It may seem ironic to bring a faux-tropical bar to a tropical island, but on Friday, September 2, an outpost of Brooklyn’s Sunken Harbor Club – the acclaimed tiki bar on the upper level of Gage & Tollner – will open in Bermuda’s Cambridge Beaches hotel.
Located on a remote peninsula, where locals often pull in by boat, the bar pays homage to Bermuda’s history as “the shipwreck capital of the world,” says Sunken Harbor proprietor St. John Frizell. “Instead of being inside a fake sunken ship, we have real shipwrecks off the coast.”
Sunken Harbor will be one of three dining and drinking options within Cambridge Beaches, a cottage-style resort founded in 1923 and acquired last year by hotel company Dovetail + Co., which has been renovating the property ahead of its centennial next year. Head bartender Daniel Moik will run the bar, while chef and Bermuda native Keith DeShields will helm the kitchen, with a menu that pays homage to Caribbean and Portuguese influences (think: Bermuda shark hash and callaloo pasta). While the bar has been soft-opened to hotel guests during the last month, the official opening date is this weekend.
Compared to the dark, intimate Brooklyn space where a surf soundtrack is piped in beneath the music, the Bermuda Sunken Harbor Club will include two distinct areas: a “cocoon-like” lounge area, and a dining room that opens on to a terrace that overlooks the water.
“There’s a lot of natural light,” Frizell says. “That’s been a challenge for me…in tiki bars, you don’t want to let the outside world in too much, you want to create an immersive, transporting [experience].”
But with the Bermuda “chapter,” as it has been dubbed, “We don’t have to transport people to a tropical island –– they’re already on a tropical island. We’re just bringing drinks that match the environment.”
About those drinks: about half will mirror the Brooklyn drink menu, Frizell says. Beyond that, expect updates of local classics like the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (a spiced spin on a Daiquiri), the Dark & Stormy, and a Bermuda Rum Swizzle made with sherry and a Navy strength rum blend developed with Bermuda rum-maker Goslings. Originals like the Oaxacan Pepperpot, a “brawny, tropical Old Fashioned” made with mezcal and kasiri, a Guyanese cassava spirit, will also figure into the menu.
Assembling the spirits needed to make high-end cocktails was a particular obstacle: “For a bar that relies pretty heavily on rum, a lot of the rums were not available in Bermuda,” Frizell recalls. Working with Florida-based importer Ed Hamilton of Hamilton Rum, it took several months to assemble most of the backbar components, ranging from Demerara and Jamaican rums to liqueurs like spiced Pimento Dram and Creole Shrubb, an orange liqueur. Still missing from the collection: rhum agricole (We’re using cachaca,” Frizell confides).
The lack of access to spirits is one reason the island hadn’t previously developed a high-end cocktail bar culture, though it has plenty of breezy beach bars and casual taverns, posits Phil Hospod, CEO and Founder of hospitality group Dovetail + Co.
“Hamilton is a thriving financial capital,” Hospod observes, and bars like Sunken Harbor fill a need for Bermudians seeking “world-class experiences” similar to those found in other cities. The hope is to position Sunken Harbor Club as a cocktail destination for the island, with “well-executed cocktails” in a relaxed environment, backed by the tales of historic adventure and discovery that tend to accompany tiki-style bars.
Here, the narrative will be bolstered by artifacts from the collection of “shipwreck hunter” Teddy Tucker, a native Bermudian and marine archeologist, who lived on the peninsula until his death in 2014; his estate is the only other structure on the 23-acre peninsula aside from the Cambridge Beaches resort. Salvaged treasures on display will include cannonballs dating back to the 1600s; more than 100 grindstones, which will pave the patio outside Sunken Harbor Club; and portholes recovered from a 1920s-era ship, the same model used on the Titanic.
“You’re there in this room interacting with stuff that is decades, centuries old, pulled off a shipwreck on the sea floor,” Frizell says. “The myth of the Sunken Harbor Club we’re trying to create in New York really comes to life there, it becomes real.”
What started as a pop-up in Red Hook’s original Fort Defiance location back in 2013 may one day have locations around the globe, drawing comparison to Trader Vic’s, the original tiki bar franchise. The Bermuda “chapter” of Sunken Harbor Club was in the works even before the Brooklyn brick-and-mortar opened in November 2021; and looking ahead, Frizell and Hospod hint at the possibility of future “chapters” in Hawai’i and beyond.