Most people who frequent Negril tend to shun so-called tourist traps like Rick’s Cafe. Thought of as a haven for All-Inclusive types (people not in-the-know), Rick’s Cafe is an island of crass commercialism in what we consider our little bay of authentic Jamaican culture.
Even the guidebooks play along. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Jamaica speaks of the “touristy throngs.” The Rough Guide to Jamaica is downright snippy referring to Rick’s Cafe as: “Negril’s biggest tired cliche,” and “undeservedly popular.” I think it’s just marketing. People who buy a package deal from Sandals don’t need guide books. Self-styled sophisticated travelers like me, do.
Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine rates Rick’s Cafe as one of the “Ten Best Bars in the World,” and Patricia Schultz considers Rick’s one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die in her smash-hit book. This is high praise for a tourist trap.
So who’s right?
Before my first trip to Negril in 1994, I read several guidebooks, and thus I thought Rick’s was a waste of time, which is funny because I stayed at Hedonism II, the most undeservedly-popular, tired-cliche in the Caribbean.
Several years later, by then an experienced Negril traveler, my date and I spent an afternoon at Rick’s Cafe, but we left before the sunset throng thronged in. I didn’t understand the pro or the con really. It was a nice place, the food wasn’t very good, the beer was nice and cold, and the single diver was fun to watch.
In 2004 I befriended some crazy people who loved to party. Our night at Rick’s Cafe was a blast. This was the first time I got the full Rick’s effect: sunset, bikinis, divers, and dirty bananas. I loved the place, sure it was a more expensive than other places in town, but it also had better infrastructure.
Several months later came Hurricane Ivan. Ol’ Rick’s got its butt kicked, as did most of the West End of town. Soon thereafter I stayed right next door to Rick’s at Banana Shout, and I got a good look at the devastation. The word on the street was that Rick’s had American insurance and would be rebuilt by a major contractor. The locals were pretty salty about it, since they knew it would be many months before it reopened, and many months till it brought all those tourists back to the far end of the West End.
Now I rarely miss a Rick’s Cafe run when I visit Negril. Since Ivan it has been rebuilt twice as big and twice as touristy, but I still like it. The house band rocks, there’s a pool, with all the things pools at bars bring, there’s a second floor dining area with a soul stirring two hundred degree sunset view, and even the food has gotten better, if only by a little.
1 Comment March 4, 2007