Bob Louison has learned to face the challenges of island life

Glorious Isolation: Bartending on the island frontier

14 October, 2022

More and more bartenders are embracing the allure of exotic islands. Hamish Smith discovers why.

When Mango House was at the 11th hour of launching its bar Kokoye, oranges hadn’t been available in the Seychelles for three months. The base spirits for four of the cocktails on the opening menu were also unexpectedly out of stock. At times, strawberries and blackberries were 86 and at one time, even coconuts were in short supply. The trees may be everywhere, but during the pandemic, people had got out of the habit of picking their bounty. Supply, as bar manager Raven Rudolph found out, is the great challenge of bartending in an archipelago deep in the Indian Ocean, 1,000km from a mainland.  

Certainly a change from the supply chain riches of Dubai, Rudolph’s former workplace for nine years. But he’s not alone in making the move from the metropolis to the tropics. United in their isolation and the operational challenges they face, an ever-increasing number of bartenders are spreading craft cocktail culture in faraway places.

It was just a matter of time before moneyed international guests seeking luxury experiences considered craft cocktails to be among them. And thus, in this age of post-fruit bomb holiday cocktails, the bar operation is no longer the afterthought but a critical function of a hotel’s offering. Indeed, in recent years, some hotel groups have even pricked their ears to the sort of international recognition and awards that hotels in Dubai, London, New York and Singapore have attracted. And this kind of ambition all adds up to bartenders – particularly those with a pedigreed CV – being in high demand.  

Jim Wrigley, once a leading light of the UK scene, these days calls the Cayman Islands his home – more specifically Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa. “I’ve worked abroad, relocated and travelled within the hospitality world for years, but always to places with existing cocktail scenes, or with infrastructure and connections to make the transition easier,” he says.

And just as Rudolph had found, supply is the biggest obstacle. “When I arrived, supplier consistency was awful, with several bars needing to band together to try to ensure a supplier would list even the most prosaic of back bar stalwarts, he says. “No chartreuse, maraschino, fino sherry – this list went on. Not to mention the supply chain issues meaning we could be out of Aperol or a pouring rum for weeks if not months across the island.”

Bob Louison, a well-heeled and respected figure in the Asian market who moved to the Caribbean to become director of bars and reopen Rosewood Le Guanahani on St Barth, says island life requires you to know what you need, well ahead of needing it. “Getting supply on an island is challenging because everything arrives by boat, and these past two years it’s been very challenging due to Covid and the effect on world supply, he says. “So many containers arrived with one or two years’ delay. There were days when shops and groceries would have empty aisles. So, whatever you need for your bar, restaurant, hotel you really need to plan ahead at least three to six months to have enough supply. It keeps you on your toes to create new menus on a regular basis with what is available and trying to work with local ingredients as much as possible.”

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