By Ruth J. Katz
Shaken, not stirred,” is the legendary James Bond admonition to countless cinematic barkeeps across decades. As I sat at the Martini Bar in the lobby of the elegant Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort, Bahamas, I, too, uttered those words to Keith Cash, the almost-as-renowned barman, who has been shaking, stirring, mixing, and mastering serious nectars for over 32 years at the resort. After a scene from Casino Royale was shot on these very grounds, Cash created the Vesper Martini, named for Bond’s (in that film, Daniel Craig) inamorata. Cash has a cache of other martinis up his sleeve. Just ask, and a heavenly concoction will appear.
Craig was not the only Bond to find the Bahamas welcoming. In fact, three other 007 films were committed to celluloid here: Sean Connery plied his acting chops in both Thunderball and Never Say Never Again; and Roger Moore, in The Spy Who Loved Me. Connery loved the Bahamas so much, he bought property here.
And there is a lot of “here” to love. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas comprises some 700 islands, islets, and cays (about three dozen are inhabited), occupying 1,000 square miles in the Atlantic, with New Providence Island (Nassau is its capital), among the most popular; Paradise Island (a mere one-mile wide, about five miles long) is its neighbor. Other well-known Bahamian islands include the Exumas, the Abacos, Freeport, Bimini, and Eleuthra. Columbus’ first landfall in 1492 was the Bahamas.
Connery’s love of the area is matched by that of the Four Seasons staff at The Ocean Club; so devoted to the resort are the employees, that Cash’s tenure is typical. Countless employees have logged in decades at the hotel, including tennis pro, Leo Rolle, who has coached some mighty serious A-listers on his six tennis courts, and who has “held court” over 50 years at the property. Concierge Bridgette Poitier has been here about a dozen years, and she’s one of the “youngsters.” (Poitier is a well-known name in the Bahamas, as actor Sidney Poitier hails from Cat Island; the bridge linking Paradise Island to New Providence is named for him.)
The resort, set on 35 exquisitely lush, landscaped acres, is one of the most stunning among the many where I have luxuriated. There are just over 100 rooms in the heart of the hotel, decorated with modern, tropical-influenced elegance, surrounding the Huntington Court, named for A & P supermarket heir, Huntington Hartford II. In addition to the chambers in the main hotel, there are suites nestled among the verdant flora, including two three-bedroom and one four-bedroom villas, ideal for families. Hartford bought the island (yes, the entire island) in 1959 from a Swedish industrialist. He later purchased the remains of a French Augustinian monastery, initially acquired by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s, and thence warehoused. This stately cloister, the Versailles Gardens, is the jewel of the property; the beautiful landscape is accented with koi and lily ponds, fountains, and comely marble statuary.
MORE TO SEE & DO
While Cash ministers to what you imbibe, Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has overseen the ambrosia. He has created the menu for Dune, the Ocean Club’s sensational sea-view eatery, and every meal I had was toothsome and tasty. You can easily spend your entire time at the resort—given the restaurants, the golf course, spa, and a charming Kids 4 All Seasons clubhouse at your fingertips. However, find time to venture into town at least once (cruise ships make Nassau a regular stop), if only to check out the shopping and sites: The Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation at Vendue House offers a seminal education. The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, located in a refurbished, two-story 1860s villa, highlights the work of native sons—sculptors, painters, photographers--among other exhibits. Another destination should be John Watling’s Distillery, named for a notorious pirate. While the tour is very short and provides for a mere taste of the company’s rums, the Four Seasons is now designing a rum tour for guests only. Another de rigueur visit should be to the funky, unusual Graycliff Hotel, which maintains a chocolatier and a cigar factory. The 100-acre Fort Charlotte on New Providence overlooks the harbor and provides a good photo-op. In the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex, climb the 102-foot-tall, 65-step ascendance (a 66th step is buried on the bottom), carved by slaves from solid limestone in the late 18th century, and named for Queen Victoria.
The Ocean Club will also arrange countless singular experiences, including a visit with local artist Jane Waterous, whose striking canvases adorn the hotel’s main salons. Private pop-up evenings at her studio will be a Four Seasons exclusive. The Bahamas has a rich pirate history, and infamous swashbucklers include Henry Avery, Benjamin Hornigold, and Edward Teach. Ask the concierge about pirate highlights.
Paradise Island is well-named, indeed, but this resort ratchets up the notion to the lofty, celestial heavens.
© 2019 Ruth J. Katz All Rights Reserved.