One of our favorite spots for pre-dinner cocktails in Vieques is Al’s, down by the ferry terminal.
It’s pretty perfect in its own way.
First of all, it’s delightfully run-down. No one could ever accuse Al’s decorator of trying too hard. We like that.
And then there’s the air of quiet desperation that hangs over the place. Even the bar stools look a little depressed. It reminds us of some of our favorite sad/happy bars around the world, from Sydney to Sorrento.
It’s also fun to study the crowd while you’re waiting for your drink.
To the left you’ll generally find an ex-pat named Clive who looks 70 but probably isn’t much over 50 (a squirt or two of sun block along the way might have helped). He’s flirting listlessly with the bartender, who seems more interested in the soccer match blaring on the big screen behind her than in his leathery charms.
Two seats over lurks a clutch of ladies I’ve seen behind the counter at the Humane Society Shop. Margaritas in hand, they look quite a bit happier here than the last time I saw them, sweating over a pile of “previously owned” clothing. One of them sports a headband, as if she’s just bounced off the tennis court at Bryn Mawr.
Completing the tableau to the far right is an assortment of aging hippie types—three women, two guys—complete with lashings of salt-and-pepper hair, gauzy outfits and turquoise jewelry. You get the idea.
We take our drinks and head out to the balcony—which is really the whole point of the place–but not before stopping and chatting with at least half of our fellow patrons along the way. It’s a friendly sort of place, and we like that about it too.
The balcony, appended to the back of the building like a carbuncle stuck onto the hull of a ship, is in fact a narrow, rickety deck that’s usually far too crowded and could easily collapse at any moment.
But no one seems to care.
Maybe because of the view.
Which is hard to describe. Or at least hard to explain. How is it different from a zillion other great views we’ve ogled here and there through the years?
Maybe it’s the light, which changes approximately every ten seconds from lavender to violet to gold and back again. Or the clouds stacking up like giant boulders across the horizon. Or maybe it’s the ferry plowing its solemn way through the water.
Yeah, maybe that’s it.
And as if all that’s not enough, sometimes there’s even a sideshow.
One night just before sunset we were treated to the following spectacle: a stout middle-aged man, nonchalantly reclining on an inflated raft sipping a cocktail, was being hauled back and forth across the water by a younger man energetically paddling a kayak.
To delighted catcalls from the crowd, this picturesque duo circled the area in front of Al’s three times, jauntily saluted its audience, and paddled away, presumably for refills.
Speaking of refills, isn’t it time to grab one?
Meet you at the bar.
[If you enjoyed this sketch of Vieques, you’ll find lots more like it in my book, Tropic of Sunshine, available on Kindle, Nook and Apple iBooks. www.tropicofsunshine.com]