Why Library By the Sea Is Already the Best Bar of 2024

The new Cayman Island cocktail bar is inspired by both classic literature and high-tech kitchen science

January 10, 2024 6:11 am
The E Hemingway Cocktail, vintage rums and a typewriter in front of Library by the Sea in Grand Cayman
The E Hemingway Cocktail, a $275 highlight at Library By the Sea
Steve Lagato

I first fell in love with the Caribbean bar Library By the Sea in, of all places, New York City. The staff of the Cayman Island bar, located in the lobby of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in Grand Cayman, did a pop-up appearance at the Manhattan hotspot Milady’s in early 2023. It was there where the bar’s staff and Jim Wrigley — a 20+ year drinks vet and current Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa Beverage Director — regaled us with tales of serving drinks based around Maya Angelou’s autobiography, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite tipple and Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune, utilizing both an array of vintage spirits and powdery, gelatin-y concoctions whipped up in a secret lab.

I’d never had drinks like this before, ones that nodded to the past and the future, while basing their premise on a timeless, evolving theme (that’d be literature, both highbrow and crowd-pleasing). Thankfully, six months after the pop-up, I was able to head down to Kimpton and spend some time behind the scenes at Library By the Sea’s home base.

From Cayman, With Love cocktail
From Cayman, With Love, a nod to James Bond
Steve Lagato

The cocktail bar, launched in mid-2023 by Wrigley and fellow ex-London bartender Andrew Copsey, started from humble beginnings. Before, the hotel’s lobby area was simply beautiful seating with some local design details. And there were a lot of books. “We decided with all that in mind, let’s create a curated collection of drinks, like a library of drinks,” Wrigley says. The idea was to have a bar full of vintage spirits but also high-concept drinks and immersive cocktail narratives based on classic literature. 

Ergo, you might get a Dune-themed drink with coconut “sand” and worm salt. Or a Cayman twist on James Bond’s Martini order, served in a hand-painted ceramic oyster shell and garnished with a Champagne-vinegar agar pearl onion. Or a drink based on the novella that inspired Blade Runner that’s not even a liquid (more on that in a bit).

Below, a few things that stood out about Library By the Sea. A good time to check out the space is during Cayman Cocktail Week in October (although it can be a bit rainy). If you want to go sooner, the menu is changing this month. 

Each Drink (Re)tells a Classic Story

Each lit-themed cocktail gets its own page in a beautifully illustrated menu, complete with name, price, ingredients, literal inspiration and a quote. “For every cocktail, we do a massive breakdown of the author, era, context and even if there are skeletons in the closet for the author,” Wrigley says. “The idea was that you would be able to sit and talk for half an hour about the source material. And the illustrations for each item on the menu, we start with a vision board and serve up touch points from the source material.”

The menu itself is divided into Short Stories (smaller, aperitif-style drinks), Page Turners (the core of the menu), Masterpieces (“showstopping serves, ideal for sharing”) and Rare & First Editions (incorporating vintage spirits into limited-edition cocktails). 

Jim Wrigley and Library By the Sea staff
Jim Wrigley (second from left) and Library By the Sea staff
Kirk Miller

The Vintage Stuff Serves a Purpose

The bar’s $275 E Hemingway Special wouldn’t exist without vintage spirits. A variation on a Daiquiri created by the author, the cocktail utilizes fresh lime and grapefruit juice but then puts itself in the past, starting with a maraschino liqueur from 1932. “That’s important because the maraschino cherries were a different type of cherry from a different place at that time,” Wrigley says. “Maraschino that we taste today is not this bright, fresh, cherry-flavored thing.” It’s also why they use vintage rum (“Bacardi isn’t made in Cuba anymore, and it’s not made the same way”).

“Everything about this drink is exactly what you have in mind when Hemingway drinks it, nearly a hundred years later,” Wrigley adds. The presentation includes glasses designed by Dorothy Thorpe from the 1930s and a vintage copy of Life magazine containing the first printing of The Old Man and the Sea

Vintage spirits also present a way to get new variations on classic cocktails. “Maybe you want a Boulevardier,” he says. “We can put a riff on it with, say, a 1940 bottle of Carpano. The ingredients to that are so different from then to now.”

The Bar Staff Is Sublime

Wrigley and Copsey have recruited bartenders from some of the world’s best bars, including Connaught Bar, Paradiso, Swift and Dandelyan. “Everyone who works here has worked in one, if not two, of the world’s 50 best bars,” Wrigley says. “We wanted a mixed dynamic of people who had hotel and five-star resort experience, along with cool cocktail bars. And we wanted some people who were just super creative.”

Oasis Lab, the high-tech prep lab next to Library By the Sea
Oasis, the high-tech prep lab next to Library By the Sea
Kirk Miller

The Tech Behind the Drinks Is Impressive

Centrifuges, ultrasonic homogenizers and 3D printers — not quite what you’d picture in a bar inspired by classic books. You won’t notice those high-tech appliances at the bar, which, hilariously, doesn’t even have a blender. Instead, head outside to the pool area, and there inside a converted towel room, you’ll find the Oasis, a prep lab that houses a plethora of futuristic kitchen gizmos. 

“With this gear, we have complete control over our ingredients from start to finish,” says Benjamin Davies, the Oasis Creative Controller and Bartender. Davies says the most important things they use include a Thermomix, which can craft the likes of caramel foams and clarified tomato juice, a dehydrator, a sous vide machine and something called the Buchi Rotavapor R-300, a rotary evaporator that allows the bar team to change the boiling point of different liquids. 

“When you’re cooking flavors that are super delicate — mint, basil and other herbs that get spoiled under great heat — we can now get the purest form of those flavors,” Davies says.

Among the random things we tried or heard about at our visit to the Oasis: dried fruit leather, a cacao vodka, hops-based gin and fermented carrot wine (the fermentation program within the lab is “up there with the best of them” Wrigley says). 

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The Bar Is Close to Zero Waste

Those fancy machines serve another function — they can help repurpose ingredients. “We have an on-site restaurant here that goes through like 17,000 Margaritas per year,” Wrigley says. “That’s a lot of lime husks. So it’s been fun to create ingredients with the used fruit.” The team dehydrates the husks or skins of fruits and then pulverizes them into a shelf-safe powder that tastes incredibly fresh. 

“Our dehydrated grapefruit powder uses the whole grapefruit,” Wrigley says. “But it doesn’t carry over the color, bitterness or sourness. You just get the fresh fragrance of grapefruit.” 

Conversely, that fermented carrot wine brought out some new flavors. “We used the natural yeast on the skins for fermentation,” Davies says. “In the end, it has this smoky, chipotle kind of vibe.” 

The Drinks Can Get Super Weird

The strangest drink they’ve ever created? Electric Dreams, based on the Philip K. Dick short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka the basis of Blade Runner). “In sci-fi, everyone’s just eating a green gel,” Wrigley says. “It’s a maybe accurate but depressing idea of the future.”

So the “drink” — which utilizes Johnnie Walker Black Label, Cynar, mirin, Soto sak and passion fruit — is not a liquid. It’s a gel delivered in a tube with “robot writing,” arriving on a giant blue circuit board with different essence powders. “Each element attacks a different part of the mouth — bitter, sour, boozy, fruity, umami,” Daves says. “The different elements of the ‘drink’ give you a different experience depending on what you put it on. I describe it as an electric paint palette. Or we overthought Jello shots”

The Eyes of Ibad, a "Dune" inspired drink
The Eyes of Ibad, a “Dune” inspired drink
Monika Wojtkiewicz

The Books Are Lendable

You can borrow the books, and some of them are first editions. It works on the honor system. “What if you don’t bring them back?” Wrigley asks rhetorically, invoking a laid-back island vibe. “Well, that’s kind of on you. You’re going to pay a karma tax.” 


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