They’ve been making rum in Jamaica since Thomas Jefferson was 6 years old, and one can’t throw a stone here at the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande without hitting someone holding a tall glass with a pineapple wedge on the rim containing some rum-based potion in colors of every wave length. Since guests here are from everywhere, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, and there are multiple excellent resort bars happy to introduce you to the Jamaican Smile or the Wiki Waki Woo or the Hummingbird or the Big Bamboo or something of your own creation that comes with naming rights.
Moon Palace Jamaica Grande is the first Jamaican outpost of the famous and uber-popular Palace Resorts of Mexico. A winning mix of polished Mexican service and Jamaican “No problem” hospitality.
The Lobby Bar
The Lobby Bar begins populating soon after its 10am opening. For many arriving in Jamaica, this is the first rum-consuming opportunity. Fifteen hours and two shifts of smiling and personable bartenders and cocktail waitstaff.
Janaese spoke with me. She says the lion’s share of guests are from the U.S. followed by Canadians and Europeans. Beer choices at the resort are three: Red Stripe, Red Stripe Light and Heineken. Of Rum-based drinks the most popular is the Bob Marley, which contains the famously potent Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum. 126 proof. 63% alcohol by volume. It’s a tonsil tingler.
Janaese says she has her own specialty which is called Island Spice. Overproof White Rum, coconut rum, blue curacao, orange juice and pineapple juice. It is mint green topped with a red cherry, and has the appearance of Christmas.
The Jamaican way to take rum is neat. Sometimes guests order the White Overproof as a shot just to experience the kick. Janaese says many Jamaicans swear by White Overproof as a tonic for a cold or sore throat. She asks, rhetorically—“Why come to Jamaica and not have a rum?” So toss one back for medicinal purposes.
Fun fact: ice will not float in Overproof Rum. Sinks right to the bottom. Why? Not a clue. Ask somebody who knows about fluid dynamics and specific gravity.
Open from 10am to 1am.
It’s loud because of the music and because of the partisan outcries of sports fans. If there’s a big game anywhere, they have it on at Loud Bar.
Behind the bar are Dameon, Shalonda and Comar. We watched the Cubs vs. the Pirates. Seemed appropriate. Pirates figure prominently in Jamaican history. Eventually the Jamaican pirates were defeated. This night the Pirates from Pittsburgh lost, too.
Loud Bar has 13 flatscreens, 3 pool tables, a stage for a band and has live music 4 times a week.
Dameon says a typical evening starts out with pool players and guests looking to watch a game, followed later in the evening by guests who come for live music.
Dameon assembled his signature drink he calls the Jamaican Dream. It includes a judicious splash of Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum, pineapple juice, mango juice, strawberry mix and a spurt of soda. Topped with cherries and the color of ripe watermelon.
Appleton rum is far and away the most-ordered rum. Jamaica’s Appleton Estates has been making rum since 1749 (the world’s second-oldest rum distiller) and you will find a variety of their bottles behind every bar on the island. The Signature Blend is smooth and is preferred for sipping either neat or on the rocks. Appleton Special is preferred in mixed and frozen drinks like Jamaican Delight, Bob Marleys and Rum Punch.
The volume level jumps at 10 when the music starts and tends to be reggae. But the band, which is customarily five musicians, takes requests and will play other music genres. It is a sports bar and they will accommodate any sporting event request if the game or match is accessible. It offers Red Stripe. Red Stripe Light and Heineken.
Open from 6pm to 1am.
From the loud bar to a quiet bar, we moved to the Piano Bar.
Piano Bar is lovely, elegant; a refuge where guests can relax. An atmosphere that promotes quiet conversation. Romantic. It used to be called the Martini Bar and regulars still order martinis there. It’s a good place for a group to converse or to talk business.
Master mixologist Jermaine and Kayla are behind the bar. Sabrina delivers drinks to the lounge. The bar is open from 5:30 to midnight every day. Of the drinks Jermaine crafts nightly, most of them are made with rum. When Jermaine makes a Bahama Mama with White Overproof, he uses a half-shot because of its prodigious potency.
Jermaine’s signature drink is the Jay Cooler. Jay, from his first-name’s initial. It is made with: Coconut rum, melon liqueur, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, white overproof rum and a dash of Grenadine. Shaken and topped with a spritz of Sprite.
A number of classic tropical drinks include Bailey’s as a base. Jermaine says he prefers to use Sangster’s Jamaican Rum Cream. He sniffs that Bailey’s is overrated. He says it is whiskey-based, and he much prefers rum-based Jamaica Rum Cream.
The piano player starts at 10 and plays 5 nights a week till midnight. When we visited, a group of Korean guests celebrating a birthday were singing along to classic pop with rum-fueled enthusiasm. Dancing broke out spontaneously.
When you’ve spent your energy during the day climbing waterfalls or taming the FlowRider or jogging on the beach, the Piano Bar is the spot to chill and regroup. Then, if you still have energy to burn, head a few steps around the corner to Club Noir!
Disco is not dead. In Jamaica dance clubs rule the night. Club Noir is the resort’s late-night dance club. Omar is the club manager. Bartenders are Nicholas, Ronald, Orlando and Romario.
The DJ blasts a high-energy medley designed to appeal to a cross-section of ages and cultures. Don’t know how to do the Willie Bounce? The bartender boys will join you on the dance floor and guide you through it like a partner on Dancing with the Stars. They organize line dances and keep the party moving. It’s a mix of reggae, Jamaican dancehall, soul, hip-hop, salsa–even jazz. All the music is in English so guests can understand the lyrics.
Nicholas crafted the drink he’s known for: Cool at Night, in a hue of blue and green. And the rest of the band of merry men assembled their own concoctions: Jamaican Sweetheart, Mr. G. and Bad Boy.
Though many of the drinks they make are identical to those at the resort’s other bars, they find club-goers’ tastes run to the more basic. Red Stripes and Rum and Cokes.
Open 10pm to 3am. No one under 18.
The swim-up bar is called Wet Bar and is typically lined with Bob Marleys, Red Stripes and Pina Coladas.
Experienced travelers have their Yetis at the ready for a frozen concoction fill-up. At the stroke of 10am when the bar begins serving, a dozen of the 14 in-water stools were occupied. Club music with a Caribbean beat is the soundtrack of the pool bar action. A swarm of 7 to 8 bartenders team to keep the drinks flowing to both the guests in the water and those who walk up to the service bar above and behind the pool level bar.
On this day Nicholas is the senior bartender, working with Christopher, Duwane , Oshane and Tevin. They swiftly loaded up a tray of drinks for colleague Adisha for delivery to poolside chaise lounges.
If you can’t recall a bartender’s name, try calling him Oshane. Multiple Oshanes work here, a common name in Ocho Rios. You will find multiple Christophers, too.
Nicholas made us his signature drink called the Caribbean Banana. The secret formula includes banana, melon liqueur, vodka, sweet & sour mix and pineapple juice.
Water depth around the pool bar is just under waist high. The bar churns out so many drinks so fast that plastic cups are brought to the bar in sacks the size of Hefty Lawn and Garden bags.
Wet Bar is open from 10am to 6pm.