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I expected St. Croix to be a rum-soaked pirate paradise, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be so lovely. I’d been to a British Virgin Island or two and found them a bit, well, scrubby. Arriving on a mission to inspect the Cruzan Rum distillery, I expected a similar atmosphere, especially since the island had been through a lengthy drought.
But, that was not the case. St. Croix is a lush and memorable jewel in the Caribbean, with a lot of happy lushes living there, or visiting, as often as they can. Roaming around this green island, where jungle gives way to beautiful beach, can bring a full afternoon of bliss.
Cruzan DistillerySt. Croix is one of the Caribbean islands where the sugar cane and rum heritage both are very significant to its identity. Though there’s no more sugar industry, the rum business is booming. Cruzan Rum’s facility is picturesque and historic, having been owned by the same family for seven generations and still under the family’s daily supervision. In fact, odds are that one family member will act as your tour guide.
Afterward, adjourn to the sunny, chilled-out backyard hangout/bar, where all of the Cruzan rums — from the premium-aged Estate Diamond to the yummy fruit-flavored rums — are lined up and ready for tasting. The $8 tour includes two cocktails and four sample shots.
Eat at Cane BayIt’s a mellow reggae party here, with hypnotic views of the ocean, but you won’t have to sacrifice good booze and food for atmosphere. The place is great for groups — it brings out good energy and conversation.
Food-wise, it’s known for build-your-own-burgers and salads. Toppings are a fun thing to contemplate while slurping through two or three sweet, fruity cocktails such as the Fresh-Fresh (Cruzan raspberry, pineappleand mango rums; passion fruit juice; and lemon juice) or the strawberry rum limeade. For sophisticated city hipsters who can’t go a Sunday without brunch, arrive around noon for eggs Benedict and Bob Marley covers.
Mount Pellier Domino ClubThis is a destination bar worth the trip — for so many reasons. First of all, the atmosphere is island-style perfect, from the tiki-jungle-shack milieu to the local expats who hail you from the bar.
Second, the fiery, spicy and mysterious “Mama Wanna”: It’s a blend of honey, secret herbs and spices and Cruzan rum. The bartender will let you look deep into the murky depths of the jar from whence it comes, but you’ll never discern what’s in there. The first sip burns; you’ll be gulping down your beer chaser. The second one’s better. By the last, it’s delightful.
More reasons to love this place: the owner Norma, who is an island icon, and her pet pigs, who are even more so. The pigs live out back and are famous for drinking (non-alcoholic beverages) straight from the can, with ultimate gusto. If Norma’s in a good mood, buy a six-pack of O’Douls, and she’ll take you out back to play bartender to her guzzling, snuffling pets.
Rhythms at Rainbow BeachThe quintessential toes-in-the-sand beach shack, this bar is perfect to stage a classic photo pose: Order a rum tiki coconut cocktail and sip it while wading in the warm, foamy surf. The waves are more just gentle-lapping, but nothing that will knock you over unless you’re past knee-deep.
If that makes you nervous though, just find a nice beach chair, sprawl out and smile at the camera. This bar styles itself as “the original home of the lime in the coconut,” but people know it more as the “Sunday funday” spot. Show up at 11 a.m., and stay till the bar close at sunset.
Villa MoralesVilla Morales is a restaurant, though with a proper bar, and only open on specific bar-crawl days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Regulars show up like clockwork every week to get their fix of fantastic mojitos and simple, but mouthwatering, island dishes such as butter conch and breadfruit. All the rum cocktails are strong and yummy, usually mixed by one half of the husband-wife proprietor team. The johnny cakes and tostones are perfect starters to soak up whatever booze you might drink before sitting down. Reservations are strongly recommended.