The Flora-Bama may get it’s name from its stance on the sandy line separating the Florida and Alabama Gulf Coast, but we say that line represents much more than the map. The story of “America’s Last Roadhouse” reads something like traditional marriage vows: “To love and to cherish, for richer or poorer, in good times and bad … ”
Yes, the Flora-Bama has seen its share of ups and downs since the Tampary family first planned to open a bar on the state line in 1964. In fact, the opening was delayed half a year when a fire consumed the new bar the day before it was set to sling its first drink. Forty years later, through changes in attitude, latitude and ownership, Hurricane Ivan destroyed its main building.
But through fire, storm and financial famine, the Flora-Bama has stayed steadfast in its mission to ensure a good time for all and to support the community who has stayed loyal from the start. Many of the original cast of characters – like Joe Gilchrist and Pat McClellan – are still involved in operations, joined today by new ownership in the McInnis family.
“The employees and owners have sacrificed a lot of their lives to make sure that when visitors come to Flora-Bama, they feel at home and are able to escape reality for a while,” McClellan says.
Escape reality you will. It’s a party 365 days a year, with a persistent song track in its daily offerings of live music (and drink specials). Just as the Flora-Bama straddles the state line, it also walks the line between decency and decadence, success and struggle, celebrity and anonymity. Its clientele runs the same gamut, as do the constant stream of musicians who grace its several stages.
“It’s always been about the people, from all walks of life, who have returned again and again, generation after generation, to enjoy the camaraderie, fun, food, music and great times on one of the most gorgeous beaches anywhere,” says Pat McClellan, who has played a key role in Flora-Bama operations since the good ol’ days.
The unique blend of barflies is one thing that makes it so appealing. Locals mingle seamlessly with tourists, and on holiday weekends, cars line the highway for miles in both directions.
Make that most weekends.
The Flora-Bama plays host to a delightfully wacky calendar of events, from the Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day to the 4th of July “Miss Firecracker” Bikini Contest. Rounding out the year are chili cook-offs, toga parties and songwriters’ festivals – each with a signature Flora-Bama flair. By far, the most notorious of events is the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss, where contestants compete to throw fish across the state line.
It may be odd, but odds are, if it’s hosted by the Flora-Bama, it’s for a good cause.
The bar, historically rated as “Best U.S. Beach Bar” by the likes of news media from Playboy Magazine to USA Today, gives back to the community by supporting an impressive list of charitable organizations, with an emphasis on youth, as well as drug and alcohol education.
In addition to the watering hole, the Flora-Bama now features a marina where you can rent jet skis, stand-up paddleboards, beach chairs and pontoon boats or book parasailing rides, dolphin cruises and fishing trips. The new Flora-Bama Yacht Club (FBYC) is located across the street from the main bar on the bank of Old River.
True to its storied past, you can bet the Flora-Bama will be around long into the future … or at least until closing time do us part.
Have fun! (And buy a T-shirt!)