7 great fishing lodge bars
Anglers are an interesting lot. We’ll hop a flight to some far-flung fishing paradise, spend hours in the air to get to our destination, deplane, grab our luggage and catch a ride to the fishing lodge … only then ask the obvious question:
“Where’s the bar?”
There are lots of things that bring us together as a species, like the spirit of adventure, the rush that comes with chasing strange fish in far-off places and the near-constant desire to sample new water. But nothing brings us together quite like a good lodge bar.
And it’s almost expected. Good fishing lodges have good bars. Or, rather, they provide a common gathering place for anglers where they can commune over good booze, beer and wine — the term “bar” is totally subjective. It’s these places where anglers share angling stories, whether those of the day on the water that just concluded or those from years long past, and form fast friendships.
1. The Machete Bar at South Fork Lodge
There are classic “fishing bars,” like the unbeatable whiskey bar at the South Fork Lodge in Swan Valley, Idaho. For lodge guests, the lodge’s well stocked staples are an included part of the experience, but ultra-premium spirits — the kind the barkeep has to reach with the help of a sliding library ladder — add to the adventure. No, you’re not likely to find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, but you might be tempted to upgrade your bourbon over ice for a taste of High West Midwinter's Night Dram or a snort of $80 Elmer T. Lee ... or even of the $250 Heaven Hill Heritage 17 year. All this while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows from the rich and homy bar at the South Fork of the Snake River, one of the best places in North America to cast dry flies to rising trout.
2. The Carriearl Roost at Soul Fly Lodge
Another idyllic lodge bar is the old Carriearl at Soul Fly Lodge on Great Harbour Cay in the Bahamas. It’s a wonderful gathering place for anglers and guides, and a rich collection of Caribbean rum, whiskey from around the world and, of course, cold Kalik on tap, make it the obvious place to get together after a day spent chasing bonefish and permit on the nearby flats. Of course, at Soul Fly, you can also grab your tumbler and wander out to the deck or even sit in the pool to converse. The bar itself bears the name of the property’s former owners. Earl and Carri Blackwell. Earl was known as Mr. Celebrity — he made Great Harbour Cay famous among the Hollywood glitterati of the 1960s. For years, the property was operated as the CarriEarl boutique hotel, but in just the last two years, the property has become a full-time fly-fishing lodge. And why not? It’s some of the best angling in the islands — and the bar, with its legacy name and all, helps make Soul Fly a very special place, indeed.
3. The bar at PRG Unplugged
No, not every “bar” is an actual bar.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of fishing the “unplugged” program with Patagonia River Guides, an overnight adventure on the Rio Limay. After a day floating this sweeping desert river, and after I managed to hook and land 25-inch and 27-inch brown trout (no, I’m not kidding), we arrived at a well-appointed camp, fully equipped with comfortable tents outfitted with luxurious cots topped with down comforters, a portable dining hall and, yes, even hot and cold running water.
Nevertheless, what’s the first thing our group of globe-trotting anglers looked for? Yup. The bar.
And we found it, perfectly situated on a table right outside the dining hall and just a few steps away from the campfire, where we swapped stories and fishing tales after dinner that glorious night, all the while enjoying delicious Argentine malbec chased by a fine selection of good whiskey and bourbon.
4. The River of Dreams basecamp bar
At the River of Dreams basecamp on the remote and gorgeous Rio Blanco in Chile, proprietor Eduardo Barrueto, with the help of gaucho Jorge Martinez and his pack string of adept horses and guide and camp architect Andreas Manstein, constructed a riverside camp some 20 miles from civilization complete with all the trappings of a good fishing lodge, but one only accessible via horseback or helicopter.
And he didn’t skimp. Inside the beautiful dining hall rests a bar. And after a day spent chasing the Rio Blanco’s giant browns and acrobatic rainbows with skated mouse patterns, our lucky group of anglers poured whiskey over ice and compared notes while sitting around one of the most remote lodge bars on the planet.
5. Kaye's Bar at the Palometa Club
Named for the latter half of the duo that founded the Palometa Club back in 2005 and operated the lodge for over a decade, Dick and Kaye Cameron, Kaye's bar may be one of the finest places on the entire Yucatan Peninsula to gather, sip down an icy cold margarita, and tell stories of triumphant permit victories or inglorious permit defeats. Because Kaye's Bar is located oceanfront in remote Punta Allen, a stone's throw from famed Ascension Bay, you can sift beach sands through your toes as you sit at this friendly, intimate bar. Chances are, this is where you’ll spend most of your waking hours when you're at the Palometa Club and not out on the bay chasing permit. It’s too tempting not to plop down in front of a pitcher of margaritas and refuel on homemade chips, salsas, and delectable ceviche, all the while shaded by the club's beachfront palms. What's more — a revitalized and reimagined Kaye's bar is slated to debut this September, part of a series of upgrades which longtime friend of Dick and Kaye and the lodge's new proprietor, David Leake, has underway. But don't worry, with Leake determined to carry on the club's legacy, the new and improved Kaye's bar is sure to have all the charm and warmth of the original.
6. Max's Conch Bar and Grill
And, to be honest, not all “lodge bars” are in the lodges themselves. For instance, on Long Island in the Bahamas, there’s a great little roadside bar covered in palm fronds where a flats-weary angler might be able to find the perfect conch salad or conch burger served alongside a frigid Kalik. At Max’s Conch Bar and Grill, a 5-10 minute walk from the nearby Long Island Bonefishing Lodge (which boasts a lovely bar in its own right), anglers from all over the island converge at day’s end and swap tales well past dark as they fill their bellies with cold beer and some of the best food on the island. It’s proof that the ingredients of any good bar likely start with the people behind it — or at least the people we share time with.
7. The whiskey bar at PRG South
In Argentina, at Patagonia River Guides South, the stunningly beautiful lodge at Trevelin features a unique bar — a “have one, leave one” proposition. Anglers and bird hunters are welcome to whatever bottles line the shelves of the bar and the price of admission is simply bringing and leaving a bottle of your favorite spirit in return, so the next guests will have a chance to sample what suits others, not just what they know they like. Talk about a great way to expand your whiskey palate (or your rum, vodka or gin palate, for that matter).
Lodge bars are like campfires … they’re where truths and lies mix romantically into a storytelling slurry — a conglomeration of jokes and tales designed to make us laugh and to make us think. Done right, a lodge bar becomes that magnet that brings people from all walks of life together.
Here’s to the lodges that do it right.