I’m not sure if I should tell you about Floyd’s Pelican Bar. This is the great predicament travel writers often find themselves in when they discover something new – should I tell the rest of the world, or should I keep it for myself?
Well, I didn’t discover this spot. I guess it might even be touristy, but who knows. It felt “authentic,” whatever the heck authentic means. I hate that expression. Authentic travel! It’s my life. I’ll decide what’s authentic.
(I just looked it up on TripAdvisor. There are 150 reviews. Whatever, it’s still new to me.)
I don’t know when I heard first heard about Floyd’s Pelican Bar, but it’s located about a mile out from Treasure Beach in Negril, Jamaica. It’s an old rickety bar built with driftwood on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. Seriously. You take one look at it and you feel like you could blow the whole thing over with one breath.
My friends and I hired a guide named John Wayne to bring us there from our resort. Every day we’d see John Wayne outside the complex, waiting inside his van to greet people who were looking for private excursions. He was all business — suited up and professional. The morning he picked us up, however, he had changed into his comfortable attire of jeans, a t-shirt, a cap, and a gold chain around his neck. We loved him instantly.
Driving through Jamaica’s mountains was refreshing after already having spent over a week on an all-inclusive resort. It was also disorienting. One minute we were in the jungle and the next we were back on the ocean, with the sky and water fused together. We stopped at Prince’s, on the beach, and popped beers from the cooler while men tried to sell us seashells and happy lettuce (marijuana).
When we finally got to Black River, John Wayne parked the car and we tramped through backyards, scattering clucking chickens, until we reached the boat launch (aka a fisherman’s beach). The boat looked like it was held together with glue and magic, and none of us wore lifejackets, but it all worked out.
Floyd’s Pelican Bar is basically a museum. Once you get inside, the walls are covered in flags, ball caps, t-shirts, and other memorabilia left behind. You order drinks at a wooden table on stilts. For the most part, we had the place to ourselves, other than the workers who sat around playing dominoes and drinking beer.
They also serve up fresh fish caught from Black River, or lobster, both at decent prices. We placed our order early seeing as how it’s not like they have a real kitchen or anything, and then my group and I slipped into the ocean around Floyd’s along with the crabs and the stingrays and the fishies. I tried not to think too much about how Floyd’s didn’t have running water, or how one of the workers was gutting the fish right there in the front entrance. John Wayne watched us like a proud father. It was perfect.
(Tip: Haggle your beer prices. Everyone in my group kept getting charged different beer prices, and mine was always the most expensive. I didn’t realize this until later. I must look like a foreigner or something.)
Floyd’s Pelican Bar has become such a beloved establishment that when Hurricane Ivan destroyed it in 2004 and Floyd didn’t have insurance, other local businesses donated wood and assistance in rebuilding. Gotta love it.
As we were leaving, all the men were enchanted by a very intense game of dominos happening inside the bar.
“Look at these guys,” one of my friends said. “Not a care in the world.”
“Yes, but they don’t have what we have,” his partner added.
I don’t think they need it.
(Sorry for the craptacular photos — I was carrying a waterproof point-and-shoot.)