- Written by CLAIRE SHEFCHIK
- Published: 25 September 2017
If you’re looking for a place to eat, drink or socialise on Tortola in the wake of Hurricane Irma, you may have more options than you think.
“People really want normalcy; they want a place to gather,” said Ambeeka Glasgow, manager of The Watering Hole in Road Town. “We’re trying to provide that.”
Plus, she said, “business owners need a place to check e-mail and communicate with their clients.”
Less than a week after Irma devastated the islands on Sept. 6, the bar, with the help of a generator, started serving up burgers, lattes, and (semi-)cold beer, and has become ground zero of sorts for residents and volunteers who arrive to take advantage of its WiFi.
On Monday, her staff ran around lashing down furniture and boarding up windows in preparation for Hurricane Maria, but they were open again in 48 hours. With the curfew extended to 8 p.m., no doubt more customers will start pouring in.
“They are grateful to have a place to go to get a beer and hot meal,” Ms. Glasgow explained. “It’s a community gathering place.”
On Saturday, Apple Bay resident Susan Chaplin, who was staying in a shelter after her home was destroyed, stopped into The Watering Hole for a beer and to commiserate with other survivors.
“It’s so nice to have a place to go,” she said.
Ms. Glasgow was far from alone in recognising how much residents crave normalcy. On Saturday, the popular green chicken bus across from Flow in Road Town had a queue down the street.
Rudy’s Bar, an institution at the top of Joes Hill that was completely blown away by Irma and then by Maria, has since been rebuilt — twice. On Sunday a handwritten sign outside “Rudy’s 3” advertised cold beer, luring in dozens of passing motorists.
“We were taken down twice by the hurricane,” owner Rudy Clyne-Woods said Sunday morning. “Has it taken me down? I put it right back up.”
His refrigerator blew down the mountain during Irma, but he salvaged most of it, replaced its lost top with a piece of plywood, and filled it with ice and beer.
“It’s still not as bad a people say it is,” he said, “but we have to live with what’s going on around now.”
Stoutt’s Lookout in nearby Windy Hill was also operating on Sunday, selling cold bar drinks.
Though the brightly painted wood building stands in a very windy location, it withstood the recent storms with very little damage.
“She stand up very good,” said owner Prince Stoutt. “Everybody say we very lucky, but we had a very great contractor and a great carpenter-builder.”
Mr. Stoutt hopes to start serving burgers and other food on Tuesday if he can get a generator up and running.
In Road Town, an employee sweeping up mountains of debris at the badly damaged Bamboushay Lounge on Main Street, said the owner plans to reopen and start serving up hot food as soon as he can. In the meantime, the Filipino employee — who is known as Angelito, but declined to provide his surname — has chosen to stay on Tortola instead of evacuating back to Manila.
“I’ve been here for seven years,” he said. “My life is here.”
He added that the Immigration Department has allowed him to work odd jobs for any employer, and he hasn’t had to look far to find work.
Other businesses, though, face a steeper climb.
Victor “Ocho” John, who has owned a bar and inn near Waterfront Drive in Road Town for 27 years, said he hopes to open within three months, but he has a lot to do first. The top floor of the building lost its roof, and most of his neighbouring wooden buildings have been reduced to rubble, blocking him in.
Aid workers have offered him food and bottled water, but that’s not what he needs now.
“I need my place clear,” he said. “I need my roof fixed. I need electricity and running water.” Even with all his difficulties, he said tourists shouldn’t be shy about booking a trip to the Virgin Islands six months from now, when he thinks things will be largely back to normal.
Barrie North, a search and rescue volunteer from the United States who is now helping out Richard Branson’s BVI Unite, shared his theory about why local businesses are so eager to get down to business. With their basic needs met, residents are looking to the future — and particularly the tourism-dependent local economy.
“Want to help the BVI?” he asked. “Book a holiday for next year.”
Freeman Rogers contributed reporting to this article.