacqui O’s, whose menu includes one of the world’s most expensive burgers at $60. It is made from foie gras and veal, and comes with truffle dipping sauce, but you are welcome to eat it wearing sandy flip-flops and a damp swimming costume, which, like a packet of ready-salted crisps after a swimming lesson, makes the fries taste even better.

By the time I get to Jacqui O’s I have already, over a couple of days and all in the name of research, taken it upon myself to support the local economy. I have had Red Stripe and jerk barbecue while dancing to a steel band on Sunday night at Shirley Heights, a former military lookout and gun battery, now bar, perched at the top of English Harbour, with one of the best sundowner views and parties on the island.

It’s not all booze, though. One of my favourite stops is Dennis’s, “a place where you can taste paradise”, on a headland down the road from Sheer Rocks, which does a fantastic goat curry and legendary bread pudding, although admittedly one that is drenched in rum.

I also learn a bit, between the swimming and sunbathing, about Antigua’s history. I don’t have to do any boring traipsing about to soak it up, however — I just go to Boom Bar, an extension of the hotel Admiral’s Inn across the water, reached on a little ferry, which has a series of swish rooms in the old 18th-century Gunpowder House. Last year this, the only working Georgian dockyard in the western hemisphere, was added to the Unesco world heritage list, with the reminder that its construction by the British navy “would not have been possible without the labour of generations of enslaved Africans since the end of the 18th century”. Its purpose was to protect sugarcane planters and keep an eye on the French in Guadeloupe.


The all-inclusive Curtain Bluff has two private beaches

At night I return to one of those all-inclusive resorts I mentioned, Curtain Bluff. Here I meet an English retired couple mourning the end of their two-week break, during which they barely moved from the palm-lined curve of the hotel’s two private beaches. They are tanned and relaxed, but I couldn’t help but think they had missed out on seeing some of what makes Antigua tick, not to mention some extremely tasty cocktails. Read more here.


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