Turning 27 isn’t an especially notable affair. It’s a fairly underwhelming age overall, edging one step further away from ‘mid-twenties’ and into ‘late-twenties-zone’. But turning 27 in a foreign country with new friends and new places to explore was a first for me, and therefore seemed like the perfect excuse to party.
After a couple of months living on Roatan, Honduras, I’d already spent what my Mum would call an unhealthy amount of time in the bars around West End. It’s an all too easy habit to finish the working day with a beer in hand, before making your way over to the small handful of bars that had quickly become our usual haunts. This simple routine would have been a perfectly pleasant way to celebrate but, keen to introduce a slice of home into the occasion, I decided to orchestrate a round of pub golf.
For those that don’t know what pub golf is (you Philistines), it’s a drinking game that sees you crawl your way around all your favourite watering holes. The sport lends its name to the game thanks to the scoring system: 9 pubs (or bars in this case, I’m not sure Central America even knows what a pub is) are selected as the 9 ‘holes’ on a golf course, and each is assigned a specific drink and par. If for example, Hole 1 is a beer, and the par is 4, you’re allowed a maximum of 4 gulps to finish the beer before going over par. Finishing in 3 will score you a birdie, and 2 an eagle. For seasoned pros, the beer can be downed in one go, scoring you the highest accolade of a hole in one. You keep score as you go and the winner is the person who gets round all 9 bars with the lowest score. Or loser, depending on which way you look at it.
The other similarity to the real-life sport? You all have to dress up as golfers. Obviously. Unfortunately, fancy dress attire is thin on the ground in Roatan, so we cobbled together our best attempts at “cruise shipper” costumes, and set out to wreak havoc upon the bars of West End. It’ll suffice to say that the night was a riot, weaving our way up and down the strip, in and out of bars, generally making merry fools of ourselves as we went. But, fun as these memories are, I find it’s usually best to confine these to a blurry corner of your mind rather than bore others with random renditions of in-jokes and drunken hijinks (“But it was soooo funny?! Maybe you had to be there…”)
Instead, why not take a stroll with me along the golf course that is West End’s nightlife. We’ll take a quick pitstop at each bar as we go, and I can give you an insight into the what a night in Roatan looks like. Hopefully, this refined and wholly sober virtual tour will act as a solid guide to the bars of West End…
Our oh-so professional score card for the night, with obligatory cucumber. Because birthdays.
Hole 1 – Casa de Ellie (my apartment)
OK, so not technically a bar on the island, nor somewhere that you’ll likely pay a trip to if you ever visit Roatan. But it’s worth noting that drinking at home can be a fun and cheap option. Whilst beer and local spirits are reasonable in most of the bars in Roatan, wine and imported spirits can get quite pricey (a glass of wine starts at about $5, even in the cheapest bars) However, there is a duty free shop right in the middle of West End, where you can buy a 75cl bottle of premium booze for about $10. Wine in the local stores is also fairly reasonable, at about $8-12 a bottle.
This bottle of Imagin (could this be an acronym for Imitation Gin?!) was only $7 in the duty free shop
Hole 2 – Bar on the Bay
Bar on the Bay is one of the classier bars on the island, and has a great view over the ocean. Its decor is simple but rustically chic, and the cocktails here are well made, using nicer spirits than some of the other bars in West End. It’s not really designed to be a ‘night out’ kind of place, opting instead for a more of a chilled out, zen-like vibe with ambient music playing softly in the background. It’s also quite pricey so I’d recommend making the most of their 2-for-1 happy hour.
Needless to say, 7 rowdy lager-louts weren’t exactly the prime clientele for this more up-market establishment, and we made this a swift hole before moving on.
Hole 3 (attempt 1) – Eagle Rays
This was the wildcard of the evening; Eagle Rays is a large, imposing building set in prime location over the sea, and yet no one ever seems to go there, least of all the locals and expats. Ambling past, we thought we’d give it a go. We quickly realised why it’s virtually deserted at most times, with a simple mixed drink costing $5 each, absolutely no customers in the bar or restaurant, and atmosphere about as vibrant as a deflated balloon. After a brief exchange with the underwhelmed bar staff, we swiftly turned on our heels and left.
In fairness, I appreciate that a group of pub-golfers are unlikely to be their target market, but as there was no one else in there, it’s hard to know who they appeal to. It’s a shame as, despite it’s slightly shoddy signage, it’s in a excellent location. But, for me, a brief 2 minutes there was more than enough for my whole time on Roatan.
Hole 3 (take 2) – Dix Halfway Inn
I can never decide whether this name is a stroke of marketing genius or just a little bit crass, but Dix has arguably the best spot on the island for a bar. Located on a stretch of beach that juts into the ocean, it has near 360 degree views of the stunning Caribbean horizon making it an ideal place for Happy Hour as the sun sets. The Happy Hour deals are great value here – $3 for 2 drinks of either beer or very generously poured spirit and mixer. The outside area is pleasant, and it’s the only air-conditioned bar in West End.
My one criticism of this place is that it lacks atmosphere. The owners are lovely, and the location in top-notch, but somehow it doesn’t quite manage to live up to its potential. While it’s great for an early evening pitstop, it never really gets that busy and it seems to lose its ‘oomph’ once the sun goes down. I’d love to see this place thrive because it has all the right ingredients, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a particularly vibrant place to base a night. However, miss Happy Hour at your peril, because it’s definitely worth a visit.
Hole 4 – The Convenience Store
That’s right, the local store, and by far my favourite “bar” on the island. Where else in the world would you be able to walk into the local shop, locate your secret bottle of rum hidden in the freezer and proceed to do shots with the manager. But that’s what happened most nights of the week in West End, and is one of the perks of being friends with the owner.
Some of my best nights out started in the store, and watching the events back on CCTV the next day proved to be a hilarious if often humiliating ritual. On the night in question, I spent a good hour perched on the counter, working my way through my share of two bottles of rum. This could explain why the memories of the rest of the night are so hazy…
Hole 5 – Coconut Tree Restaurant
This is, unfortunately, quite an underwhelming spot. It’s got all the right components to be a great bar – location, friendly staff, pool table – but it somehow doesn’t really come together for me. Their breakfasts in the morning are great, and people often gather here to watch sports as they show all the big games, but as far as a decent night out goes, for me it doesn’t really make the cut.
Hole 6 – Woody’s
Because why have one local store on the list when you could have two? Woody’s is the closest thing West End has to a supermarket, and whilst definitely not a bar in any way, shape or form (no secret rum to be found here) it was as good a place as any to drop in, buy a cheap beer, and chin it before heading onto the next hole.
Hole 7 – Sundowners
Ah, Sundowners. Anyone who’s ever been to West End will know and, most likely, love it. It’s kind of like the unofficial town hall of West End, where you can rub shoulders with pretty much everyone who works here. In a country where no one has working phones, getting hold of people could sometimes prove difficult but, if you wanted to find someone, chancers are they’d be at ‘Downers.
In the day, it’s fairly quiet but they serve excellent burgers. Come 5pm, it transforms into the social hub of the strip, with cheap drinks, good live music, and a brilliant lively atmosphere. You can’t really say you’ve been to Roatan unless you’ve been to Sundowners, so put it on your ‘to-visit’ list immediately. Insider tip? Try the Monkey Lala – a local speciality, it’s a sort of frozen alcoholic milkshake. I couldn’t tell you what’s in it, but I can tell you it’s good!
Hole 8 –
Franks Booty Bar
A deviation from our scheduled plan, we decided to give Franks a miss. Franks is one of our more usual haunts, and chances are we’d find ourselves dancing there into the small hours on a Friday night. It’s a fairly easy-going place, with a patch of beach for a dance floor and reasonably priced drinks, but the music is hit and miss, and it can be a bit flat until later at night. Hence why we went to Booty Bar.
Booty Bar has to be one of my least favourite bars in West End. With screens adorning the back walls, and generic music videos blaring out, it’s about as far away from authentic as you can get. However, if a very specific mood takes you (i.e. the kind where you want to dance like a drunk white girl at her prom) and you’re not capable of putting together a compelling enough argument against it, you may well find yourself here.
Hole 9 – Blue Marlin
When I first arrived on Roatan, this bar didn’t really register on my radar. It seemed to be a fairly nondescript kind of place with a few loyal regulars but not enough of an atmosphere to lure me away from the holy trinity that is Convenience Store – Sundowners – Franks. That is until we discovered Karaoke Night, and our lives were changed forever.
Every Thursday, Blue Marlin wheels out the screens, charges up the mics, and prepares itself for the onslaught of discordant warblings that is amateur karaoke. And it’s just great. Depending on how early I’d arrive, my weekly performances (always teamed with my good friend Tony) would vary from mildly inharmonious to offensively terrible. As you can imagine, my birthday night saw me tip the scale towards the horrendous as I caterwauled Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands in the Stream’ down the microphone. Other than on a Thursday, I’d give Blue Marlin a miss but, even if karaoke’s not usually your bag, I highly recommend trying it here. Whether you sing or not, the dance floor is always full, the song choices are up-tempo and the atmosphere is unparalleled.
So, there you have it – a whistle-stop tour of the 10 privileged bars in West End that made our list. Whilst Roatan’s nightlife is considered tame in comparison to its sister island, Utila, it certainly isn’t to be sniffed at. The locals and expats are friendly and game for a good time, and the bars provide ample opportunities to have a truly epic night out. I know I won’t be forgetting my 27th birthday any time soon. It’s just par for the course (sorry) that there’s also parts that I won’t be remembering either. Blame it on the Monkey Lalas…