Backyard Swim-Up Bars

When deciding where to stay for their honeymoon in Antigua, two friends of mine were torn between an intimate, exclusive, privately owned eco-retreat and one of those huge, loud, all-inclusive, couples-only mega-resorts. Knowing the bride and groom as a chill pair who preferred indie films over blockbusters, I asked what attracted them to the all-inclusive. Their answer: the swim-up bar.

Drinking and swimming don’t necessarily go together, but drinking and sitting in a pool while playing cards or watching tennis or chatting with friends is pretty freaking cool. You’re a little bit buoyant and a little bit buzzed. Unfortunately, everyone loves swim-up bars, so at resorts they tend to be crowded by like-minded individuals, and it can be a challenge to find a barstool. For homeowners who want to soak and swill away from the honeymooners, swim-up bars can be built in to personal pools.


Some practical things to consider when deciding on constructing a swim-up bar are space, shade and maintenance. When planning the space of the bar, designers and homeowners need to consider where to place the bar, especially if it might interfere with the swimming area. A certain amount of space inside the pool needs to be designated for barstools and the cantilevered bar. Ample space outside the pool should be designated to accommodate spots for out-of-the-pool barstools, storage cabinets, a refrigerator, sink or even a full outdoor kitchen.

An outdoor bar should be a cool, refreshing oasis, so shade is necessary. To keep guests and beverages from melting in the heat, a swim-up bar is best served by an overhanging roof or awning. A roof will also protect anything on the dry side of the bar from the elements. As the sun approaches the horizon, overhead coverage is not always effective in obstructing direct sunlight, so strategically planted trees around the yard can provide natural shade at different hours of the day.

Pool construction websites mention the problem of cleaning around the barstool bases inside the pool. One way to solve this issue is by having barstools that protrude from the wall instead of those that come up from the bottom. Or why not have swinging bar seats suspended from the overhanging roof? That would allow the option of removing or stowing the swings to provide more swimming space when necessary. A common-sense reminder for avoiding maintenance problems is to discourage the use of glass around the bar area. Glass is a mess to clean up and can damage filtration systems. On top of that, it’s hazardous. I should know. When I was five, I knelt on a piece of glass in the bottom of a kiddie pool, and I still have the scar.

In the BVI, everyone competes to have the best parties. I think the host with the swim-up bar would win. And for those who really want to impress, imagine garnishing guests’ drinks with a key lime picked from a nearby branch or using a fresh coconut instead of a plastic cup to serve a daquiri. For inspiration, several public swim-up bars exist in BVI restaurants—Long Bay Beach Resort, Lambert Beach Resort or The Tamarind Club in Tortola or Nail Bay’s Sugarcane Restaurant on Virgin Gorda.