Barbados is a island of immense natural beauty, sugar cane fields and rum shops (and two zonkeys, where the mother is a zebra and the father is a donkey, but that’s neither here nor there).
While you might have a tough time locating a Starbucks in Barbados, you’ll have no trouble finding a rum shop. Generally, if you walk along the coast line, you’ll run into one, as many are set up seaside for that fabulous ocean view. Additionally, you may notice your closest dining establishment is a “restaurant and rum shop,” the nearby salon is a “hairdresser and rum shop” and the local mortician’s place is a “funeral parlor and rum shop.” It’s like that in Barbados.
Barbados has about 12,000 rum shops and 12,000 churches. “When someone dies, you’ll see people in one or the other,” joked my guide. I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of rum shops on my recent trip to Barbados, and the experience is a worth a try — don’t let your hotel tell you their bar is a “rum shop;” go to a real one where you’ll see, and get a chance to talk to, real Barbadians.
%Gallery-90859%Rum shop culture is similar to that of pubs in small towns in Britain; but there’s that hot-weather-lack-of-furnishings effect. While the chairs and tables or stools are simple and not necessarily the most comfortable, people park themselves there and sit all day. Why not? Moving around just makes you hot.
In the rum shops, I saw neighbors fight, children playing and the kind of camaraderie you find in drinking establishments anywhere. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, order an Old Brigand or ESAF, both popular rums. If food is served, ask for flying fish (really!) and macaroni pie (to die for), and a side of rice and peas (made with pigeon peas, which are actually more like beans … whatever). It’s easy to strike up a conversation, as people from Barbados are notably polite; they’ll probably humor you, whether they’re interested in what you have to say or not.
Lastly, don’t get hammered. That’s not what rum shops are about. The Bajans love their rum, but they’re not drunks. Drink on island time and get a slow, comfortable buzz — enough to appreciate the funeral parlor calendars and rump-centric advertisements on the walls (see gallery), but not enough to make you a pest.
My trip to Barbados was sponsored by Tommy Bahama Rum, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.