Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bravo for Barbados

'There's a lot of everything for everyone'

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BARBADOS -- Tommy Gibson is not a bartender. He is a mixologist, thank you very much.

The 59-year-old has been blending, shaking and stirring for more than 30 years. He is such an island institution that the owners of Almond Resorts named all of their faux rum shacks after the man who spins tales and daiquiris with equal skill.

At this all-inclusive resort, where another bartender can (and does) refuse to serve the island's famed Mount Gay rum before 6:30 one evening, Gibson is a treasure.

"I've worked in hotels. I've worked on cruise lines. I wrote a book with my recipes. I served the Queen. She drank Perrier."

Prince Andrew, he adds parenthetically, drank a very weak rum and ginger ale. The mixologist knew he was underage.

He teaches bar smarts to the resort staff, ensuring everyone pouring at the Almond knows how to make a proper drink.

"What people are looking for at an all-inclusive is someone to build them a drink. You ask them what they like. You have to have the right spoon, the right glass.

"You have to shake the drink. You have to have flair with it. It's all mixology."

Gibson demonstrates, nimbly moving behind the bar.

(A word of warning: If Gibson suddenly shouts "Fire in the hole!" the innocents should vacate the bar. Everyone remaining will promptly take a shot of Mount Gay with a beer chaser. It's a rule).

Unless a tourist is wise enough to venture beyond the resort walls, Gibson may be the only local they exchange more than a dozen words with. That's just wrong.

This is a stunningly beautiful island. The best advice? Rent a car and get lost. The island has only a 110-kilometre circumference.

There are 11 parishes on Barbados and only two of them are not on the water. Over 280,000 people live here.

A meander around will have you stopping at an authentic rum shop and watching the locals play dominoes. You might end up at a fish market, enjoying the haggling over the fresh catch. With luck, you'll find a pretty seaside restaurant that serves macaroni pie with a splash of pepper sauce.

A stop at the Mount Gay visitor's centre offers an interesting look at the rum making business and a gift shop that's hard to resist.

You will certainly see some of the most beautiful beaches around. Like so many other islands, Barbados is losing sea views to condo complexes and hotel towers but what remains is truly gorgeous.

Not comfortable driving? Hop on one of the blue local buses. For 75 cents, you can get from here to there. Drive down any road and you'll see trees rich with breadfruit, oranges, mango and bananas.

The capital, Bridgetown, is thriving. You can get duty-free merchandise but you should also spend some time admiring the lovely Parliament Buildings and sighing over the boats in the harbour. The town of 80,000 has charm and something to appeal to everyone.

Perhaps the most stunning place on the island (and this will be debated by everyone who has ever set foot on Barbados) is Bathsheba. It's on the rugged east coast of the island. Huge rock formations dot the surf where the water breaks and churns. The rocks are actually huge hunks of coral. This is a popular surfing spot for the experienced.

"There's a lot of everything for everyone," says Maria Borell, a marketing executive with the Barbados tourism department.

"We have heritage sites, magnificent festival, cricket and beautiful beaches."

Ralph Taylor, CEO of Almond Resorts, admits Barbados isn't for everyone.

"Barbados is not a cheap destination. But everything works here. Barbados is a very sophisticated destination. Barbados is high in the best 20 places to live in the world."

Taylor knows Barbados has so much to offer that people will keep coming back. If they don't get that flying fish recipe on their first visit, they'll get it on the second.

And if they want the perfect rum drink, they'll have to see Tommy Gibson. Over and over and over again. If they're lucky, he'll name one after them.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

"Lindor's Delight" *

2 ounces white rum

1.5 ounces lime juice

1 ounce simple syrup

Ice

Shake. Pour into a margerita glass. Serve with a twist of lemon.

* It is conceivable that Gibson uses the same ingredients and another woman's name every 15 minutes. In fact, it's likely.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2010 E1

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