This stunning Caribbean island combines an incredible food and drink scene with white-sand beaches — and it's easy to get to.

ON THE WHITE-SAND stretch of Seven Mile Beach, deciding between a perfect Piña Colada and a tequila-kissed Frosita could be the great challenge of a Grand Cayman vacation. On this trip, I turn away from Coccoloba beach bar and head to a book- lined nook of the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa’s lobby, to imbibe at what one top drinks writer already called the best bar of 2024.

Library by the Sea

Library by the Sea. Photo: Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa

Library by the Sea’s literary-themed menu (conceived as a lavishly illustrated book, of course) offers drinks in spheres and giant shells, crowned with sparkles or buttercream caramel foam. The Electric Dreams, inspired by Blade Runner’s sci-fi origin story, consists of tubes of Scotch paste, some gel cubes and mounds of flavoured powder on a circuit board: a drink a robot could love. From an inventory of vintage spirits, the E. Hemingway Special daiquiri, made with circa-1930s spirits from Papa’s era, gets served up with first editions. Grand Cayman, a speck of a British Overseas Territory tucked between Cuba and Jamaica, is officially a cocktail hotspot. Two bars on the tiny island appear on the 2024 50 Best Discovery list, often a harbinger of World’s Best Bars consideration.


“Monte Cristo cocktail ” was inspired by the Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Photo: Monika Wojtkiewicz

The prestigious Cayman Cookout culinary festival in January and an annual Cayman Cocktail Week (October) generate year- round innovation, shaking and stirring up libations to satisfy travellers at chic boutique hotels and resorts.

Island ingenuity powers Oasis, Library by the Sea’s pool-house-turned-cocktail-lab,stocked with malic acid and xanthan gum, rosewater and roasted-eggplant distillate. Kimpton beverage manager Jim Wrigley is a veteran of the world-class global bar scene. His wizardry is mindful, upcycling and optimising ingredients with a zero-waste mindset. “Sustainability is everything on an island,” says Wrigley, who procures some liquor from pioneering Eco Spirits, which ships in bulk instead of heavy glass bottles. Wrigley encourages local bar crawling. He recommends Macabuca, a “dive” bar (think flip-flops and wetsuits, not cheap beer and neon) on the island’s northwest tip, where waves crash over the patio’s rocky shore. You can casually crush some jerk chicken and frozen Beer-Garitas, or head upstairs to the elegant Cracked Conch for elevated tiki takes, like the Night Dive of aged rum with house-made chai and orgeat syrups.

I check out the island’s two 50 Best Discovery picks. First up, Door No 4, home of stunningly cold Martinis with house- blend vermouth and conch-stuffed olives. Local naseberry fruit, coconut cake and mango skin essence infuse spirits, cordials and mists at a bar where mocktails get just as much love: New Beau (made of purple corn, cacao, coconut, pineapple skin, sarsaparilla and other spices) lets guests enjoy a non- alcoholic red wine placebo drink. Cocktails at Next Door, at the Crescent complex on the marina, riff as creatively as the live jazz singer. My blush-coloured Compass showcases island botanicals: bitter taraxacum infuses white Port and Brazilian cachaça, balanced by cantaloupe and dandelion soda.

The island’s upscale hotels don’t settle for staid lobby bars, either. At the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman’s leaf-coloured Silver Palm, a custom-built armoire houses a cache of premium rums, cigars and Caribbean cacao products for a nightly rum ritual guided by top-notch “rummeliers,” says beverage manager Monica Dubar. “Some guests will enjoy the entire selection during their stay.” At rich-and-famous haunt Palm Heights, a Beverly Hills-like boutique hotel, I sip a white Negroni at luxe Tillie’s, as the Crayola sunset vies for my attention. On another night, I catch bartender Ollie Dyer bouncing between the pool bar, a beach dinner for 700 (complete with fireworks) and the elegant Catboat bar at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa. Serving smoked-to-order aged rum Old Fashioneds and beet-infused Patron Margaritas with flair is his wheelhouse, after working for a Duke in the UK and bar- hopping jobs around the world. “I stayed [on Grand Cayman], even during the pandemic when everything was closed, because there’s a great sense of community here,” Dyer says.

Tillies is one of Palm Heights’ four restaurant and bar spaces helmed by chef Jake Tyler Brodsky, an Eleven Madison Park alum.

A bespoke Westin bottling of 7 Fathoms Rum leads me to the island’s first distillery. Cayman Spirits Co. appears modest from outside, but Cayman-Canadian co-founder Walker Romanica says 50,000 visitors tour and sample here every year. “If this looks like a couple of idiots welded two ice buckets together, that’s because we did,” he laughs, pointing to the still he and co-owner Nelson Dilbert made more than 15 years ago. Historic ocean-ageing techniques inform 7 Fathoms, as underwater maturation and wave action turns island-grown sugarcane distillate into smooth, caramelly rum. I taste Cayman Spirits ocean-blue Poseidon gin, which citrus or tonic turns fuchsia due to butterfly pea blossom – an exotic and rare ingredient in Canada that “grows everywhere here, literally on the side of the road,” says Romanica.

More Cayman Spirits Co. distillates can be had at The Wine Emporium, which offers blend-your-own gin and rum classes. It’s the brainchild Christian Esser and Shalico Christian, the wine and drinks experts also behind Le Petit Bar, a dreamy wine, cocktail and charcuterie boite that’s a bartender- favourite late-night hang. “We have a lot going on here,” says Esser. “It’s a very exciting scene.”

Back at the Kimpton, I sip From Cayman with Love: a Martini-like Ian Fleming- inspired concoction of white rum, flask- infused with exotic local botanicals and poured at table into a beautiful ceramic shell. I drink it down to the “pearl,” a cocktail onion coated to shimmer like the gem. The real prize here, though, is discovering a local drinks scene that’s about to take the world by tropical storm.

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