Set sail for the Pelican Bar

Ian Stalker reports from a Jamaican watering-hole that lives up to its name

Floyde’s Pelican Bar has long been a welcome refuge for those seeking a cool drink off Jamaica’s southern coast. Photograph courtesy of Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours®

Delroy Forbes dishes out drinks in a watering-hole that really deserves that title.

Forbes is the creator of the Pelican Bar, which stands five feet deep on an isolated sandbar, about a mile from land, in Parrottee Bay, off Jamaica’s southern coast. It’s only accessible by boat, and many of its clients have arrived by canoe over the years.

The bar was inspired by a dream that Forbes, a one-time fisherman, had around a decade ago, in which he saw people hanging out together on water.

From a distance the Pelican Bar initially looks like floating coconut thatch and driftwood, but then it takes on a clearer shape – stilts and tree trunks rising out of the water, twisted stairs and a rough-and-ready dock. Despite the seemingly haphazard appearance of the structure – one visitor described it as resembling a “crazy tiki hut” – Forbes (who prefers to be known as Floyde) has always insisted his bar is solid, and able to withstand powerful waves in a part of the world where tempestuous weather isn’t unknown.

Those who have made the journey to the Pelican Bar include David Shields, who is the general manager of the Jamaica-based tour company Island Routes, which now offers trips to the bar on its catamaran, Soul Rebel, and who found the bar intriguing.

“You may find very friendly pelicans flying around or just watching you,” Shields says of the retreat, which has catered to many thirsty fishermen and primarily serves Jamaica’s signature beer, Red Stripe.

Shields says those making the voyage to the Pelican Bar shouldn’t expect to be able to imbibe in the lap of luxury. “You’re not going to find your high-end cushioned chairs,” he cautions. “It’s a very rustic environment.”

Guests can jump into the water if they wish, and go swimming or snorkelling alongside tropical fish and other marine life. The shallow water means any of the bar’s guests who accidentally tumble into the water aren’t in danger.

Shields says his company’s clients who visit the Pelican Bar – which is considerably more modest than many other Jamaican bars that routinely host foreign tourists – will likely meet Forbes, who’s happy to mingle with guests and join the party.

Visitors frequently write their names on the wood of the bar, creating what Shields labels “very organic” décor. Appreciative guests also sometimes leave hats, flags and even licence plates as reminders of their visits.

The bar took two months to build, and first supported itself by catering to fishermen working under a tropical sun and wanting to quench their thirst at sea. But now, “You never know who you will meet in this unusual location,” Shields reports of the Pelican Bar’s waterborne clientele. Over the years it’s become a curiosity, and now attracts people from far and wide.