The Gulf of Mexico coast is home to some of the best beaches in the United States. White sand, emerald water, and numerous attractions bring in tourists from all over the country to experience the beaches and southern charm. Nowhere else on the Gulf Coast has more history, charm, and atmosphere than the spot where the Alabama coast meets the Florida panhandle. Here lies the best beach bar in the world, simply named for it’s location, The Flora-Bama Lounge.
In 1962 the state of Alabama constructed a bridge over the pass where the Gulf of Mexico enters Perdido Bay making it possible for locals and tourists to drive the entire stretch of coastline from Pensacola, Florida to Gulf Shores, AL. In response, Florida gave Alabama the two miles of beach East of the pass. At the time Baldwin county, AL where the road and bridge were constructed was “dry”. You could not buy alcohol on the Alabama side. However, Florida’s neighboring county, Escambia was wet.
Two years after the road was completed in 1964 Ted Tampary along his two sons Connie and Tony opened up the Flora-Bama Package and Lounge. It was virtually the only thing in the area at the time, but it became historical.
Joseph Gilchrist 14 years later purchased the bar. Later, in 1986, he added his partner Pat McClellan to ownership. Together they created many of the events that attract so many visitors every year such as Mullet Toss, The Frank Brown International Songwriters festival, Chili Cook-offs, Bulls On The Beach, a fishing rodeo, live music 365 days a year There have also been massive concerts on the beach with Kenny Chesney and Justin Moore.
Flora-Bama Lounge and Package now offers three restaurants, gift shop, liquor store and numerous different bars. There are two stages with live music going on almost constantly, During the summer, there are three live performances constantly from 4 pm until 2 am. Today, the "Bama" has two bars and restaurants and a marina across the street on Ole River. And it is surrounded by condos. If you want to take a look at buying one, there's a website for that!
Visitors of the bar enjoy the unique scene the Flora-Bama offers compared to other bars in the area. Mark Hamblin from Tupelo, Mississippi has been visiting the gulf coast since the 1980’s and has owned a condo in the area since the 90’s. “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. They were 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.”
The Flora-Bama is so unique and special because you never know who you are going to see. Famous people such as Sean Payton and Jimmy Buffet regularly make appearances at the Bama. The other guests leave them alone and allow them to have their privacy.
Over the years, multiple companies have wanted to do reality shows on the lounge, but the Flora-Bama refused; They know their guests expect a certain level of privacy and relaxation when visiting. “I was in the downstairs area where the canopy is one afternoon and Jimmy Buffet came in and no one bothered him. 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. That is super cool to see”, said Cole Blue, Senior Class President at Ole Miss.
The Flora-Bama offers a unique experience because management and ownership give their live talent ultimate freedom. Jack Robertson performs every Friday and Saturday at the lounge and is known for his comedic and fun music. He even has his own persona - “Big Earl”. Big Earl 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. Tammy Tucker, John Rich, and Jeff Cook, the guitarist for Alabama have come on stage with Big Earl. “The Flora-Bama is special because so many unique people come through, musicians, actors, and football coaches,’’ said Roberston. “Many of the musicians such as Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney will get on stage and perfume a few songs.”
Kenny Chesney held a free concert on the beach behind the Flora-Bama in 2014 and is a regular visitor of the bar along. Chesney, Buffett and about 15 more wrote songs about the famous beach bar.
But.....the most unique thing about the Flora-Bama might be the fact that every Sunday morning they have a church service. There are not many bars that offer church services Sunday mornings, but at the Flora-Bama they do.
(Flora-Bama church service byDave Harbour)
The church goal is to attract people that may not feel comfortable going to a traditional church service. Perfect people aren’t welcome! They have service under the tent, some people still remain from the night before. The bar is till open.For baptisms, they walk over the beach down to the emerald green Gulf waters. This really embodies the type of people and atmosphere of the Flora-Bama.
No matter where you are from or what your story might be, the Flora-Bama wants you to come out have a great time and feel the love of the Flora-Bama Lounge. Leaving your bra on the clothesline is optional!
Written by Addison Harbour, a Senior Journalism, Pol. Sci, and Education major at Ole Miss. @addisonharbour on Twitter and Instagram.