Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett was known to a generation of music fans, AKA Parrot Heads, as an easy-living, beach-trotting knave – a modern-day pirate if you will – but one with the best of intentions.
While he wasn't one to stay in one place for too long, Buffett did have his share of favorite spots to hang out. Possibly the one he treasured most of all was the tiny Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy, known to locals simply as St. Barts.
One year after he hit the big time with the release of “Margaritaville”, Buffett was sailing through the Leeward islands on his way from St Martin to Martinique when he was advised to check out tiny St Barts. He discovered Le Select, was charmed by Marius and a host of other locals, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jimmy Buffett concert at Le Select, St Barth © www.caribjournal.com
From the time he first set foot on the island, Jimmy Buffett became completely immersed in St. Barts' culture. It did not bother him that none of he simple homes on the island had a phone, or air conditioning. Nor did he mind the periodic power outages and lack of selection at the local supermarche’ (grocery store).
To Buffett his days on St Barts were like a Gaugin like adventure - the French residents were so charming and authentic, the food rustic yet delicious, the simple harbor town of Gustavia not too far removed from its pirate past. In short, heaven.
When his daughter was young, Buffett rented a small home in the hills of St. Jean, along the northern coast of St Barthélemy. He lived on and off on St Barts for several years, and Buffett has admitted that much of the inspiration for his written works, both books and songs, is rooted in St. Barts.
When times were tough, Buffett supported the island's people and her economy, by sending in life-saving supplies in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and holding numerous benefit concerts here throughout his career.
He donated his time, too, serving as an official ambassador of St. Bart's annual sailing regatta, Les Voiles de Saint Barth.
One of Jimmy Buffet’s rentals was Villa La Plage (VLP), Lorient Beach, St Barth, rented through WIMCO.
Jimmy Buffett had a preference for staying in private villas, which he frequented during his stays in St. Barts and rented through WIMCO.
How cool would it be to spend a week in the same villa Jimmy stayed in, playing his music by the pool, and enjoying that frozen concoction that helps you hang on?
Many of the villas Jimmy Buffett stayed in are still available to rent today:
Jimmy Buffett caught his first glimpse of St. Barthélemy in 1978 from the deck of his 48-foot sailing vessel, Euphoria II. In his book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” he describes his first sight of Gustavia harbor:
“That morning as we sailed into the picturesque harbor of Gustavia for the first time I thought I was staring in my own version of adventures in paradise…the early morning light framing the teardrop shaped harbor, with the ironwork balconies on the buildings surrounding the harbor marking the port as French….I told myself right at that moment that it looked like the perfect place to spend eternity”.
In an interview with Christopher Clarey for The New York Times, he recalled being instantly smitten with the small Caribbean island. He mused he might one day be buried in its cemetery just outside of Gustavia, which he christened the prettiest place he'd ever seen.
The island was only a stop along the way for Buffett at the time, whose ultimate destination was Martinique. But after sailing through myriad islands and seeing everything he wanted to see, he tacked back towards St. Barts for a deeper dive.
So he brought his Cheoy Lee Clipper about and retraced his route. Four decades later, Buffett would still be as enchanted with the island and her people as he was that first fateful day.
And so the legendary singer, songwriter, and billionaire came to be forever linked to St. Barts – a tiny island only 11 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide.
Eventually, he would build a home in Gustavia – the island's capital – and become a part-time resident and one of the island's favorite sons.
In the 1980s, Jimmy Buffett was a part owner of the Au Tour de Rocher along with David Henderson and Larry “Groovy” Gray, made famous, in part, by the lyrics of the song by the same name.
Au Tour de Rocher, or "Around the Rock," refers to the island of St. Barthélemy, itself, whose very surface was once a volcano.
While technically classified as a hotel, Buffett proffered a more colorful description. In his song, he referred to the hotel affectionately as "a patio bar with funky rooms and an outdoor disco with bad wiring."
It was a five-room inn, with a restaurant and a big open bar that faced an open-air patio/dance floor. The hotel was frequented by visitors and residents alike, along with celebrities like Ralph Lauren, Lorne Michael, Steve Martin and more.
St Barts most famous bartender, Andy Hall, started at Au Tour de Rocher, then later managed the hotel before moving on to run his popular restaurant Andy’s Hideaway in nearby St Jean.
Au Tour de Rocher, St Barth
The hotel burned down in 1991, but it left a certain mystique behind that locals still talk about to this day. For many years, the ruins of the Au Tour de Rocher could be visited via an overgrown footpath. There were even organized tours of its still-standing, graffiti-encrusted stone walls and tiled floors.
Later, the property was purchased by retired talk show host Dave Letterman, who had plans to turn the site into a luxury villa. However, he later sold the land without ever developing it.
In 2022 the last remains of the ruins were cleared from the hillside. The current landowner has made several proposals for the development of the property, all of which have been rejected by the island’s zoning committee as too excessive for the size of the plot. Many hope it is purchased by the government and turned into a permanent green zone.
Fans who may be wondering what Jimmy Buffett’s favorite bar in St. Barts was will be happy to learn there were several. In an article in American Way magazine, he described a typical night in St Barts:
“First, I’d go to Le Select in St. Barts and have a Ti Punch. If I could pick anywhere for dinner in the Caribbean, it would be Maya’s. It’s a simple yet classy place right on the water and they have great French-Creole cuisine. After that, I’d go to Bete A Z’ailes in Gustavia, a great place to hear live music on the harbor. I’d finish my night at Le Ti-St. Barths on Pointe Milou, which is as close to the misbehaving (and fun) that I remember when I owned Au Tour de Rocher hotel on St. Barts.”
Marius Stakelborough and Jimmy Buffett © Le Select, St Barth
Established in 1949 by the late Marius Stakelborough, Le Select is the oldest dive bar in St. Bart. Featuring simple fare like cheeseburgers, fries, and beer, the establishment was a favorite watering hole for Jimmy Buffett, who performed there for free in honor of the bar's 60th anniversary.
He was also known to lay claim to a table beneath a certain shade tree there that he referred to as his "office." From that fabled seat he spawned countless plans, projects and lyrics.
Even more intriguing is the story of how Buffett scored free meals for life for himself and his family at Le Select.
Proprietor Eddie Stakelborough was proud of his simple cheeseburgers, and of St Barts, and asked Buffett if he could use the "Cheeseburger in Paradise” phrase to promote his restaurant. Buffett agreed, and in exchange asked that his and his family be allowed to eat and drink for free in perpetuity. Both parties said it seemed like a fair and friendly deal, and shook on it.
© Le Select, St Barth, Cheeseburger in Paradise Sign
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when Jimmy Buffet called St Barts home, Le Select also served as the island’s post office. There were mailbox slots behind the bar, and residents would drift in to pick up their mail, have a drink, and pick-up the island gossip.
That’s where the phrase, and song, Coconut Telegraph originated. Today you can see a colorful payphone on the outside wall of Le Select with the words Coconut Telegraph painted above it.
In Buffett’s early years on the island there weren’t many other restaurants in Gustavia, and it was the island's social center. He recounts that … “on different occasions I ran into Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Bobby Short, Lauren Hutton, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Paul Simon and other celebrity gypsies”.
Le Select remains a classic dive bar, an ideal venue to spend a few lazy hours sipping a Ti Punch and people watching.
Maya's Restaurant opened in 1984, owned by Maya and Randy Gurley. It sits directly on the waterfront of Gustavia harbor, and provides an ideal vantage point to watch the yachts and sailboats coming and going.
It offered a high-end, Caribbean Creole cuisine beloved by all who tried it, including Jimmy Buffett. Maya’s had the atmosphere of a friendly private supper club, where the owner, chef and servers knew all the customers, and greeted regulars by name.
The proprietor, Randy Gurley was also the head waiter and maitre’d. He circulated around the room, taking each table's dinner orders, then brought them back to Maya in the kitchen. Randy would later drift by each table and strike up a conversation.
Jimmy Buffett spent many a night at Maya’s. It was also a favorite hang-out for Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Jean-Georges Vongerichten
The eatery was sold in 2020 and reopened under new management and a new name in 2021. Today, it's Sella's and offers fine Middle Eastern food, prepared by renowned chef Assaf Granit.
© Eddy's Ghetto
Eddy's Ghetto opened in Gustavia in 1995, serving up some of the island's best French and Creole cuisines. The restaurant sits in a lush tropical garden setting right in the center of the village, and feels very intimate and local.
Today, it's still a staple of island life on St Barts, just like the stories locals tell of the time they ran into Jimmy Buffett, celebrating Independence Day there with staff and crew.
Andy's Hideaway, home of “corked wine, warm beer, lousy food, view of the car park," changed owners in 2013 and became simply, "The Hideaway." The owner and main attraction was British-born bon-vivant Andy Hall.
He quickly established a reputation for serving good food at a good value, and for making the dinner hour fun, often leading sing-alongs to songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “We Will Rock you”.
Jimmy Buffett had known Andy Hall back when Buffett was a part owner of Au Tour de Rocher hotel, and Hall was a bartender then later a general manager. When Hall set-up Andy’s Hideaway, Buffett followed and spent many a night enjoying the reverie there.
Hall sold the restaurant and moved to Thailand to run a bed and breakfast, and it now goes by the name of Zion. Owned by chef Jean-Baptiste Piard, the casual eatery now serves up elegant, rich 7-course dinners. While the venue has gone upscale, it’s easy to step inside and imagine Jimmy holding court at a corner table.
© Le Ti
It’s safe to say that there is nothing quite like Le Ti St Barth. It’s a mix between a wild French cabaret, a dive bar, a steak house, and a speak easy…and on any given night it can be the best night of your vacation.
Opened in 1995 by night life entrepreneur Carole Gruson, this bordello-red “Caribbean pirate tavern” is housed in a sprawling cottage in the largely residential neighborhood of Pointe Milou.
Jimmy Buffett loved to close the night out at Le Ti, and enjoyed dancing on the tables and dressing up like a pirate. Today Le Ti is under new ownership, however one can still step inside on Cabaret Night and experience what Jimmy Buffett did on scores of wild fun loving evenings.
For dinner you can choose from a menu of international dishes (we recommend the steak) , and dance to live or DJ music. Fashion shows and kitschy cabarets (starring the Le Ti dancers) provide the entertainment hijinks most nights.
Jimmy Buffett loved to perform at Baz Bar in Gustavia, a place that seats no more than 50 people, with spill over space on the quai. Le Bete a Zailes is a Creole expression meaning “the beast with wings”. This tiny restaurant is known for its sushi and cocktails, and it remains one of the few places in Gustavia where you can hear live music.
Buffett was good friends with the owner Jean-Marc LeFrance, who he’d met when LeFranc was a bartender at Le Select. Buffett would frequently walk over from his nearby home, say hello to Jean-Marc, step- up to the makeshift stage (all of 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep) and ask whatever band was playing there if he could step in for a few songs.
During his early days on the island, Jimmy Buffett would also stay at the Eden Rock Hotel from time to time.
In his book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” he wrote that he often hid away in the hotel rooms “on the rock” at Eden Rock Hotel when he wanted to get serious about writing.
We went as far to call it his second “office” on the island, the first one being his shaded table at Le Select Bar in Gustavia.
At Eden Rock Hotel, he worked on several books over the years, and wrote several songs there as well.
In an article published in the New York Times in 2018, Buffett said this about his time at Eden Rock Hotel:
“I rented a room in the old Eden Rock hotel before they renovated it and had a little studio in there, and I wrote most of my first book in there. And the last album we did, “Songs from St. Somewhere”, we did most of the vocals in the studio in the new Eden Rock hotel.”
Yes, Jimmy Buffett did own a house St Barts. When he eventually got tired of renting villas, he bought a modest home in 2006.
The place needed a lot of work, and he continued renting private villas and staying in hotels while the work was being done. It was reported that the location proved to be less than ideal, so Buffett later sold the villa.
He later built a larger home in Gustavia so he would be within walking distance of where his sailboat was moored. It was a generously sized private villa with Caribbean colonial design elements, with a view of Le Select bar across the harbor.
It featured an open-air terrace overlooking Gustavia harbor, and there are several Jimmy Buffett music videos where he can be seen playing guitar on that terrace. The home remains in private hands and is not available to visit or rent.
Jimmy Buffett spent many happy moments writing songs in St Barts, some about the island itself. They included:
Many Parrot Heads assumed Buffett wrote "Cheeseburger in Paradise" about sailing into Gustavia harbor and enjoying a burger at Le Select. Buffett dispelled that myth in his New York Times interview, stating he penned the whimsical ditty in Tortola in 1972.
Buffett had been sailing in the BVI when his rudder broke. He drifted for several days, with only minimal ability to direct the boat, with only canned tuna fish to satisfy his hunger.
When he eventually drifted into Soper’s Hole marina in Tortola, Buffett found a small café serving cheeseburgers – and it was paradise! If one digs around, however, you can also find interviews where Jimmy Buffett remembered the incident as he sailed from Puerto Rico to Roatan off the coast of Honduras.
Several of Jimmy Buffett's album covers feature images of the island of St Barts, including:
Both albums feature Buffett posing contentedly on Lorient beach in his usual casual attire, backed by scenes of St. Barts. Jimmy Buffett also featured many photos and video clips of St Barts in his concert collages.
The easier question to answer might be. "Where didn't Jimmy Buffett perform in St. Barts?" Buffett was known for breaking into song without planning or fanfare, and fans would often be treated to a Jimmy Buffett concert in St Barts without ever having to buy tickets.
Though he played many impromptu and benefit concerts at local bars and restaurants, including Le Select, Baz Bar, and The Quai on Gustavia Harbor, he was also known to play at private villas.
Several of his more memorable public performances in St Barts included the following;
Jimmy Buffett often moored his sailing boats in Gustavia Harbor. His space was located just in front of St. Barts' Anglican Church and within walking distance of his villa.
He was a passionate collector of boats. During his times in St. Barts, he owned many of them.
Perhaps the most sentimental was his 9.5 meter Tofinou named “Groovy” in memory of his friend Larry Gray. This boat and others before could be seen in Gustavia harbor, where he first landed in 1978.
Jimmy Buffett was a fan of the famous St Barth Bucket Regatta and would often be invited to be a crew on one of the legendary boats that competed in it. He would also take his own (relatively tiny) sloop out near the race course to watch the magnificent boats sail by.
According to BuffettNews.com, Jimmy Buffett owned at least nine boats over the course of his lifetime, including: –
At the time of his death, he had sold several of his boats, and it's not clear which ones he kept where. However, Buffett was aboard the Euphoria II when he first ran across the island of St. Barts.
Buffett’s plane, The Hemisphere Dancer © Chris Markerson
The tiny Cessna Caravan was the plane Jimmy Buffett mostly flew into St Barts. This tiny prop plane was ideally designed for landing on the 2,300 foot long runway at St Barts, one of the world’s shortest airport runways.
Jimmy Buffett owned almost as many private planes as he did sailboats, but the one best known is his Grumman HU-16 Albatross flying boat, called Hemisphere Dancer.
It was this plane that the Jamaican government surrounded and fired upon when it landed in Negril in early 1996. Aboard the plane was Jimmy Buffett, U2 front man, Bono, along with his wife and children, and record executive Chris Blackwell.
While nobody was injured, it was later estimated that at least seven shots were fired when the plane was mistaken for one reported to be smuggling drugs into the country. The incident later inspired the Jimmy Buffett song, "Jamaica Mistaica."
While this aircraft was one of his favorites to fly, it was too large to land on the small runaway at St Barts Gustav III airport.
One time, Jimmy famously buzzed the airport runway and St Jean beach in the Hemisphere Dancer before flying over to land in nearby St Martin, where his friend Larry Gray was waiting in a small prop plane to fly him back over to St Barts.
Hemisphere Dancer is currently on display at the Margaritaville Café at Orlando Studios in Florida.
Jimmy Buffett surfing in St. Barth © Shutterstock
Like most island residents, Jimmy Buffett loved to surf. He was a St Barts' Surf Club member and spent many happy hours catching waves off Lorient and Le Toiny Beaches. He could also be found on occasion catching a wave on the western end of St Jean Bay, In Flamands, and on the short break in front of the Chrstipher hotel on Pointe Milou.
In fact, in this video posted to YouTube by Jimmy Buffett Official, you can watch Jimmy surf and paddleboard off the coast of St. Barts. The video features Buffet's song, "Someday I Will."
A fun and little known fact is that Jimmy Buffett surfed alongside St Barts resident Tessa Thyssen, who is now a member of the French National Surfing team, and is competing for a spot on the Olympic team for the 2024 Olympics.
Jimmy Buffett with wife Jane Slagsvol (center) and children (from left) Delaney, Savannah and Cameron. © Delaney Buffett IG
Jimmy Buffett left behind Jane, his wife of 45 years, and three grown children: Savannah, Sarah, and Cameron. Jane was his second wife, whom he married in 1977. Jimmy Buffett moved his family to St Barts in the 1980’s where they lived on and off, between tours, for several years.
He was married to his first wife, Margie Washichek, from 1969-1972.
Jimmy performing at Le Select, St Barth
Jimmy Buffett's history with St. Barts exists today only in photos and images, but residents of the island will forever remember his music, his neighborliness, and his activism on behalf of St Barts, her people, and her community. You can see some of them here.
" I know I don't get there often enough
But God knows I surely try
It's a magic kind of medicine
That no doctor could prescribe
I used to rule my world from a pay phone
Ships out on the sea
But now times are rough
And I got too much stuff
Can't explain likes of me
And there's that one particular harbor /
Sheltered from the wind /
Where the children play on the shore each day /
And all are safe within /
Most mysterious calling harbor /
So far but yet so near /
I can see the day when my hair's full gray /
And I finally disappear /"
But now I think about the good times
Down in the caribbean sunshine
In my younger days I was so bad
Laughin' about all the fun we had
"Some say it was a planet / some say it was a rock /
For five wild years in Lorient / the party never stopped/
There were pirates from the Indies / there were models from Paris /
There were locals and New Yorkers and the Brazilian Navy /
By mini-Mokes and scooters/in cabs and stolen cars /
Came the creatures of the evening from St. Martin and from Mars /?"
Heard about the old-time sailor men
They eat the same thing again and again
Warm beer and bread, they say, could raise the dead
Well, it reminds me of the menu at a Holiday Inn
But times have changed for sailors these days
When I'm in port, I get what I need
Not just Havanas or bananas or daiquiris
But that American creation on which I feed
Cheeseburger in paradise
Medium rare with Muenster'd be nice
Heaven on earth with an onion slice
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise
Now young Mister Moon flew away in the night
With his best friend Magnus right by his side
They soared through the Milky Way, counting the stars
Once around Venus, twice around Mars
Then they spied an island rise out of the sea
They fell back to Earth just as free as you please
The children all gathered, the church bells did ring
Suddenly, everyone started to sing
Chanson pour les petits enfants
Chanson pour tout le monde
Chanson pour les petits enfants
Chanson pour tout le monde
Jimmy Buffett passed away on September 1, 2023, in Sag Harbor, NY, from an aggressive form of skin cancer. Though he had once dreamed of coming home to the tiny cemetery in St. Barts, rumor has it he's buried in Alabama, the state where he grew up and where his love of beach-side living and adventure were born.
Your family can retrace the life and times of Jimmy Buffett St Barts by booking a stay through WIMCO Villas. Jimmy Buffett entrusted WIMCO Villas with his vacation rentals around St Barts prior to building his own home on the island, and we're happy to do the same for you. Contact us today to learn more.