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The Flora-Bama Lounge and Package (aka The Flora-Bama or "The Flo-Bam"), located on Perdido Key in Pensacola, Florida, is a beachside oyster bar, beach bar, and Gulf Coast cultural landmark, touted as being America's "Last Great Roadhouse". The Flora-Bama takes its name from its location on the Florida-Alabama border line. The bar is in fact located all within Florida, with the Alabama line being about six feet from the western outside wall.
The Flora-Bama was originally constructed in 1964, two years after the road (Alabama State Route 182) connecting Orange Beach, AL with Perdido Key, FL was completed. In the early days of the Flora-Bama, the lounge was practically the only thing in the area. As traffic began to increase along the new highway, business grew and the lounge grew to match it with new construction added piecemeal to accommodate the larger crowds. At the time it was established Escambia County, Florida, in which it is located was "wet" while across the line Baldwin County, Alabama, was "dry". In 1978, the Flora-Bama was sold to Joe Gilchrist and Pat McClellan, who remain co-owners of the bar today.
Widely known as a place where "you can have a millionaire sitting next to a biker," this unique make-up of bar patrons is one of the contributing factors to its large appeal and attraction. Locals mingle with tourists rather easily and on large holiday weekends such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, cars line the highway for miles in both directions as the bar draws such a large crowd. It is also frequent weekend outing for local junior officers of nearby NAS Pensacola. The Flora-Bama first gained national attention when former Oakland Raiders quarterback and NFL MVP Kenny Stabler referred to the Flora-Bama as "The best watering hole in the country".
The establishment is referred to by locals as simply "the Bama" or "Pumptown" and before its partial destruction by Hurricane Ivan, it boasted in the range of 20 bars on the grounds. In addition, up to 4 live bands could be playing simultaneously providing a wide array of music for visitors to enjoy. The bar is primarily outdoors, and before its destruction by Hurricane Ivan, offered a huge deck where one can eat and drink while having a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bama serves a local favorite known as the "Bushwacker." For the tourists visiting the area, the drink is a frozen concoction that has a coffee-esque taste and can be found at many bars around the area. The Bama is famous for being the last stop on the "Bushwacker Tour" where groups of friends set out in boats and start at Tacky Jack's Bar, on to Calypso Joe's Caribbean Grille, over the Intracoastal to Pirate's Cove, and back to the Bama to finish up. At each stop, a bushwacker is consumed by a member of the boating party until the boat reaches the Bama where everyone disembarks and parties at the bar. Tacky Jacks and Calypso's are both on one of nearby Orange Beach's peninsulas and then we go(only by boat) to the most laid-back bar, Pirate's Cove(Don't step on the dogs). It doesn't have a sign, just a bunch of boats by an old pier & building on a sandbar in Josephine, across the ICWW from Orange Beach.
In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan scored a direct hit on the Flora-Bama, causing catastrophic damage. The main building at the entrance was destroyed, and most of the other sections of the bar were either destroyed or heavily damaged. The Flora-Bama shut down for the better part of a year while rebuilding efforts commenced. The original Top Deck survived the storm in fairly good condition, and the Stair Bar area below, though full of sand, was also more or less intact. The stairs leading from the Deck Bar to the Top Deck survived, but the main stage area near the Deck Bar lost its roof. It has since been replaced with a tent-like canopy. The main building has yet to be rebuilt, but many of the old amenities have nevertheless been replaced.
While the rear deck was destroyed, a boardwalk allowing beach access was constructed in its place. An outdoor stage beneath a large tent (called the Tent Stage) was erected to complement the indoor main stage that survived the storm. Much of the property is covered by trailers of some sort or another; the main office is now housed in a trailer, a trailer serving barbecue and other food is active during peak times, and trailers are even used for storage of major supplies. Permanent rebuilding is due to commence in the winter of 2008, but trailers are favored in the meantime to prevent more losses in the event of another hurricane.
Despite being closed for many months while repairing and rebuilding, the Flora-Bama's crowd swarmed right back to the bar as soon as it reopened its doors. There is live music to be had every day of the week, with usually at least five bands playing on Saturdays. It is still a spot likely to attract celebrity visitors, with faces such as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Kid Rock, and Kenny Stabler sometimes seen amongst the patrons.
The Flora-Bama Lounge is host to a number of annual and one-time local events. Perhaps most famous of these festivities is the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss, where individuals compete on the beach throwing a mullet (fish) from a 10 foot circle in Florida across the state line into Alabama. Not only is the Mullet Toss a great excuse to throw a weekend long party, but contributions are made to local charities, mostly to youth organizations. Winning throws approach distances in excess of 150 feet and the event is always held in the last full weekend of April (exception 2011, Moved to last April 29th-May 2nd). Additional events include the "Polar Bear Dip," the "Mullet Man Triathlon," "Super Bowl Chili Cook-off" and the "Bif Pib Challenge" (Business in front...Party in back).
A recent addition to the event schedule is the Annual Mullet Man Triathlon, a conventional sprint-distance race consisting of a 1/4-mile swim, followed immediately by a 15-mile bike and a 4-mile run. Not considered a serious competitive event by most of the contestants, the true motivation is (half-jokingly) said to be the post-race party.
The Jimmy Buffett song "Bama Breeze" was written about this roadhouse as well as others (although the video for the song was made at the ruins of The Firedog Saloon in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, another popular beach bar, that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005). This is a direct quote from Jimmy's sister: "My brother Jimmy’s recording of 'The Bama Breeze' was his homage to coastal dives, particularly the famous Flora-Bama on the beach at the Alabama–Florida State line. He sent me a little love both when he changed the lyrics to call the bar owner “LuLu” and when he asked me if I wanted to play the bar owner in the video. I mused for just a second, thinking…hmmm… a woman who owns a bar, drinking a beer, jumps up on the stage and sings with the band. It wasn’t much of a stretch! I had crazy fun shooting the video but I’m glad I have my day job!"
- Flora-Bama website
- Perdido Key website
- Worship @ The Water, review by a Mystery Worshiper from the Ship of Fools