With Jimmy Buffett’s recent passing, I thought it would make an appropriate tribute to share with you the lesser-known origins of what really inspired Jimmy Buffett to write Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Most Parrot Heads haven’t heard the truth.
Many beachside establishments have made the claim over the years, most notably Le Select Café in St. Barths and the tiny Floridian island of Cabbage Key.
But did you know that the song has its roots in the British Virgin Islands? According to Jimmy himself, it occurred in Roadtown, BVI at the Village Cay Marina.
Case closed right? Not so fast.
Re-writing cheeseburger history
My friend Malcolm Boyes, known down island as Manpot, first visited the British Virgin Islands in 1984. He bought his beachfront house in 1989 and has long since called Tortola home.
Back in 1984, the same year Cheeseburger in Paradise was written, Manpot got the story straight from the man himself. Here’s his account:
I hung out with Jimmy back in 1984 when I was staying at Cane Garden Bay. I was invited to Jimmy’s launch of his, then, Caribbean Soul clothing line. Jimmy put on a small show and then we got to meet and talk.
That’s when he told me where he really wrote the famed tale.
Jimmy had suffered a broken bowsprit on his way south and told me that Cane Garden Bay (CGB) was an easy place to sail into, and then he smelled the burgers. Ashore, he stumbled into Stanley’s Welcome Bar right there on the sand. The rest is history.
Getting it straight from Jimmy to me makes me a believer. After that he said he was renting the red-roofed house at the west end for about four months. He wrote Cheeseburger in Paradise while waiting for repairs to be completed on the boat. That house was recently sold by Baseball Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax..quite a famous little beach house!
I asked him why about Jimmy’s comments that it actually occurred at the Village Cay Marina.
All I can say is that Jimmy “changed his tune”. Never could figure out why Jimmy changed it but he does like to throw some mystery in.
One other proof that it was “Stanley’s” is on the old t-shirts that boasted “Cheesburger (misspelled) in Paradise”. Only two places were officially allowed to use that…Le Select in St Barths and Stanley’s, although he sued everyone else who used the moniker.
I only believe what I am told one on one..and that is it!
I’m a believer as well. Having sailed to both Roadtown and Cane Garden Bay, the latter is more Jimmy’s style and much closer to paradise. It’s even featured in one of his most famous songs, Mañana:
But women and water are in short supply
There’s not enough dope for us all to get high
I hear it gets better, that’s what they say
As soon as we sail on to Cane Garden Bay
Stanley’s Welcome Bar later became Tony’s (his son changed the name), but it was wiped out during Hurricane Irma in 2017. It has yet to be rebuilt.
So if you want to pay homage, you’ll have to settle for a stroll along the beautiful, but much-changed Cane Garden Bay beach where it once stood.
Manpot still makes the rounds with the locals down in the BVI – check out his book Tales of the Tropics for an account of his adventures with some colorful island characters. You’ll also learn how he got that name!