NEGRIL–Allow me to preface this with a word of caution: if a bar has a launch pad that lets you hurl yourself some 40 feet straight down into the sea, please, please for the love of Bacchus take a moment to think about it. Then take two more. Anything that can result in you never drinking again is a terrible thing, and our noble ranks need all the warm bodies they can get. As our fearless leader has pointed out before, drinking is the war against death, so stay in the damn fight. There, I’ve been responsible, so now on to the tale of one of the most confounding and exhilarating bars you’re ever likely to encounter.
The bar in question is Rick’s Cafe in Negril, proudly proclaiming that it is “One of the 10 Best Bars in the World,”according to a Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine survey. The accolade is a bit questionable, but with a claim like that, what kind of journalist would I be if I didn’t at least pop in for a quick nip and see what the fuss was about? Judging from their history, Rick’s started back in the 1970s, before the town had so much as electricity or phone lines. It is the tale of a bar spearheading the development of a small fishing village into a travel destination, having to be rebuilt after two hurricanes wiped it clean from the face of the Earth like so many empties on the bar at the end of the night. It sits precariously at the ragged edge of Negril’s West End Cliffs, its face turning red with some of the most staggering sunset views you could ever want to watch while bellied-up on a bar stool with a stiff rum sour. Make no mistake: it is a tourist trap, and there are other great dives with cheaper drinks and fewer cruise ship lackeys, but Rick’s is the kind of place that has twice faced the full wrath of Poseidon, raised a glass after the waves had settled, and stoutly declared “Come the full force of Heaven and Earth, and we shall continue to drink.” It is, for all of its over-priced drinks and pandering-for-tourist-dollars schmaltz, just damn inspiring.
I made it to Rick’s on my final day on the island at the encouragement of one of my mates, the afternoon having been full of cold drinks farther down the beach. We’ll call her C-note, mostly because I’m not sure how to spell her name. She had a powerful notion to take a dive from the cliffs, and it seemed the smart thing to do to tag along and investigate. No sooner had we arrived then she was queuing up at the top platform, some 35 or 40 feet above the waters, primed and bristling with a wild excitement. I cannot impress upon you enough how incredibly easy it is just to walk up and plunge off the edge like so much dead weight. Sure, there is a lifeguard, but as the sign (shown above, sourced below) makes abundantly clear, that guy is just there to call you an ambulance if things go south in a hurry. If you want to risk it, it’s entirely on your head.
Now, there was no stopping C-note, so off she went. An experienced swimmer and former lifeguard, she nailed the dive, resurfaced just fine, and swam to the ladder and back to the relative safety of the rocks. It should be noted that I am not a strong swimmer, and I do have a bit of a fear of heights. However, that last part does becoming less of an issue surprisingly quickly, and if nothing else, I tend to know my limits. Got an A in Calculus and everything.
So there I was with a choice: take the dive now and then raise a glass to this improbable and fairly terrifying place, or back down and cower behind the bar with a pina colada, watching greatness pass me by. If the bar wouldn’t back down, then goddamn it neither would I.
I did not stick the landing well. Writing this now, the backs of my thighs are almost entirely bruises, as is the back of one of my arms. But as I made it back to shore and C-note and I went straight for the bar, I can tell you that the round of straight tequilas we had to celebrate was one of the best damn drinks I’ve ever tasted. Not because it was particularly good tequila, but because it was an affirmation of the war against death, of being able to say “I am alive, and it’s time to celebrate that fact.” And knowing that tequila and incredible heights do not mix, I could rest assured that the fight would continue for another day as I claimed my place alongside the bar, feet firmly on the sweet, sweet solidity of the ground.
So is Rick’s truly one of the 10 best bars in the world? That’s hard to say. It is certainly one of the 10 worst combinations of ideas in the world, though. Take that for what you will.
Image sourced from here.