Flora-Bama is many things: a beach bar, honky-tonk, restaurant, songwriter venue, concert destination, marina, package store, bingo parlor and even a church.
It started 45 years ago as a lowly state-line dive and liquor store that was hoping to take advantage of thirsty customers from Florida and Alabama.
Here are 15 interesting tidbits about this iconic coastal landmark:
How Flora-Bama started
In 1962, the state of Florida gave the state of Alabama two miles of beachfront land in exchange for the construction of the Perdido Pass Bridge. In 1964, the enterprising Tampary family opened the Flora-Bama as a small bar and package store on the new state line, hoping to capitalize on the fact that Escambia County, Florida, was “wet” and Baldwin County, Alabama, was “dry” for alcohol sales.
Joseph Gilchrist purchased it in 1978 and added daily live music and songwriters. Pat McClellan became a partner in 1986, and they began to create events like the Interstate Mullet Toss and the Frank Brown Songwriter’s Festival. There are now four partners with John McInnis and Cameron Price joining in 2009.
Tony Brook, of Waverly, Ala., performs at the Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key, Fla., on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/[email protected])
Flora-Bama offers live music between 11 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., but hours vary at the five stages. Performers include locals, songwriters and up-and-comers. Big names who have played Flora-Bama include Jimmy Buffet, Billy Currington and John Rich. There was a free Kenny Chesney concert on the Flora-Bama beach in 2014 that drew 40,000 people and 400 boats. Coming up is a free beach concert featuring Justin Moore and Easton Corbin on Sept. 1.
Flora-Bama consists of multiple venues on a sprawling piece of property on both sides of Perdido Key Drive just inside Florida at the Florida-Alabama state line.
During the day, all ages are welcome at the main Flora-Bama bar and restaurant complex on the Gulf side, but after 6 p.m., it is restricted to guests 18 and older; and there is a $5 cover charge. The Yacht Club and Ole River Grill across the street are family-friendly all the time and never have a cover charge. Kids meals in all of the restaurants are about $6.
Sunday church services are at 9 and 11 a.m. in the Tent bar and are live streamed in overflow areas, including the Bra bar. The services, led by Pastor Dan Stone, draw 500-700 people each. The church, whose theme is “it’s okay to not be okay” is part of Central Christian out of Las Vegas.
And yes, you may enjoy an adult beverage during the service.
Domestic draft beers are $3.75. At the Oyster Bar and Grill, the Bama burger with fries is $12; a dozen oysters is $13; a fried shrimp basket is $11; and a half pound of peel and eat shrimp is $12. The food is served “grab and go,” so you can eat anywhere you want. Menu prices vary at the Yacht Club and Old River Grill. The most expensive item I saw on any of the menus was a hand cut certified Angus ribeye for $28.
Flora-Bama uses a system that pumps the liquors from a central location to each bar through lines like the casinos in Las Vegas. Its best-selling drink is the Bushwacker, a $7.50 “adult frozen milkshake” which contains five types of liquor. The best-selling vodka is Nashville’s own Pickers Vodka, which goes into 250,000 Flora-Bama drinks a year.
There is lively bingo from 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are usually 100 players of all ages, and prizes include gift cards, toys, and other items from local merchants.
The Frank Brown International Songwriter Festival, named for an early Flora-Bama night watchman, features more than 250 award-winning performers, singing songs and telling the stories behind them. The 35th annual festival is Nov. 7-17.
The Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key, Fla., on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/[email protected])
Oddball events include the annual Interstate Mullet Toss in April, where competitors throw dead mullet across the Alabama-Florida state line; the Polar Bear Plunge typically attracts about 5,000 people who get the new year started by running into the frigid Gulf; Santa landing on the beach via helicopter at Christmastime; the Easter Bunny making a similar grand entrance and hiding eggs on the beach; a Fishing Rodeo; and an annual Chili Cook-off. Coming up is the Miss Flora-Bama Bikini Contest Finale on Aug. 31.
Flora-Bama offers shuttle service from Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Perdido Key and Pensacola for as little as $5 per person each way.
When Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, the main Flora-Bama building was severely damaged. It was one of the first coastal businesses to reopen, operating for years out of tents and trailers on the original site. It was rebuilt on two levels in 2010.
The Flora-Bama Yacht Club opened in 2013 and the Ole River Grill in 2015 on the Intracoastal Waterway across the street from the main Flora-Bama. Patrons can pull their boats up on the sand or into slips to enjoy food, drink and music.
The Flora-Bama Yacht Club and Ole River Grill are pet friendly, so you can take your dog on a leash.
The Flora-Bama employs as many as 500 workers during the Memorial Day and Labor Day high season. At other times of year, it might be 250 people. More than half of the management team has been there for 20 years or more. Management refers to its security workers as “customer service” employees.
Flora-Bama strives to be environmentally responsible. It has a 9,000 gallon cistern that collects rain water that is used to flush the complex’s more than 50 toilets. It also recycles thousands of beer cans (using the proceeds to pay for employee outings), uses biodegradable straws and plates and participates in an oyster shell recycling program.
Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town.”
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