Why This New Caribbean Cocktail Bar Is One to Watch

A year's worth of research went into curating the bar's cocktail menu.

From Cayman, With Love

Steve Legato

After a few years of rigorous planning, recruiting, designing, and curating, Grand Cayman’s first high-concept cocktail bar Library by the Sea has finally opened its doors, and it has the blueprint of a bar which may garner global recognition sooner rather than later.

Art, literature, and local Caymanian and Caribbean culture come to life at the bar through a blend of finely-tuned drink concepts, an immersive storytelling menu, curated vintage spirits and cocktails, and intentional design touches. From the inventive names of the drinks and the flavors balanced in each of them, to the high-tech culinary equipment sourced and world-class bartenders recruited to work on the project, Library by the Sea spares no detail.

Located in the lobby of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Library by the Sea is built in the space where the hotel’s library used to be (per the bar’s name and inspiration). Despite being set in a “library,” the bar is exceptionally well-lit, glittered with sun during the daytime because of its terrace-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The décor and design led by Dayna Lee of Powerstrip Studio evokes ‘70s Caribbean jet-setting glamor with light and bright hues and wood textures incorporated throughout the space, including the reuse of wood from an old welcome sign at Georgetown Airport for some of the furnishings. To include another nod to Caymanian history and culture, a lovingly restored, traditional hand-made catboat by the name of Miss Ola is suspended from the ceiling in the center of the bar. The boats were used for centuries by Caymanian fishermen, and it’s one of the bar’s many subtle details that has layers of storytelling behind it — a common thread teeming throughout the entire bar concept.  

“[When initially developing the bar concept,] we asked ourselves what a library is,” says Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. “It’s a curated collection — not just of books and literature, but of everything from cars, art, laws, and so on. So for Library by the Sea, we decided to curate a collection of experiences for our guests through the drinks and the stories we’re telling, leaving guests with a collection of memories they can brick back home with them as well.” 

To immerse guests in the Library by the Sea, Wrigley and his partner Andrew Copsey, who runs operations at the bar, conducted a year’s worth of research and development for the cocktail list — a chunk of which involved reviewing heaps of modern classic literature. Unlike the menus at some bars which are purely about the liquid in the glass, the menu at Library by the Sea puts consideration into every detail of the drink from its flavor profile and how it ties back to some piece of literature to the cocktail’s presentation. 

Eyes of Ibad

Tyler Zielinski

To bring the drink concepts to life, Wrigley and Copsey let their imaginations run wild; and to do so without limitations, they sourced high-tech equipment such as rotary evaporators, centrifuges, ultrasonic homogenizers, 3-D printers and more to create bespoke cocktail ingredients and experiences using an array of culinary techniques and methodologies. 

In the “From Cayman, With Love” — a lively and tropical twist on the Gibson martini inspired by a Caymanian fisherman who took a young James Bond under his wing — local sugarcane spirit is first re-distilled with local botanicals using a rotary evaporator, yielding an ingredient adjacent to a botanical rum. The base spirit is then paired with a seaweed and sea mineral-adjusted vermouth and a layered tropical cordial before being served in a hand-painted and fired ceramic oyster shell crafted by a local Caymanian potter, and garnished with a champagne vinegar agar “pearl” onion. From concept to execution, the cocktail exemplifies the bar’s effort to make high-concept (read: nerdy) drinks accessible to all of its guests, but never in the sacrifice of flavor or complexity.

“While the menu is conceptual in nature, we wanted the drinks and stories to be fun and not feel like school,” Wrigley says as he stresses the importance of accessibility and inclusivity for the bar’s cocktail program. “When thinking about the delivery point of the menu, we wanted our guests to be transported into a story with every sip of our drinks. Of course, for guests who simply want to taste through the cocktails on the menu without connecting with the stories if that’s too much, our bartenders have the capability to deliver that as well; but our drinks go beyond the liquid in the glass and we want our guests to have the opportunity to experience that as well.”

Another cocktail which encapsulates the style of Library by the Sea’s inventive drinks, and is a favorite of Wrigley’s, is the Eyes of Ibad, a tipple inspired by the blue eyes of the spice-exposed Fremen in the cult-classic novel Dune. A crowd-pleaser in its approachable flavor profile and an eye-catcher with its vibrant blue hue (courtesy of a blue light which illuminates the glass from its base), the Eyes of Ibad blends local Scotch bonnet, jalapeño and pink peppercorn-infused tequila with mezcal Vago elote, grapefruit oils and acids and quinine soda for a unique take on the classic Paloma. To garnish, the drink gets a rim of coconut “sand”, sal de gusano (worm salt) and edible glitter to add layers of storytelling only true fans of Dune may understand (or those who ask the bartender).

For cocktail enthusiasts interested in a bespoke, limited time beverage experience available only at Library by the Sea, the fourth section of the menu dubbed “Rare & First Editions” has a selection of cocktails which use rare vintage spirits, such as the E Hemingway Special — a Hemingway Daiquiri made the way Hemingway would have had the his special cocktail at El Floridita in Havana, Cuba using vintage spirits from that era. Of course, the cocktail is priced accordingly at $275 (Cayman dollars). 

Library of the Sea

Monika Wojtkiewicz

“For some of these special serves, we trawled small booksellers to find rare editions of the material we’ve used for inspiration,” Wrigley says. “Guests can flick through Miss Marple whilst sipping on a Murder in the Afternoon [pear eau de vie, cassis, strawberry, mint, citrus oils, Champagne], or read the first print of the Old Man and the Sea in Life magazine from 1952 as they sip on a Hemingway Special cocktail made with fresh Caribbean citrus, 1920s Bacardí and 1932 maraschino liqueur served in a 1930s Dorothy Thorpe crystal glass.” It’s these details which offer the bar’s guests a unique form of tropical escapism, swapping clunky Caribbean beach cocktails most travelers are accustomed to drinking on vacation, for more elegant and memorable drinking experiences that evoke a sense of place.

Throughout the year, Wrigley and his team of talented bartenders — many of whom have plied their trade at some of the World’s 50 Best Bars, such as Connaught Bar, Lyaness, Swift and so on — will be expanding the bar’s physical library of books, first editions, and vintage spirits; as well as hosting some special guest collaborations. “These will be less like the standard bar takeover, and more an opportunity for some really cool venues and people to create drinks and spin stories from their world here in our slice of paradise,” Wrigley says. 

“We collated cutting edge tools and equipment that allow us to spin dreams and history into drinkable slices of deliciousness. And if even one bar emulates any techniques or concepts we’re bringing to Kimpton Seafire and Grand Cayman, we’ll take it as high praise indeed.”

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