Port Antonio was where Jamaica was chic when Jamaica was chic,” says Jon Baker, the charming Brit whose newly opened Geejam hotel and recording studio is now bringing chic back to this secluded piece of paradise on the island’s northeast coast. “In the fifties and sixties the jet set and Hollywood crew—Baron von Thyssen, the Aga Khan, Errol Flynn, Sophia Loren, the Richard Burtons—all came here.”
Today Port Antonio remains an under-the-radar locale known mainly to the yacht and villa crowd. Nestled between the Blue and John Crow mountain ranges, the area is removed from Kingston by a rocky two-and-a-half-hour drive: a location that has been more blessing than curse, allowing the old-school Jamaican vibe to remain virtually unchanged here for the past 30 years.
Baker first bought property in Port Antonio in 1991, after his independent record label, Gee Street (which signed such acts as the Stereo MCs and Queen Latifah), had its first no. 1 hit. Taking over Sanwood, a run-down house on three acres of land, Baker says he “set out on a TLC program that has now lasted seventeen years.”
After selling the label to Richard Branson in 2000, Baker turned his attention to the Jamaica property, building cabins, bringing in top-end recording equipment, and inviting musicians down to record. Björk, Common, and No Doubt were among those who came—and stayed for stints as long as four weeks. They fell in love with the postcard-perfect beaches (Frenchman’s Cove, the Blue Lagoon, Winnifred Beach) and rafting the nearby Rio Grande. And, of course, with the local music. “Every weekend and even during the week,” says Baker, “there are street dances, rum bars playing sixties ska, and two local nightclubs: Roof Club and La Best.”
Nearly two years ago, intent on opening Geejam as a boutique hotel and nexus for artist types, Baker began redesigning the recording cabins so that each of the seven villas is now woodsy on the outside and high design within. (Imagine pushing open the door to a tree house and stepping into a room at New York’s Maritime Hotel, one of Baker’s inspirations.) At the pinnacle of the vertical property—it’s chiseled into the sloping mountainside—is the bar and restaurant Bushbar, and, there, too, the mash-up aesthetic is clearly in evidence with a mix of Jamaican and Japanese dishes on the menu.
It’s this combination of styles and cultures that reflects Baker’s larger vision for Geejam; he sees it as a spot for what he calls “globe-trotting creativity,” a coming together of tribes from the worlds of music, film, fashion, and photography. To that end, guests can record on the hotel’s state-of-the-art studio equipment or shoot a digital film and piece it together in the editing suite.
Who’d be happiest here? “People who want something a little bit different, a little more adventurous,” says Ben Elliot, the founder of the luxe concierge service Quintessentially. With family and friends, Elliot booked the property this past New Year’s. “It was one of the most special holidays,” he continues. “I’d go back in a Jamaican heartbeat. I really loved the service. I really loved the people.” Geejam’s rates begin at $595 a night (800-688-7678; geejam.com).