St. John is only accessible by ferry from St. Thomas. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Just outside the ferry dock on the east end of St. Thomas lies a very well-kept local secret – amazing in the land of the coconut telegraph where gossip travels faster than a hurricane.
Across the street from the ferry dock, discerning visitors will notice what appears to be a shabby biker bar sporting a sign warning patrons not to throw objects or people from the upstairs balcony to the street.
Do not be afraid. Well, be a little bit afraid. This is the Poor Man’s Warehouse and you need to start your St. John nightlife adventure there. If you are already on St. John, you should take the ferry back to St. Thomas and begin your adventure anew. Trust me on this one.
Poor Man’s has a unique approach to customer service. There is none. Scratch that, there’s some service, but not what you might expect. When you walk up to the bar and ask – I suggest that you do this as nicely as possible – the bartender for a mixed drink, say a rum and Coke, the bartender will comply with your request by handing you a can of Coke, a bottle of rum and a plastic cup of ice.
“Oh dear, what shall I do with this?” you might think. You should pour your own drink. And you should go easy on the Coke as it costs more than the rum and the bartenders are likely to get snarky with you if you use too much Coke. Many island adventures begin and end with the second round at Poor Man’s. Some people just don’t know their own pouring strength.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, ask for a shot. You’ll be astounded at the size of the cup you receive along with the bottle. They’re so large that one shot once prompted me to stand on top of the bar and announce my sexual intentions to my then boyfriend – now husband – and the entire bar. Poor Man’s was so influential in the growth of our relationship that we briefly considered having the bar serve as best man at our wedding.
The staff at Poor Man’s will also allow you to roll the dice for your drink. Beat the bartender and your drink is free, lose and you pay double. Refuse to pay double and you learn why the owners instituted the no throwing people over the balcony rule.
Oh, ladies, should you find that you covet a Poor Man’s t-shirt, you can have one free of charge. You’ll have to swap your shirt for theirs and you’ll have to change right there in the bar, but it’s yours for the asking. This is part of the popularity of Poor Man’s among locals – not only can you score free clean clothing but you can enjoy the show as well. I have three Poor Man’s shirts myself.
After a warm up at Poor Man’s, it’s time to hit the ferry for the trip to St. John. Don’t worry if you’ve missed your planned ferry over to the island. The ferries run continuously until 10 p.m. when they stop completely, no exceptions. Many people now make a permanent home on St. John because they didn’t heed to 10 o’clock rule and found themselves stranded in Paradise. They don’t seem to mind.
Staggering and Starving in Cruz Bay
Once you reach the ferry dock in Cruz Bay, St. John, you’ll likely discover that you are both staggering and starving. The staggering you’ll have to deal with, the starving can be fixed. If your intention is to keep fortifying yourself with liquid refreshments, there’s a little shack of a place directly off the ferry that will sell you remarkably good sandwiches, burgers and chips. Stop there first, get a grip on the starvation problem and then keep moving.
If you’re seeking fine dining, you’re also in the right place. Take a left and wander down the street to Mongoose Junction. Restaurants come and go in the islands, the names are changed to protect the innocent but one thing remains constant. There’s always a very nice restaurant in Mongoose Junction. The fine dining experience you’re seeking is there, take my word for it, unfortunately, whatever it is called this week is not what it will be called next week. Just look for the expensive menu in the window and limber up your gold card.
Reservations will be in order at any great place, so ask your hotel staff or your charter captain what they recommend. Hotel staff and charter captains are among the highest paid professionals on the island – assuming you add in the tips they get for making good recommendations – they are the only locals who can afford to eat at the top of the dining rung, ask them, they know.
Once you’ve conquered the starvation problem, the staggering will likely lessen as well. This is not good. You must get back to staggering. Unless you’re planning on staying the night on St. John, you will have to confine your staggering to the Cruz Bay area. Unlike the restaurants on the island, the truly great bars do not change. That’s why they’re great.
Try Woody’s in Cruz Bay – not only do they have a lock on incredible blender drinks but they’ll feed you as well. You can sit outside and watch the passing people parade – a favorite pastime of locals.
If you’re already planning on moving to St. John to follow your bliss as a bartender, waiter or scuba instructor, get a taxi to take you to Skinny Legs in Coral Bay. Coral Bay is a long way from anywhere and Skinny Legs is the best place to plan your new life away from the rest of the world. There is some local suspicion that Coral Bay is the official island home of the Federal Witness Protection Program.
We like to say that the islands are home to the wanted and the unwanted. You’re either wanted by various federal authorities, or nobody wants you at all. Life in Coral Bay is so far under the radar that even the locals sometimes forget it exist. It’s a great place to hide out, tune out and enjoy life in the islands. If you go there, you’ll stay there and not just because you’ve missed the last ferry off the island.
Lyssa Graham is a freelance writer who has spent the better part of a decade living in and around the US Virgin Islands