A fresh boatload of imbibers nears the Pelican Bar

Jamaica: A tree-house bar in the middle of the sea

  • Feb. 9, 2011 7:00 a.m.

Peter Neville-Hadley

Meridian Writers’ Group

Treasure Beach, Jamaica – Treasure Beach, on Jamaica’s southwest coast, has a row of small, quiet hotels rimming a bay shared with local fishermen. At the shoreline they sell their catch from cool boxes, and fork-tailed frigate birds with narrow wings and long, pointed beaks hang almost stationary above them on the breeze. But the fishermen also do business offering a taxi service out to an extraordinary watering hole perched on stilts over a submerged sandbar.

It’s a 30-minute ride out to the Pelican Bar in an outboard-driven fishing boat at speed over a half-kilometre of sea seemingly more potholed than the country’s roads, and the trip is a thrill in itself. While holding on tightly as the prow slams into yet another wave there’s the always prospect of a calming drink at the end of the ride.

The Pelican Bar itself is an idealized tree house, a hut assembled mostly from mangrove wood, with sides a grid work of woven sticks, and a complex jumble of branches to hold up a shaggy grass roof. It looks at once sturdy and fragile. The original was put up in 2001 and lasted until it was blown down by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. By then it had become an established attraction and was quickly rebuilt.

A rickety stepladder of branches leads up to the uneven plank floor supported by a small forest of spindly poles driven into the sandbar below. Despite a small wind turbine on the roof to provide power for the beer fridge behind the small screened-in bar in the corner, the structure is the last word in rustic, also sporting furniture of rough-hewn wood.

Where other pubs have a cat or a dog, the Pelican Bar has pet rays, prowling in the bar’s shadow waters, close enough to touch. The occasional prettily mottled crab scuttles sideways across the floor.

Owner Floyd Forbes, the fisherman who built the Pelican after having dreamt of it one night, can be found lounging at one end of a small jetty, too relaxed to say very much. If he’s not here when you arrive, his phone number is on a wooden sign over the bar. Call him and he’ll show up, or just as likely he’ll tell you where the key to the bar is, so you can help yourself. But usually a cold Red Stripe beer or rum punch is quickly produced by a barman.

Surprisingly, the bar is busiest in the morning, with a mixture of pre-lunch, post-fishing drinkers, and people bathing from the steps or jetty. But a trip out at sunset is recommended for the drama of the changing light and a chance to sit, cold beer in hand, and watch pelicans repeatedly lumbering ponderously into the air like over-laden cargo aircraft, only to plummet steeply, with wings swept back, and beak first to skewer fish.

And after a few beers or glasses of Jamaican rum, the ride back under moonlight and past a shoreline now twinkling with lights merely seems to add to the reasons to return the next evening.

Explore More:

For information on travel in Jamaica visit the Jamaica Tourist Board’s website at www.visitjamaica.com.

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