Shopping for Authentic Bahamian Souvenirs in Nassau

Dookgalik, envisioned by famed Junkanoo artist, the late Jackson Burnside.

Doongalik, envisioned by famed Junkanoo artist, the late Jackson Burnside.

Most shoppers were trying on diamond bracelets and spritzing perfume at glamorous, name-brand, duty-free shops; or pawing through cheap knock-offs and imported baskets at the Bay Street Straw Market. Me? I was scouring galleries for Junkanoo-inspired art and masks, Out-Island hand-plaited baskets, and other authentic souvenirs of Nassau, capital of the Bahamas.

Better Bling, Best Consumables

You can find some bargains in the duty-free jewelry shops, and even some sea-inspired designs indicative of the Bahamas. But for true-true (as they say here) Bahamian bling, visit Coin of the Realm, just off Bay Street – downtown’s shoppers’ magnet.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Straw market stuff…blah!
  • Duty-free shopping? So , well, blah!
  • Great for shoppers looking for a true piece of Bahamian remembrance.

The small, 37-year-old shop is one of few local shops that sells jewelry made with conch pearls, which range from deep pink to light brown. The local conch fishermen supply the pearls, which they find in only one out of  every 10,000 conchs they catch to satisfy the local craving for conch dishes. The conch pearl cannot be cultured, meaning you will pay five figures for that flamingo pin or conch pendant set with one or more conch pearls.

The pendants snap into interchangeable necklaces, some made of Tahitian pearls, others of gold and other precious materials. Interchangeable rings are also available. As the shop’s name suggests, it also specializes in jewelry made from ancient Greek and Roman and gold Bahamian coins, plus a wide inventory of other pieces.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that sticker shock over with, let’s find more affordable gifts made in the Bahamas. Nassau produces a few consumable items that make well-appreciated gifts to take home to connoisseurs.

Graycliff, a short uphill walk from Bay Street, has been the first name in lodging and dining in Nassau since 1973. In 1977, it added a hand-rolled cigar factory to its operations dealing in the finer things in life. In 2012, owners debuted a chocolate factory.

Shopping at Graycliff becomes an immersive experience. You can do a tour of the factories and even sit in and experience chocolate- and cigar-making for yourself.

Cigars are made by Cuban hand-rollers at Graycliff.

Cigars are made by Cuban hand-rollers at Graycliff.

In the chocolate factory’s shop, buy bars of tobacco chocolate (much better than it sounds, but containing no actual tobacco products), chocolate spread, chocolate tea, chocolate in the shape of cigars, and bonbons in flavors such as Nutella, mint, brandy cherry, and chai tea.

Most of the chocolate is made with high-content dark chocolate because it doesn’t melt as easily as milk chocolate in warm climates. You can also buy the chocolates, plus humidored cigars, Graycliff Coffee, and other fine gifts in the Heritage Shoppe across the street.

Plans are to turn the surrounding historic ruins into an artisan’s village. (Note: Unlike Cuban cigars you will find in duty-free shops, Graycliff’s fine cigars can be brought back to the U.S. embargo-free.)

Only a few blocks away, a brand new enterprise bottles rum at a different historic site. Colonial Buena Vista Estate now holds the John Watling’s Distillery.

Spiffy and tourism-conscious, the operation conducts tours that end in the inviting bar for a signature Bahama Mama rum cocktail.

Next to the bar, you can take advantage of discounts on the three varieties of rum – pale, amber, and five-year aged Buena Vista – at the gift shop. John Watling’s does not export any of its rum, so you can buy it only in the Bahamas.

Art with Bahamian Heart

The shops of mega-resort Atlantis on Paradise Island have a vaunted reputation, but deal primarily in duty-free and import goods. One notable exception, The Plait Lady in Marina Village sells only Bahamian-made artisan wares.

The Bahamian cottage-style shop buys its baskets from the hand-plaiters on Out Islands Long and Andros islands. Those from Andros are distinctive in style and often braided with bits of Androsia Batik made there also.

One of my favorite items  at The Plait Lady, dip bowls and spoons are carved from conch shell. Christmas angel and fish ornaments also make use of conch discards. The Plait Lady sells Androsia batik clothing, handmade Bahama dolls, Abaco Neem natural body products, and fine art prints.

To see and buy more Bahamian fine art and crafts, visit Doongalik Studios Art Studio and next-door Craft Cottage. The brainchild of late architect-artist Jackson Burnside, Doongalik reflects his love of the holiday Junkanoo street festival tradition and all things Bahamian. The studio’s name comes from the sound made by Junkanoo cowbells and goat-skin drums.

Burnside’s wife Pam now runs the operation, which hosts changing fine-art exhibitions. The two charming cottages sell original art, prints, exquisite straw bags that have made the O list, sculptures, goat-skin drums, Jonkonnu-inspired coconut shell masks, jewelry, home décor items, and an amazing selection of resourceful, creative works made from repurposed items. A third shop is scheduled to open soon at the complex to sell the paintings of another local artist. Also look at the gift shop of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, near Graycliff, for honest Bahamian works.

Finally, Nassau’s new airport departures terminal treats visitors to a variety of shops that strive to represent true Bahamian products, if for a steeper price. Besides a Graycliff shop, you will find shops selling locally made rum cakes and hot sauces, ceramics handmade on Abaco Island, straw work, and Junkanoo dolls.

Practicalities

Coin of the Realm, 242-322-4862

Craft Cottage, 242-446-7373

Doongalik Studios Art Gallery, 242-394-1886

Graycliff , 242-302-9150

John Watling’s Distillery , 242-322-2811

National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, 242-328-5800

The Plait Lady, 242-363-1416 ###

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