Behind the Bar Snap Shot

3 Drinks That Show Library by the Sea’s New Standard for Grand Cayman Cocktails

Jim Wrigley & team use inspired techniques to craft stunning cocktails at this new bar.

Interior of Library By The Sea, showing four people sitting at brightly lit bar with wood accents and reading table
Library By The Sea Image:

Monika Wojtkiewicz

In December 2022, lauded beverage experts Jim Wrigley (Lonsdale, Trailer Happiness) and Andrew Copsey (Milk & Honey) along with a global team from Lyanness, The Connaught, and Paradiso, opened Library by the Sea in the lobby and former library of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. With elaborate cocktails inspired by great books and modern bar science, this high-end establishment is setting new standards for serious cocktails on Grand Cayman—a locale that for decades had been most famous as the home of the Mudslide.

The bright and airy space still retains plenty of the island’s nautical flair, thanks to a restored Caymanian fishing boat suspended from the ceiling that predates the bar. But Wrigley and Copsey have drawn most of their inspiration from classic literature, from drinks to the venue’s décor, which includes large, library-style tables and armchairs set beside reading lamps.

“A library is a collection,” says Wrigley. “We use the term ‘curated collection’ about a lot of things in the Library by the Sea, from the books through to the drinks and the team itself.”

Andrew Copsey and Jim Wrigley standing on either sides of the bar at Library By The Sea, with the staff behind the bar in-between them
Andrew Copsey (left), Jim Wrigley (right), and the team behind Library by the Sea.

Monika Wojtkiewicz

The illustrated menu spans 16 cocktails, each paying homage to texts ranging from the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe (a cognac Old Fashioned variation garnished with a dark chocolate “raven’s feather”) to Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple (a clarified bourbon-tea milk punch presented on a quilted coaster, inspired by the motifs of a milk churner and handmade quilt).

To create their imaginative drinks, Wrigley and his team develop many key ingredients in “The Lab,” a separate innovation space equipped with a 3D printer, rotary evaporator, Thermomix, and other high-tech tools. This is where rhubarb is sliced thin, dehydrated, and candied to create a windmill-like garnish for a Don Quixote-themed spritz. It’s also where a mirin-flavored gel paste is concocted and piped into what looks like travel toothpaste tubes, to be served alongside the futuristic Electric Dreams drink (Johnnie Walker, Cynar, passion fruit) inspired by the dystopian sci-fi stories of Philip K. Dick.

Since most of the drinks are pre-batched in some way, bartenders are freed from being stuck behind the bar. Instead, they act as ambassadors who roam the floor, explaining and delivering the drinks, or scaling a ladder to retrieve vintage bottles from high shelves, where spirits share space with antique books.

Exterior of Library By The Sea, patio showing wicker chairs, tables, and palm trees
The cocktail program at Library by the Sea enables bartenders to get out from behind the bar and directly interact with patrons throughout the bar’s space.

Monika Wojtkiewicz

“Everyone has to be able to do absolutely everything, including the prep,” says Wrigley. “We’re sharing knowledge, we’re pooling information.”

That ethos will expand to the bar’s programming, which Wrigley says will include poetry slams and cocktail book events (first on the docket: a book from the Death & Co team).

Of its many innovative creations, these are the three drinks that Wrigley feels best represent Library by the Sea.

Clear "flask" meant to evoke a porthole and displaying seaweed inside, pouring cocktail into a ceramic seashell
From Cayman with Love cocktail, inspired by writer Ian Fleming’s affinity for the Caribbean.

Steve Legato

From Cayman with Love

Local sugarcane spirit infused with island botanicals, sea-mineral vermouth, housemade tropical cordial

Inspired by James Bond author Ian Fleming and his affinity for the Caribbean, where he wrote most of his books, this drink is a mash-up of a Martini and a Gimlet, prepared with extra seaside character.

“Rather than celebrate the familiar and largely outdated figure of James Bond from the novels, our research led us to the character of Quarrel, a Caymanian fisherman who appears in two of Fleming’s tales,” says Wrigley.

The base starts with a high ester rum from local distillery Cayman Spirits, redistilled in the bar’s lab with botanicals from local farms (lime leaf, lemongrass, pandan, vervain, and Cuban oregano) to create a finished spirit that’s “herbaceous, complex and floral.” The rum is mixed with Noilly Prat dry vermouth infused with kombu for salinity, and a tropical cordial made with local soursop, bitter oranges, mango, and grapefruit.

The presentation is a showshopper. The drink is poured tableside from a porthole infusion vessel into a ceramic “shell,” then garnished with a house-pickled onion wrapped in sparkling agar to evoke a pearl.

“This gave us the perfect point to delve deeply into local flavors, work with local craftspeople, and create something uniquely representative of Cayman and its links to the surrounding sea,” says Wrigley.

Highball cocktail glowing blue, sitting atop a copy of Frank Herbert's novel Dune
The Eyes of Ibad cocktail, illuminated blue by the reaction of quinine to ultraviolet light, and inspired by Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune.

Monika Wojtkiewicz

Eyes of Ibad

Fortaleza blanco tequila infused with local chile peppers, Vago Elote mezcal, citrus oils, quinine soda

Even from across the room, it’s impossible to miss this Paloma riff, which glows bright blue thanks to an ultraviolet-light coaster set at the bottom of each hand-blown glass from Oaxaca. The inspiration: Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune.

“Focusing on the desert planet Arakis, where the Dune novels are centered, Andrew took inspiration from the Fremen, a nomadic tribe with deep-seated cultural traditions linked to shai-hulud, a giant worm that creates a mystical psychoactive ‘spice,’” says Wrigley. A stripe of “sand” on the outside of the glass evokes the desert; it’s a mixture of toasted coconut and Oaxacan salt mixed with dried gusano, a worm that grows on the agave.

Inside the glass, a blanco tequila infused with four local chile peppers is mixed with Vago Elote mezcal. Instead of grapefruit juice, citrus oleo saccharum and citric acid solution add the requisite pucker. Quinine soda adds a hint of bitterness, and the chemical compound within it reacts with the coaster’s UV light to create an iridescent blue glow to “recall the Eyes of Ibad, glowing blue eyes of the Fremen from long-term exposure to the spice mélange.”

Wax-sealed bottle and rocks glass containing the Monte Cristo cocktail, sitting atop an imitation manuscript of The Count of Monte Cristo
Containing pre-phylloxera cognac, Prohibition-era rye whiskey, and vintage Benedictine, the Monte Cristo cocktail is both an homage to, and embodiment of, the past.

Monika Wojtkiewicz

Monte Cristo Cocktail

Pre-phylloxera Louis de René Cognac, Prohibition-era Mount Vernon rye whiskey, vintage Benedictine, Martini Gentiane, Secrestát bitters, Brun-Pernod China, J&B curacao

This stiff Sazerac-like sipper made with extremely rare vintage spirits pays homage to The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.

“Several of the items were sourced specifically for this drink, which is inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s epic novel of betrayal and revenge in 19th-century France,” Wrigley says. He draws attention to the 1851 cognac base, which is combined with a 1930s Prohibition-era rye, and blend of amari sourced from the 1920–30s.

Priced accordingly at $360 Cayman dollars (approximately $430 USD), it’s a “single edition drink,” with a mere 25 servings available, each batched into a crystal bottle sealed with a cork and dipped in wax. A numbered “scroll of authenticity” is given to the guest as a souvenir.

Working with these spirits has been “one of the great joys of this project,” says Wrigley. “Rather than just rare or expensive, these bottles themselves have links to characters, places or moments in time, and each has a unique and interesting story to tell.”