When you’re checking out a Caribbean bar and wondering if it’s worth stopping by, here’s a hint: If a liquor-fuelled conga line snakes out the door, shakes down the patio, curls into the street and slithers back inside again, stick around.
I am in such a place, Lexy Piano Bar in Holetown (not named for the sheer abundance of watering holes but for a nearby inlet) on the west side of Barbados.
From the looks and sounds of things, this is one of the hottest spots on First and Second Avenues, a small, horseshoe configuration of streets thick with bars. You want to pub crawl on Barbados, this is where you do it.
A couple of friends and I start out at Lexy’s at the end of Second Avenue, a dark place that throbs with incredible piano this night under the talented, ivory-tickling fingers of consummate showman Frankie Golden, billed as the “Original play one, drink one piano player.” From the looks of it, more like play one, drink many.
Golden plays internationally, including the Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City, Florida and throughout Europe. The guy’s prowess shows, both in his playing the piano and playing the crowd.
As he belted out old tunes, new ones and everything in between, the crowd really loved him. The conga line doesn't lie!
It’s not a massive place; few bars in Barbados are. Music and people fill the space, a bar to one side and seating on another, a small dance floor in the middle.
We sit inside for awhile but can’t hear ourselves think, so we sit on the small outside patio for reasonably quiet conversation and some terrific drinks before heading out to see what else there is to see.
Turns out there is plenty more to see, in an area home to a good dozen or so bars. On this Friday night, things are pretty jammed up.
That’s a weird part of the scene here; Friday nights rock, Saturdays snooze, for reasons I still can’t figure out. But if you want wild and crazy, go Friday.
You want to lay low and casual, Saturday nights are for you, but be forewarned, the bars close earlier than usual.
But no matter what night you go, there’s a string of cabs up and down the street waiting to take you home.
Find Your Oasis
Oasis is up next, around the corner from Lexy’s.
It's another dark, well-lubed joint with a chipped black bar, upholstered stools, palm trees growing on the inside up past the vaulted canvas ceiling, dirt fringe around the inside walls and a small, elevated dance floor—with a pole if you’re so inclined to use it.
Communal couch seating abounds, the feel of the place decidedly Middle Eastern, which is what they’re going for, helped by a couple of hookahs on the shelf behind the bar.
It’s a terrific place, and we stand at the bar, me sipping Mount Gay rum, my friends Seth and his wife, Manu, with beers, and revel in the blisteringly loud DJ-spun music, taking in the ambience, a neat mix of locals and tourists.
Dimly lit, the bar has a perfectly lovely grunge feel, where people gather outside on the broken sidewalk to smoke, in observance of the no-smoking-inside law, but it just wafts in through the building’s heavy iron grates anyway.
Barbados' Many Bars
So little time, so many bars, and they include another hotspot, The Mews, a restaurant with a pretty eclectic continental menu and where after hours, the cozy bar heats up the night.
Ditto for Spago, known for its Italian food and entertainment, with live shows throughout the week.
We walk by a place apparently inspired by Bob Marley, the One Love Bar, a bright blue-and-white-yellow painted affair where people gather inside and out.
No idea if she’s really miffed, but nearby is Angry Annie’s, another popular spot fabled for its ribs, according to a sign outside.
Inside the Coco Bongo
I’m 57 years old, my companions in their 30s, but I outlast them, amazingly enough.
They hail a cab and I wander over to what I believe is my favorite Holetown spot, and one of the newest here, the Coco Bongo.
It was opened November 2010 by Jim Dunne, a British contractor who saw the place and thought, "Why not?"
The bar's moniker comes from the watering hole in Jim Carrey’s mugging masterpiece, The Mask, and it is lovely, with red-slate and green-trimmed bar, colorful walls and abundant seating.
Keisha is the affable manager who serves me Banks beer, a local staple, and proudly tells me all about her native island, a most enjoyable way to learn about Barbados.
Coco Bongo has live music on Saturdays and karaoke on Wednesdays.
The food is decidedly British, which seems only fitting, since Barbados gained independence from England just 45 years ago. The menu features pies of all varieties, including cheese, steak and kidney and beef and onion, all of it begging for a Banks to wash it down with.
Every Caribbean island has its flavor, day and night and when the sun sets on Barbados, Holetown is the hottest spot to be.
Remember, you can always tell from the conga line.