Feel the Love.
Visiting Duffy's Love Shack in the US Virgin Islands is much like hopping aboard a Caribbean-themed ride at Disneyworld. From the outside, the restaurant looks much like its name, a thatched shack. Inside, bamboo and tropical paraphernalia line the walls and exuberant bartenders pass out rum like Water. Liz Duffy, co-owner of the Shack with husband Tim, says that's what she and her husband had in mind when they opened the restaurant. "The Shack screams FUN. Our goal is to have our guests exclaim, 'I've never had so much fun in my life!" And the fun translates well on the beverage menu, which is part of the reason the Shack's menu, and the drinks on the menu, has garnered the attention of the beverage industry. Cheers (r) named Duffy's the Best Independent Restaurant Spirits Program and has won the title of the Best Beverage Program from the National Restaurant Association.
So it's easy to say that the Shack's drink guide has put the place on the map. The menu, a laminated, square card attached to a foot-long piece of bamboo, makes an ideal match for the tropical themed party atmosphere. The two-sided menu lists a melange of mind-melding tropical libations, ranging from $5 to $13.
Tim Duffy said he and Liz designed the menu to capture the spirit of the Shack. The first step--like most decision-making ala Duffy--was brainstorming. "We knew we wanted to carry our bamboo theme into the menu, and we knew we wanted it to act as a fan," he says. "At first we tried framing it, but that didn't work out. My wife said she just wanted it on a stick, and that worked out well for us."
The Duffy's make all of the menus in house. Liz Duffy designed the menu, adding in funky graphics and descriptions of the Shack's specialty drinks and a small price list for the restaurant's other merchandise. After they are printed on stock stationery, the menus are laminated and screwed onto freshly-cut bamboo.
Customers reportedly love the menus, so much that they often take them home as momentoes. "We view it as the feast of the menus," Duffy says. "We really don't mind that much because it's great advertising for us. And, the menus aren't exactly small, so if they want to go to those extremes to take it, then I say go right ahead."
Duffy says they have tried to curb menu thievery by passing out the beverage menu with the restaurant's check presenters, which also includes information about the Shack's upcoming events, including Thursday theme nights, when the staff dishes out theme-related toys and drinks on special. "[Handing out the beverage menu] alleviates it a bit, but they still take about 50-60 menus per month," he estimates. "We spend lots of time cutting bamboo."
Of course, what customers are taking home, aside from a memorable experience, is what the Shack's known for most-its inventive specialty drinks.
All drinks are created with a sense of slapstick, at least one toy per drink, whether it be a fruit-filled skewer or a silly swizzle stick. Several drinks are served with their own specialty glasses. And for other drinks, customers can opt for the Shack's signature parrot glass for an additional seven bucks.
The menu's largest is the Shark Tank, a 64-ounce ocean of rum and tropical liqueurs is served in a fish bowl with a shark shooter, "with the remnants of his latest victim!"--a mini skeleton stuffed into the shark's mouth.
Then there's the Shack's specialty, The Love Shack Volcano, an "incredible, humongous 50ounce frozen tropical extravaganza served flaming with potent berry lava--flows."
The menu lists plenty of small drinks (shooters) for serious post-sun revelry. The most notable of these is the Zoom Zoom Shooter (Southern Comfort, cranberry juice, melon liqueur, amaretto), "guaranteed to get your engine running," with its mobile shot glass, attached to the top of a mini racecar. Most of the drinks on the menu include rum, the native spirit of the Islands. And Tim Duffy says that their beverages are made for drinkers with mature palates. "Our drinks are made for adults, which means they are not sickly sweet. Rum has a strong flavor, but it is often overpowered. In our place, when you order a Pina Colada, you're going to get 2-1/2 to 3 ounces of rum in a 14-ounce drink. That's how they were designed to be made."
Duffy stands by the belief that the drinks should be created with the best ingredients, which means using fresh fruits and upper-end rums, including light, dark, Demerara, over-proof and flavored rums and rum liqueurs. Though the menu doesn't list them, the Shack offers regular bar service with a very low price tag. Well drinks go for $2.25, a competitive price set, Duffy says, to keep locals coming back to the Shack.
Customers are presented the drink menus as soon as they are seated, which is soon accompanied by another menu on a stick--the food menu. This similarly designed two-sider is filled with the Shack's Caribbean influenced cuisine. Food highlights include the Island Surf N Turf, grilled jerk tenderloin, spicy Mahi Mahi, coconut rice and green bean casserole, and the Tropical Flaming Pupu Platter, a virtual food festival including skewers of tequila-lime shrimp, oriental beef, Thai chicken and roasted veggies with cucumber relish, fried sweet plantains and hush puppies. The menu includes a variety of appetizers, too, serving up Wings From Hell and Black Bean Cakes.
The media has been good to Duffy's Love Shack, helping attract customers from all over, a roster that regularly includes members of President Clinton's White House entourage. After the group's first visit, one staffer said it took most of the next day for certain members to recover.
Duffy's opened a store in Ocean City, MD, about a year ago--an upscaled version of the USVI Shack, which has fared well in the resort town. Tim says they would like to eventually open 10 to 20 more Shacks in selected markets, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco.