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The modern cocktail bar is all very well but for a taste of tradition and local culture why not sample one of Aruba’s rum shops.
The modern cocktail bar, with its exotic, potent multi-coloured concoctions are all very well but for a taste of tradition and local culture, why not sample Aruba’s rum shops.
Set up more than 100 years ago in this Dutch Caribbean island, they were simply walk-up bars, serving – fairly obviously – rum! But they have survived and evolved over the years, with cheap bear largely the order of the day and many now serving food, including barbecues, and sometimes offering entertainment and night-time DJs.
And, as in most establishments in Aruba, the locals welcome tourists and visitors are encouraged to join in the conversation, dancing – or even a game of dominoes!
Originally, rum was the liquor of the Caribbean and just about the only alcohol to be found on the island. While rum shops were where one could imbibe, they were also significant socially; they were a place to catch up with friends and neighbours, a watering hole to congregate after a long day’s work, a source to hear the latest news and island gossip, and even a place to ‘laba man’. This phrase in the local Papiamento language means literally to wash hands, and refers to figuratively washing hands at the nearest rum shop after burying a loved one in the cemetery.
Today, rum shops continue to fulfil a role of social significance on the island—they are still popular for many of the aforementioned reasons, but, having moved on, they are a draw for tourists, too.
One of the most popular is The Aruba Rum Shop, located in the heart of Aruba’s second city, San Nicholas, at the southern end of the island. Happily serving since 1937, the original bar countertop is still there for patrons to mosey up to. The adjoining domino room can get quite spirited when locals gather for a few games…don’t be shy to pull up a chair and join in on one of the island’s all-time favourite pastimes!
Pos Chiquito Rum Shop is located off the main highway just past the village of Savaneta, in the south east of the island (incidentally, Savaneta is home to the oldest surviving home in Aruba, the oldest town on the island and its former capital. It was where the Dutch first settled after they recaptured it in 1816). A 1960 relic, Pos Chiquito’s was originally opened by local fisherman Janchi Pickechi, who collected start-up cash to open the place by selling bait to fellow fishermen.
The rum shop came under new management recently, with an injection of youthful energy and style, but tradition and authenticity still ooze from this bar.
Located off the main road in Santa Cruz, a town in central Aruba, Rudsen was named after the original owners, Rudy and Senny. A fascinating collection of hats donated by patrons from all over the world adorn the ceilings and act as a calling card that all walks of life are welcome here. The rum shop is also known for its pastechis, a popular Aruban pastry stuffed with tasty goodies like cheese, ham, and ground beef.
Tucked away on the highway just past the airport is the little rum shop Young Fellow, which combines the characteristics of a near 80-year old rum shop with newer traditions of weekend island barbecue and live music. Popular times to hit this roadside refuge are Friday evenings, when every beer comes out of the cooler at 3 Aruban Florins (about £1.20) each, followed by live music later in the evening.
Local Store, located on Palm Beach Road, is close to a main hotel resort area. Although today it stretches the boundaries to really be called a rum shop, it once was the busiest rum shop in the area. Owned by two sisters, for decades this was the place to stop in after work, loosen the ties, and knock back a couple of cold beers. The sisters retired in 2014, making way for the next generation. Retaining the charm of yesteryear and infusing it with on-trend offerings like imported craft beers, Local Store’s popular wings with their special sauce, burgers, and panini wash down nicely with the cold beer! And if you want to feel like a local and play some dominoes, Local Store will be happy to bring out a set for you.