Leon Miller, a bartender at the Soggy Dollar as well as an accomplished photographer and one of the founders of the BVI Strong Flotilla, shares his tips for visitors to the islands
If you’ve raised a frosty drink on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands at some point during the past seven years or so, chances are you’ve bumped into Leon Miller. One of the best-loved bartenders in the BVI, he worked at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar up until recently, when he slid over to White Bay on Jost Van Dyke and the Soggy Dollar Bar, where you can find him mixing up those iconic Painkiller cocktails.
Beyond his bartending skills, Miller is an accomplished photographer and the man behind the BVI Strong Flotilla—a post-Irma grassroots effort that helped supported locals and get island life back to normal by just doing what Caribbean people do best, namely enjoying all that their islands offer. We caught up with him recently to chat about BVI life and leisure.
Are you a BVIslander?
I’m actually from Trinidad and Tobago, but I’ve been coming to the BVI since I was six years old. My mom was a chef at the Soggy Dollar Bar and now I am a bartender there, after spending the last seven years as head bartender at Foxy’s. I’m related to most of Jost Van Dyke, I have cousins all over this island.
What’s the one drink you tell people to try when they come to the BVI?
A Painkiller, it’s like the national drink of the BVI. It’s all over the world now, too, and everyone has a different twist—some are sweet, and some less so. It’s a cocktail with pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream, and dark rum, and it was invented at the Soggy Dollar Bar. The freshly grated nutmeg on top—never from a jar—is what makes the drink unique. We do different twists on the classic at the Soggy Dollar, like the Lady Killer. It isn’t on the menu, but you can ask for it. It’s similar to a Painkiller, but made with dark rum, raspberry rum, vanilla rum, and mango rum topped with the juices and touch of nutmeg. And the Soggy Man is another twist, with all those rums but a fruit punch topper instead.
What iconic island dish should visitors make sure to try?
The conch fritters. It’s fresh conch, cleaned up and seasoned, dipped in flour with salt and black pepper and deep fried. The dipping sauce is made of tabasco, mayo and seasonings. Local people love their conch—conch chowder, curried conch, cracked conch—you can do just about anything with it. If you go snorkeling around the islands you’ll probably see some live conch, too. There’s an island called Conch Shell Mounds off Anegada that’s been built up over the years from tossed-away shells.
How are the islands’ coming back after the 2017 hurricane season?
I was here during Irma, it was scary. We started cleaning up right away and I think Jost Van Dyke is coming back even faster than we thought it would. Everybody came together to help clean up the beaches, we brought containers of food that had been spared by the storm over toFoxy’s. The kitchen survived and it was the only place with a generator, so we were able to feed the people who were here. The Soggy Dollar rebuilt quickly.
Some things may not look quite the same as they used to, but we still have a good time and the beaches are beautiful as ever. In the weeks and months after the storm, I also started the BVI Strong Flotilla with a friend. It was inspired by regular Caribbean activities—going down to the beach, playing music and cooking, and chilling with friends. We received donations of food and other things, and went to different islands with a flotilla of boats or by ferry to sell them, listen to music, and hang out. The money we raised was used to help people who were struggling after the storm. So many people wanted to help, everybody was like, “Let’s try to make the best out of what happened.” We had an adopt-a-tree project on Jost Van Dyke, too, and planted over 130 palm trees around the island. It’s going to take a while, but it’s getting greener. Things will come back.
What are the iconic places people should come to the BVI to see?
You have to go to Virgin Gorda to see The Baths. I don’t think you’ll see something like it anywhere else. It looks like someone placed all those rocks in that particular position on the beach. You can snorkel and see a lot of fish around the rocks, and then you walk through them on boardwalks and steps. All the colors of the water, the light streaming in… it’s just unique. For bars, you have to go to Foxy’s, Soggy Dollar and Hendo’s Hideaway on Jost Van Dyke, and also the new Willy T, a boat anchored off Peter Island. That’s the boat bar that you get to by dinghy. It’s a new boat—it’s bigger than the one before and holds more people—and on Sundays it’s packed. If you jump off the deck they give you a t-shirt.
What surprises people about visiting the BVI?
Right now, it’s the fact that we went through one of the strongest hurricanes ever and are still able to smile and love and show visitors a good time, despite what we went through. Last week, a lady came up to me and said she appreciated everything we did to make her feel welcome through the hard times. She couldn’t believe the amount of work we did to ensure she could still come and have a vacation. The water is beautiful here, the drinks are cold and the sun is still hot. It’s beautiful here, you’re going to have a good time. We went for four months without power on Jost. After that, all we need is music and cool drinks and we are good.