On a recent cruise in the Bahamas I skipped the usual shore tours and opted instead for Graycliff, a quiet, serene restaurant a friend had recommended to me. Removed from the hustle and bustle of normal tourist traffic, it’s an amazing enterprise, that hosts:
- two restaurants,
- a boutique hotel,
- what is rumored to be the world’s third largest wine cellar,
- a cognateque,
- one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world,
- a cigar factory and
- a chocolate factory – all on site.
It is the most exquisite heritage building erected in 1740 on the ruins of an earlier church, some of which you can still see, and it’s elegantly furnished with antiques and collectibles dating back to the Bahamian pirate era.
We started with a light lunch in the sunroom surrounded by shady green foliage. I ordered Bahamian Stone Crabs with warm Dijon mustard sauce and a glass of rose. (Here’s a great version of that sauce you can make at home.) It was served on fine china by the most polite waiter, who hovered ever so discreetly waiting to meet our every need. A cute little butterfly dish on the table held Himalayan salt in one side, cracked pepper in the other. To top it off, I finished with a cheese board. There are many other local delicacies on the menu and it changes regularly to reflect the seasonality and freshness of the local fare.
The waiter offered us a tour of the wine cellar which boasts over 250,000 bottles! As we walked downstairs he explained that the house had originally been built by pirates and was commandeered by the British Navy in 1776. The cellar had been the dungeon where they kept prisoners captured during skirmishes and battles. It then became Nassau’s first Inn in 1844. He took us through all the different varieties of wine from 15 countries and over 400 vintners, then led us into the private dining room that has hosted the likes of Oprah, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Robert DeNiro among many others. This room can be hired for private functions with a $1,000USD booking fee (check their site, as this price may change). Your menu and choice of wines from the cellar, Cognacs, local rums; or whatever your heart desires can all be designed to suit your personal tastes. It seats up to 18 and no one goes home unhappy. Keep this in mind for your next Christmas party or small wedding. On the way out our host uncovered the oldest and one of the most expensive bottles, Rudesheimer Apostelwein, from Bremen Ratskeller in the “Rheinghau” Region, bottled in 1727.
The Graycliff Cigar Factory
Out through the back cellar door and past the mosaic tiled pool is the Graycliff Cigar Factory, where a small team hands roll over 60 different types of cigars while you watch them at their craft. You can sample a cigar before you invest in a box, so my friend bought a few and the attendant taught us the art of lighting and puffing on a cigar. You can also book rolling lessons and cigar tastings if you are a connoisseur. I passed on the cigars as I was ready for the chocolate.
It’s a very small factory but they make all sorts of wonderful, unctuous and even, quirky, chocolates. On the short tour through the factory you sample a bit from the vats of liquid yum. There’s also some white chocolate, that is made from just the cocoa butter, and some dark cacao chocolate that reaches 90-95% purity. They hold a quick demonstration on how they paint the finished and set chocolates then send you through to the gift shop to buy which ever flavors you liked or other novelty choices featuring fruit from the tropics: mango, lime, coconut, sea grapes and genips; and strange ones like tomato-basil and bacon that actually tasted OK.
If you are a fan of decadence, next time you are in the Bahamas, choose this as an affordable alternative to the shore excursions the ship provides. It truly is a wonderful experience, where you can have all the makings of a great vacation in the one place, and experience the genuine Bahamian colonial flavor. They are also currently overhauling the little area with art galleries. Check out the local art, including a local photographer whose work is mostly “iPhoneography”, hand-made craft and curios shops directly across the road, or if you’ve booked a week in one of the large resorts, like Atlantis, escape to spend a day in a different world.