Beach bars come and go like the tides in the Caribbean, sometimes washed out by hurricanes, sometimes falling victim to hard times, sometimes simply because their time has passed.
So it’s perhaps ironic that Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve on Anguilla, a beach bar cobbled together from driftwood and lumber scraps that practically shouts impermanence, has survived everything from angry seas to a pandemic over the last 25-plus years. And like his bar/performance venue/home, legendary singer and songwriter Bankie Banx also is going strong in his seventh decade writing the soundtrack for his island home.
With Anguilla testing the waters of reopening to visitors after an extended COVID-19 lockdown, Bankie and his fellow performers are ready to welcome guests back to the Dune Preserve, home to the annual Moonsplash festival and a stage where everyone from John Mayer to The Wailers have performed.
The truth, however, is that the music never stopped at the Dune Preserve, even when there were no tourists to fill the seats.
Throughout the pandemic, Bankie has hosted virtual concerts at the Dune, throwing a lifeline to local musicians deprived of their regular gigs and helping to keep the lights on at the bar through an online, Venmo-powered donation box.
“We’ve been able to survive and connect with our fan base,” said Banx, sprinkling shows with conversations about music and tea parties featuring the Dune’s famous “bush tea.”
“We’ve been performing as much as when everything was normal,” he said.
Anguillans are a resilient bunch, but visitors have been missed on the island. Banx has enjoyed the quiet (“we watched the iguanas a lot”) and the opportunity to go fishing (“I’ve been a caveman long before COVID”), but he’s also an irrepressible tour guide who loves to show off his home on Rendezvous Beach and share the love by recommending other favorite hangouts to visitors in addition to his own place.
“Anguilla is mainly about the people — we’re a friendly people,” he says. “We’ve never been swamped by big quantities of hotels; it always has been about quality.”
One thing Anguilla does have a lot of, however, is beaches. “I recommend all the funky beach bars,” said Banx, rattling off favorites like Nat’s Palm Grove in Junk Hole (famous for its johnny cakes), the fish and fungi at Jonno’s in Sandy Ground, Elvis’ Beach Bar for watching international sports, and the Falcon Nest in Island Harbour for fried fish and lobsters, just steps from a busy fishing jetty. “If you want fresh fish, go to where the fisherman are,” he says.
For a beach bar crawl on Rendezvous Bay, Bankie gives a shout-out to his neighbor Garvey Lake, owner of Garvey’s Sunshine Shack, which serves up hot barbecue daily and live music on weekends, upscale dining at the Da’Vida restaurant (and spa) on Crocus Bay, pastries from the Village Bakehouse, and fish and chips at the English pub inspired Roy’s Bayside Grill.
Off the beach, Bankie touts the polished I Was At The Bar in Sandy Ground, which has live music, VIP rooms, and a fun tapas menu.
The abundance of dining and resort options on Anguilla is a far cry from Banx’s childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the performer said he “hardly had electricity” but tuned into Radio Antilles from Montserrat and got his first exposure to international music.
“I grew up with many influences,” said Banx, who has sometimes been called a reggae singer but whose music actually spans a broad range of styles.
Banx himself resists labels — “I never said anything about what I was doing” — but his musical education began with local string bands playing washboards and coconut shell maracas, and grew with U.K. Top 40 imported with the British soldiers sent to quell political unrest in the country in the late 1960s.
Banx cites formative exposure to Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, and Toots and the Maytalls … but also Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, and the Beatles. His own musical journey has taken him from the early success of his signature tune, Prince of Darkness, released in 1977, to the social commentary of songs like Big Chief (visitors can check out the mystical seaside cave featured in the video with a visit to Fountain Cavern National Park on Shoal Bay) to his iconic status today as Anguilla’s most famous musician and passionate ambassador for the island.
One suspects that somewhere in these unsettled times, Banx will find even more inspiration. As Anguilla reopens, Banx reflects on the island’s repeat visitors, some of whom return to the island two and three times a year.
“What we do means a lot to people,” he says. “They all want to come back.”
When they do, they’ll find Bankie at the Dune Preserve, as always, creating art out of chaos.
“I built this place with my bare hands,” he says. “I put down the guitar, and pick up a shovel. We have to recreate ourselves, and prepare for what’s new.”