by Tuere Randall
If you know anything about St. Barthelemy, Caribbean playground of the glamazon set, then you’ve probably heard of Nikki Beach, Le Ti St. Barth, the über-chic hotel bars at Île de France and Eden Rock, and posh nightspot watering holes such as Bagatelle and Le Yacht Club. Well, I’m here to tell you that in spite of all the hoopla, none of those is as famous as the totally unassuming, yet devastatingly charming Le Select.
Le Select is one of the oldest bars in St. Barth and its owner, Marius Stakelborough, is one of the elder statesmen of the island and a pillar in the local community of Gustavia. People come from far and wide, year after year, to pay tribute to the man who has become a living symbol of what the spirit of this island represented –self-determination and modesty– in the days before the Hamptons crowd decided to annex it for themselves. Almost in his 90s, it’s not unusual to see Marius stop by in the late afternoon and stay for a few hours to greet all the folks for whom a visit to St. Barth would be woefully incomplete if they did not see him. In fact, Marius has received honors and accolades from the King and Queen of Sweden (St. Barth was Swedish for a time, which is why the main town is called Gustavia, for King Gustav). For many of the residents of Gustavia, Marius is a local hero, a black man who made good for himself, and they beam with pride when they speak of him. And Marius has friends from all walks of life, people of all nationalities, ethnicities and colors who celebrate this man and the little bar that he has built.
And what a wonderful bar it is. Le Select lacks what some might call the pretentiousness that define some of the other more elitist establishments on the island, which is why it’s a favorite with the townies. It is, perhaps, one of the few places that one can still go and get a liquor and balance drink for 3 to 4 Euros, a veritable bargain on an island where most drink menus have NY pricing. Well, except for that little “€” sign next to it which adds, on average, an additional 30% to the cost of the drink. Michel is the most popular barman, and the de facto deejay often spinning ’70s rock or disco hits as well as the ever popular Bob Marley tune, and he never misses a beat behind the bar. If you’re looking for a fancy drink, then this isn’t the place for you, most people drink beers or liquor and soda, and possibly the most “complicated” drink that you could order here is a Piña Colada (which, I might add, Michel makes a great one!), a Town Driver (a secret concoction that is a local favorite, particularly during Carnival when total inebriation is the goal) or a “Ti Punch”, a ubiquitous libation throughout the French West Indies.
Fittingly, Le Select is often designated as the meet-up spot. Easy to reach and located in the center of town, it is situated at the end of Rue de Général de Gaulle, where you can either make a right or a left just at the end of the street that stops right in front of Le Select’s courtyard. It’s close to many of the trendy shops and galleries in town, and after a day of browsing the countless boutiques and jewelry stores, it’s nice to drop in and have a drink, and even one of their famous cheeseburgers and fries at their grill. Many people swing by just to see who is sitting out in the open air courtyard having a drink, just as some people grab a seat under a shade tree and wait to see who wanders by. Then there are the regulars who play dominoes out back or sit at the bar inside and chat it up with Michel, but sooner or later, everyone passes through Le Select.
On some nights, they have live bands that come and play and everyone dances and has a good time. Granted, it’s usually an older crowd, but everyone there has a good time. So if warm and friendly is your kinda vibe, then you’ll be in great company. In fact, I’ve met people who have been returning to St. Barth every year for 30 years or more. And it’s nice to know that when I’m there, I meet people now who recognize me from the year before. In fact, everyone is a friend at Le Select, and if not, well it’s only because you haven’t met them yet.