Hurricane Ivan swept through the Florida panhandle in 2004, dumping mountains of sand and a deluge of saltwater into the Flora-Bama bar. By 2013, owners finally finished repairing the damages. In the interim, one of Florida’s most notorious dive bars kept plugging away.
Look at the wood beams in the Flora-Bama today and you’ll see where the force of Ivan’s winds sandblasted the rafters. Any sentiments etched into the wood pre-Ivan are notably lighter than post-devastation musings.
WHAT: At the westernmost edge of the Sunshine State, the Flora-Bama Bar made a name for itself with its annual Interstate Mullet Toss every April. Although the bar sits just inside the Florida border – with six feet to spare – people school to the annual contest. For $15, mullet hopefuls stand in a circle and try to toss a mullet across the state line. The proceeds all go to charity.
While the Interstate Mullet Toss may draw the most people at one time to the Flora-Bama, the bar has more than one claim to fame. Aside from the food, drinks and music, the state’s westernmost dive bar has a host of festivals and parties that celebrate not only mullet, but songwriting, chili and bikinis. Pick your vice: the Flora-Bama has a party surrounding it.
WHY: There is no one reason to visit, but one of the many things that compel people to head to the Flora-Bama is its place in local lore. In 2006, Jimmy Buffett released a song called Bama Breeze, a song about the Flora-Bama and the devastation Ivan wrought at what he calls a “Gulf Coast coming-of-age bar.”
The Flora-Bama looks appropriately weathered and loved, but doesn’t have apparent scars from Ivan. If you look closely, however, you can still find Ivan’s signature everywhere. The sandlblasted beams tell part of the story; walk through the bar on the first floor and gently thump the wood walls. When you do, you’ll notice sand coming out of the bottom of the wall. That’s sand from Ivan, and staff say it will likely be there as long as the Flora-Bama stands.
WHO: The Flora-Bama remains privately owned. Much of the management team worked there before Ivan.
WHERE: As far west along the panhandle beaches as you can go: 17401 Perdido Key Drive, six feet inside the Florida border.
BEST part: Somewhere off the continental shelf, shrimpers can find shrimp called Royal Reds. These large crustaceans taste like buttery lobster and boil up bright red, hence the name. The best part about the best part? Because shrimpers don’t go for these fish unless they really, really can’t find shallow water shrimp, they’re not overfished and are considered a sustainable seafood, so eat as many as you’d like.
WORST part: The bar sells out of Royal Reds, often early.
FUN fact: You can try and toss your bra (or, as one brave man attempted, your boxers) over a length of line strung high above the dance floor. Of course, if you make the shot, the bar gets to keep your bra.
MAGIC Question: It depends on how much you eat or drink. You can walk in for free, unless it’s the Interstate Mullet Toss. Then it costs $10. The drinks and food is a little pricier than a dive bar but right in line with a beach bar, which means maybe the Flora-Bama is, after all, something slightly more than just a dive bar.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.