The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

January 26, 2010

The Lookout Bar

You won’t find a sign pointing the way to The Lookout Bar or, for that matter, any sign on the building itself. This is purely a local, patronized only by those who already know it’s there: neighbours, relatives, and friends of the owner, Charlene. She’s the sister of our fisherman friend Stevie, and her little bar sits next to the family home, high up the (don’t you love the name?) Welcome Road in Woburn, Grenada.

If you pass by when it’s closed, you’d think it was abandoned – its windows boarded up, a few home-made stools and  tables strewn haphazardly outside. But in the evening, those window boards lift up and hook to the rafters, revealing a bar with a fridge, cooler, and stove in a space the size of a walk-in closet. Ask for a cold Carib or a non-alcoholic Malta and perch on one of the

The Welcome Road
The Welcome Road, Woburn in Grenada:
Charlene takes care of Blossom while dispensing Carib,
Malta and fried chicken at the Lookout Bar
wooden stools looking out on a stupendous view: from Woburn Bay to the anchorage off Hog Island, to the open ocean beyond, all the reefs plainly visible, with the waves breaking over them. On my first visit to the bar, I finally realized why Stevie always knows our comings and goings – he has a perfect view of Receta at anchor– and why he can give us an accurate report on the sea state even when he hasn’t yet been out to sea that day. The Lookout Bar has been thusly named for good reason.

When the sun drops behind the hill, the bar becomes a little pool of light and laughter in the darkness, as other patrons gather and the smell of frying chicken kicks in. One Friday, while I was still in Toronto and Charlene knew Steve was arriving with a couple other friends, she made something special: a stew from seacat, octopus, which Stevie had brought in from his day at sea with his partner, Dwight. But tonight, another family member serves wings and beer while Blossom, Charlene’s four-month-old daughter, naps on her shoulder.

Stevie and the view over Clarkes Court (Woburn) Bay
and Hog Island
Many small island bars, or “rum shops,” as they’re called, double as convenience stores, with a few provisions sharing shelf space with the rum: some tins of corned beef perhaps, and bottles of cooking oil, and maybe a flat of eggs on the counter. But regardless of how much or little they sell (Charlene sticks to drinks and a bit of accompanying food), they all must legally bear a sign inside or out, with some version of the following: “[owner’s name] is licensed to sell spirituous liquors.” The variations we’ve spotted include “licensed to sell spiritual liquors” and “licensed to sell intoxicated liquors.” (An intoxicated liquor bottle sounds like trouble to me.)

I used to think these little island rum shops were closed circles. Walking in, I felt like an uninvited guest intruding on a private party. But if you screw up the courage to do it once, I discovered, then you’re no longer a stranger. You may even be considered a regular, in fact.

I learned this when we stumbled into Bill Paterson’s rum shop in Hillsborough, the main town on Carriacou, Grenada’s sister island, which has only one gas station to serve its 5,000 residents – but at least 100 rum shops. Bill is also a justice of the peace, and he’s often found working two phones and conducting business in the rum shop’s mostly open-air back room overlooking the sea, which makes it even more disconcerting for a stranger to wander in and take a seat. But Bill introduced himself on our first visit, remembered us on our second, and bought us a drink on our third. “You are friends and good customers,” he said, waving away our protest. When we reciprocated and bought him a drink on a subsequent visit, he had to excuse himself from our table midway through and move (carrying his beer) to the large central table that serves as his “office.” An island miscreant had arrived accompanied by his bail-bearing mother and a uniformed police officer, and Bill had to slip into his JP role and sign the bail papers.

Business quickly dispensed with, he rejoined us at our table, and the conversation picked up right where it had left off.

Bill Paterson Rum Shop
Big welcome, main street, Hillsborough, Carriacou: Bill Paterson takes care of business while dispensing Jack Iron rum, wisdom and local history

Even when it’s not on the Welcome Road, a rum shop can be welcoming.

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