The rum shops of Barbados are full of culture, local flavor and of course, great rum. Considering this tiny Caribbean island is the birthplace of rum, it’s no wonder that Barbadian heritage and the amber-colored spirit are intertwined.
Rum shops, which are small (think shack) establishments where the community shops and socializes, date back to the days of slavery and the immediate post-Emancipation period. Surviving for over 300 years, these local watering holes, that are really just wooden shacks are still an integral part of Bajan history and culture today.
It’s estimated that there are over 1,500 brightly colored rum shops scattered around the island. Most are family-owned operations that have been passed down for generations. Other establishments are supported by local distilleries and beer brands like Banks, Heineken or Stag, as well as, Old Brigand Rum.
Understanding their importance to the country and its history, the Bajan Association of Rum Shops (BARS) was created to help preserve the culture of rum shops and their influence on Caribbean culture.
Related article: Why Barbados is for rum drinkers
Rum shops are more than just a place to drink, they are a social hub where locals gather to gossip about the happenings around the island while playing a game of dominoes. They also double as grocery stores, selling items based on the specific needs of the town or village in which they are located. Some might just sell booze and a few tasty snacks, while others stock basic food items and other necessities by day and transform into a lively rum shack by night.
And you can’t have a party without food. Rum shops offer up traditional Bajan eats on the cheap. Order a flask of rum and a cutter sandwich – a salt bread roll filled with everything from fried eggs to fried flying fish.
Where to go?
With so many rum shops dotted around the island, you’re probably wondering where to start? Kermit’s Bar in Oistins Hill and the waterfront John Moore’s Bar in St. James should be on the list for their great ambience, conversation and lively music.
A trip to Nigel Benn Aunty Barin, a shop run by Barbadian-British boxer Nigel Benn’s elderly aunt, Lucille, in St Andrew is well worth the visit. Take a seat at the bar and chat with the ever-entertaining Lucille while gawking at the many photographs of Benn and other celebrity visitors lining the bar.
But if you only have time to visit one rum shop, then it should be Fisherman’s Pub and Beach Bar. It’s an off-the-beaten-path beachside watering hole in Speightstown known for its authentic Barbadian food that tourists and locals love.
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For a more formal introduction to Bajan rum history, tour one of the island’s most famous distilleries.
Mount Gay Rum Distillery
Mount Gay Rum Distillery, originally called “Kill-Devil” by the Barbadians who first distilled it, was founded in 1703 and is believed to be the oldest rum in the world. During the tour, visitors can explore the history, heritage and the craft of Mount Gay rums through five experiences including their signature rum tasting, full signature rum tasting, the interactive cocktail tasting, the rum & food pairing experience and their lunch experience featuring their bottomless rum punch station.
St. Nicholas Abbey
The 350-year-old St. Nicholas Abbey is the oldest plantation house in the Caribbean and is one of only three genuine Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. Here you can visit the sugar mill and distillery to see how they make their small-batch rum.
Then walk around the beautiful surrounding gardens, orchards, gullies and the adjacent Cherry Tree Hill. Not only can you visit the distillery, but there’s also a guided tour of this sugarcane plantation that explores its history with rum and slavery. You can glance at old enslaved African ledgers and records in their museum as well as the old village.
Foursquare Rum Factory
The Foursquare Rum Factory and Heritage Park is the most modern of the rum distilleries. Located in the countryside on a former sugar plantation, Foursquare Rum Factory is known for producing a wide range of outstanding rums including Doorly’s, Old Brigand and E.S.A. Field.
It also doubles as a rum museum with antique distilling equipment and bottles scattered about, as well as, a pavilion for rum education. It’s also the place to watch local music acts, plays, or if you're lucky, a wedding.