Some Call Flora-Bama Best Beach Bar in the World
By Addison Harbour
The Gulf of Mexico coastline is home to some of the best beaches in the United States. White sand, clear water, and numerous attractions draw tourists from all over the country to experience the beaches with the added flare of Southern charm.
There may be nowhere else on the Gulf Coast more captivating to visitors with history, charm, and atmosphere than the spot where the Alabama coast meets the Florida panhandle. Here is a spot some have called “the best beach bar in the world” named for its location, the Flora-Bama Lounge, Package & Oyster Bar.
In 1962, the state of Alabama constructed a bridge over the pass where the Gulf of Mexico enters Perdido Bay making it possible for tourists to drive the entire stretch of coastline from Pensacola, Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama, according to the bar’s website. In response, Florida gave Alabama the two miles of beach east of the pass.
At the time, Baldwin County, Alabama – where the road and bridge were constructed – was “dry,” or did not sell alcohol. However, Florida’s neighboring county, Escambia, was wet. Two years after the road was completed in 1964, Ted Tampary and his two sons, Connie and Tony, opened the Flora-Bama Package & Lounge, virtually the only thing in the area at the time, the bar’s website reports.
Fourteen years after the lounge opened, Joseph Gilchrist purchased the bar and later added his partner, Pat McClellan, to ownership in 1986. Together, they created many of the events that attract visitors every year, such as the Mullet Toss, chili cook-offs, Bulls On The Beach, a fishing rodeo, live music 365 days a year, and huge concerts on the beach featuring artists like Kenny Chesney and Justin Moore. The Flora-Bama bar website reports that John McInnis and Cameron Price became co-owners of the Flora-Bama in 2009, along with Gilchrist and McClellan.
The Flora-Bama, located in Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida, now offers three restaurants, a gift shop, a liquor store and numerous bars. There are five stages for live music that feature bands of country, rock, dance and beach music, and during the summer, there are live performances. Visitors enjoy the unique scene the Flora-Bama offers.
Mark Hamblin, of Tupelo, Mississippi, has been visiting the Gulf Coast since the 1980s and has owned a condo in the area since the ’90s. “I go down regularly and always make sure to visit at least one night to soak in the atmosphere,’’ said Hamblin. “The Flora-Bama has changed a lot over the years especially after hurricane Ivan in 2004. Before then, there was a band called Rusty and Mike, the nicest guys. After they’d perform, Mike and me would sit upstairs and talk. I’d buy him a beer, but he wouldn’t drink it, so I drank it for him. Those were my favorite days in the bar.”
You never know who you might see at the Flora-Bama. Famous people, such as Sean Payton and Jimmy Buffet, regularly make appearances, and guests give them privacy.
“I was in the downstairs area where the canopy is one afternoon, and Jimmy Buffet came in, and no one bothered him,” said regular Cole Blue. “He did his own thing and socialized a little, but people respected his privacy and that he was there to enjoy the bar just like they were, and that is super cool to see.”
Jack Robertson performs every Friday and Saturday at the lounge and is known for his comedic and fun music. He has been a staple of the bar for almost 25 years and has become one of the biggest pieces of the Flora-Bama experience. His drummer started the famous country band “Rascal Flatts,” and he has performed with musicians, such as John Rich and Jeff Cook, the guitarist for the band “Alabama,” during shows.
“The Flora-Bama is special because so many unique people come through – musicians, actors, and football coaches,’’ said Robertson. “Many of the musicians, such as Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney will get on stage and perform a few songs.”
Famous people coming to the bar and participating in its events makes the experience that much better. Kenny Chesney held a free concert on the beach behind the Flora-Bama in 2014 to celebrate the bar’s 50th birthday and is a regular visitor of the bar. He, Buffet, and about 15 other musicians have written songs about the famous beach bar.
Another unique element is that the Flora-Bama holds a church service every Sunday morning under the tent. The goal is to attract people who may not feel comfortable attending a traditional church service. Some who attend are patrons from the night before, and they sometimes walk down to the beach when the pastor performs a baptism.
The bar also features an oyster bar where you can get hamburgers, chicken tenders, wraps and sandwiches in addition to seafood. There are two other Flora-Bama restaurants across from the bar. The Flora-Bama Ole’ River Grill is a casual dining atmosphere located on the water. The Flora-Bama Yacht Club is an open air waterfront restaurant across the street from the Flora-Bama.