Uday Kumar Varma
On a recent visit to Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman more specifically), deemed Paradise by many for diverse reasons, a chance visit to the Library Bar at Kimpton was an excitement and education. For a confirmed teetotaler, the experience was like taking a leaf from an unfamiliar but mesmerizing milieu.
Library Bars are a novelty, an innovation for the followers of Bacchus but not entirely unique or exceptional. But this one was special, so special that it compelled me to write this little piece. In an incredibly beautiful and bewitching place, and from an array of sensuous experiences, an unscheduled visit to this bar, framed one remarkably pleasant and enduring memory.
As the red orange disc of molten gold begins its daily descent behind the endless expanse of sea, and as the sky above and the water below reflect the rapidly changing hues and hurriedly darkening brilliance of the setting sun, the ambience and the mood in the Library Bar of Kimpton Seafire* comes alive with a sluggish sensuality never experienced before.
Library Bars are not a novelty. They have existed at many places for quite some time. They are in New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Charleston, even in Nantucket. But mostly they are library-esque Bars where libraries occupy a well- appointed, ornate, decorated nook. At Seafire, library dominates the Bar. It offers a sensation quite unique and unprecedented as nursing an esoteric cocktail while perusing a classic evokes a salubrious mood often difficult to describe.
Where Art, Literature, History and Alcohol mingle
Even the descriptions of offerings at the bar ignite a euphoria and lightness rarely invoked without a single drop of alcohol joining the blood stream. Woven around famous men and women and their drinking proclivities and preferences, they excite and invite, seducing you to partake of at least some of the imaginatively and intelligently crafted concoctions.
Sample this description of a Local sugarcane spirit infused with island botanicals, sea-mineral vermouth and homemade tropical cordial. The drink named ‘From Cayman, with love’ celebrates Quarrel, a character from Ian Fleming’s spy novels and short stories.
“Quarrel was a Caymanian fisherman and master of the seas, who took a young James Bond under his wing and taught him the ways of the ocean. The Caribbean was a massive influence on Fleming, who wrote most of his books in Jamaica and set numerous stories amongst the people and places of the islands.”
Or savour this slice of Greek mythology through ‘Siren’s Song’, a white wine blend with elderflower, mango, honey, lemon and thyme. The description reads,
“in Book five of Homer’s odyssey, the beautiful nymph Calypso attempts to keep the fabled Greek hero Odysseus on her island Ogugia to make him her immortal husband, and enjoy her sensual pleasures forever. According to Homer, Calypso kept Odysseus prisoner by force at Ogygia for seven years. Calypso enchants Odysseus with her singing as she moves to and fro, weaving on her loom and plying him with Ambrosia-the drink of the Gods.
How truly the drink captures the pining for Penelope, her true love and his home despite held under a spell in a paradise, demands slowly sipping it while leafing through the poetry of Homer readily at hand in the bar.
So, the beverages invoke authors and artists, poets and painters, men of letters and women of substance. We find Hemingway with his recommendation of Daiquiri without sugar and with double rum as Hemingway Special. We encounter Alexandre Dumas, the prolific French writer and bon vivant commemorated through Monte Cristo Cocktail created by feelingly putting together Pre-phylloxera Louis de Rene’ Cognac, prohibition-era Mount Vernon rye whiskey, vintage Benedictine, Martin Gentiane, Secresta’t bitters, Brun-Perod China and J&B Curacao.
We recall Vincent Van Gogh, who immortalized flowering trees through his paintings, through a concoction named ‘Almond Blossom’, a clever amalgam of Sunflower seed genever, yellow Charteuse, maraschino. Lemon, orgeat and egg white.
Agatha Christie, the fabled mystery queen and creator of the greatest detective Hercule Poirot had a penchant for using potions, pills and poison as clues in her stories, Chloral Hydrate a powerful sedative carrying subtle taste of pear, being her favourite. She is remembered by a drink named ‘Murder in the Afternoon’ combining Pear eau de vie, cassis, strawberry, mint, citrus oils and Champagne.
And ‘Singin’ & Swingin’– a concoction created out of Hickory rum blend, chicory coffee and spiced buttercreme caramel foam – pays a tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou, writer, poet, dancer, singer, scholar and civil rights activist, taking influences from the music, food and characters of her stories.
The list is long; and the associated description revealing and enlightening and most certainly enchants and seduces.
A traditional fisherman’s boat dominates the ceiling. Lined with book shelves made of rich woodwork they tastefully display books, carefully selected and covering subjects that range from local history to regional literature and classics. The furniture reflecting more the needs of a serious reader in a library that a traditional bar. Even the Bar Counter around which many may like to hang around represents local craft and colours in dignified magnificence.
Jim and Andrews
Jim and Andrews, the two aspiring and thinking men, along with their team, constitute the soul and substance of this place. Hailing from UK, they bring with them the expertise and the experience but more than anything else a compelling motivation to create a setting and ambience that must not fail to leave an indelible imprint. Their passion is infectious, energy amazing and commitment unmatched. Few sommeliers could rival their understanding and intuition of this esoteric avocation, and the science and art of creating the palate tingling and soul stirrings innovations. They are excited as they explain the concept of setting up this uniquely unusual library bar. The discussions with them show a promise of a future destination of distinction, not perhaps for everyone but for the connoisseurs and cognisanti.
A Walk in Reverie
As I step out of the Bar, the early December moon is already up the horizon. I saunter towards the beach. The moonlight dappled surface lit up in slivers of molten silver, the waves dancing and swaying as the heaving of an adolescent girl’s chest, rhythmic and sensuous, tender and amorous, bewitching, enticing.
* Library by The Sea, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.