Jules Gualdoni, more often referred to as “Papa Jules”, did what so many threaten to do. He moved to the Caribbean and opened a beach bar. And without mincing words, it’s amazing. In fact, when I first arrived I thought, “Yeah, ok. When I die, I want to have a viking-style funeral here at La Cabane where they push my old carcass out in the surf and light it on fire while everyone parties on the beach.” In practice, I suppose that would be very weird and not particularly great for business, but essentially I agree with the idea. And if you’ve ever been, it’s clear why.
This bar is one of those places that exists in your dreams, and it’s very hard to pry yourself away. There are tables and chairs sunk into the sand, but also hammocks for the guests or rope swings at the bar. There are palms and Manchineel trees scattered throughout the area – even a disco ball hanging in the canopy above a table. There are open-flame grills wafting mouth-watering scents through the sea air. Beautiful, smiling people are having good times, imbibing colorful, fruity drinks made with the freshest ingredients, most of which were harvested the day before in the area. All of this and a killer soundtrack courtesy of an array of DJs and musicians, all in the open-air, adjacent to the beckoning of the ever-present waves crashing on the beach. If the daytime heat gets to be a little too much, you can literally just jump in the ocean.
Do you see what I’m saying here?
As “Islands” is our current cocktail theme, I ran through my mental rolodex of people I knew who embodied the island mentality and Papa Jules was the first guy that came to my mind. His lifestyle is envious, his shirts are wild and his bar is the bomb. Let’s see what he has to say.
Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up owning a beach bar in Barbados? It has to be one of the most dreamt dreams of all time.
As long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the Caribbean: the rum, weather, the culture. After moving to London in my 20s, I began my career as a bartender. I loved learning about rum, cocktails, tiki culture and what we call “F & B” in this business, which means “Food and Beverage”.
I started as a bartender at Match Group and learned my trade like many great bartenders of my generation at bars like Sosho, The Player and Trailer Happiness. After I became established I set up Mahiki, which is a nightclub and bar in Mayfair.
Every holiday I had I spent in the Caribbean, working at the rum distillery, tasting and learning.
I started to spend a lot of time in Barbados when we created Mahiki rum with the famous Foursquare distillery. At some point, 15 yrs ago, I dropped everything I had in London and decided to move to Barbados with my wife with no real plan.
I started to work at The Cliff restaurant, which was my favorite place. Six years of getting to know how Barbados works, but more importantly the guests who visited our island. During this time, I met Clement Meniaud, my current business partner. And almost 3 years ago we started La Cabane.
I was very impressed with your bar. After visiting the first night, I couldn’t see any reason not to go back every day I was on the island. The drinks are good, the food is great, the design is playful, but it’s more than that. It’s the symphony of all of those things. That’s a vision, and even if it is simple it’s not common. Is this something you had thought about for a while?
What you see at La Cabane is the result of my partnership with Clement. He is a design architect with a unique eye for detail and consistently immaculate finishes. Clement is involved in many architectural projects on the island and is responsible for the beautiful style of La Cabane.
Our concept is inspired by the French Mediterranean married with Barbados. We only serve premium quality when it comes to food and beverages. We compliment this with a tight focus on service. As a result, we believe guests feel that they have arrived at “the place to be”. Providing that feeling is what we live for.
La Cabane is rooted in memories of a short summer in the south of France, where businesses were allowed to open their restaurants on the public beaches. These temporary pop-up spaces took about a month to build up and were made of wood and bamboo. As you could imagine, the kitchens were small and basic, everything was handwritten, there was no Internet connection or cash till system back in the day. It was simple and effective. The menus were short and easy to produce, using fresh ingredients from the market, a good and extensive wine list – mainly “cote de Provence” Rosé from a local producer. There were deejays pumping the music and providing moments of relaxation. These little spots would be open from 9AM to 7PM. The atmosphere would start very relaxed then from 5:00 p.m. until close at 7:00 p.m. persons would begin to dance on tables after a heavily boozed lunch as they enjoy the music of the deejay. That’s what inspired us and we think we got pretty close to that spirit here at La Cabane, although we’re open a bit later.
I find it interesting that you guys opened up this beautiful place in an area that is known for having drug boats pull up on the beaches direct from South America. It wasn’t exactly a safe place – there were muggings, it was very dark and sort of a gritty area.
It wasn’t perfect for us, and for Bajans who knew the area it wasn’t perfect either. As you said, Batts Rock has been historically known to have some problems, particularly at night. Nevertheless, there was a vision! We thought, if we add some lights to this place, and more importantly, some life, it would attract people and put the beach back on the map! After all, despite its problems, this beach is beautiful, so it was up to us to make this work. The benefits were obvious.
Accountability is something you guys are serious about. How do you address that in your business?
Our team is accountable for its own actions with regards to the environment. We continually monitor and manage our energy use and recycling habits. We also plan to install allocated bins for recycling within the Batts Rock area for the public. We grow our own herbs and work with our local farmers to achieve a 95% rate of local production for our food menu, and 70% for our drinks.
While I was there, you took everyone on a tour of the rum shacks around the island. What can you tell people about those types of places if they’ve never been? What makes them great?
By far my favorite day off – a rum shop tour around the island!
People who run those rum shop are such characters – they are real. You won’t find a perfect pour, or a guy who will shake a rum cocktail all fancy, or a guy who will use perfectly clear ice using Icelandic water. What you will find is the boss who will give you a bottle of rum of your choice of mixer, like some coconut water, and a few ice cubes. Then, there you go! and there we go. You sit down and share the table with some Bajan over loud playing dominos or telling for the 1000 times how they use to surf the east coast back in the day.
Where do you go on holiday? Somewhere cold?
In my 20s (in the UK), I was always flying around for work or for fun. Since I’ve been in Barbados, I’ve probably taken a plane 5 times. I never travel. I love the island and the lifestyle. But after COVID, I will start to travel again. I miss educational trips, so the next year I want to start to do wine region trips all over.
I remember seeing that you had Lee “Scratch” Perry performing at La Cabane. Legend! Did you pack the place out that night? I imagine that made quite an impression. Anything to tell us?
When Lee Perry and Mad Professor play, you don’t smoke cigars. There were two 12 foot speaker stacks delivering the sound. But that’s about all I remember. 🙂
One thing that shocked me about the culture there was how incredibly nice people are – like I am not used to that. Frankly, they make most of western European countries look really uptight, even rude, in comparison. It must be the way parents raise the kids there. What is it?
Education, culture, history, sun. But also when your country depends solely on tourism, you have only one thing to do: be nice to everyone.
Do you ever consider moving back to Europe or the UK? I ask this because most people think living in a place like Barbados is paradise and why would you ever want to leave?
South of France for sure one day. But now Barbados is my home. My kids and my friends are Bajan.