If you haven’t been to Alabama lately – and I’m betting you haven’t, it isn’t exactly on the list of dream vacations – then you haven’t had the experience of visiting The Flora-Bama. It’s probably considered the best oyster/beach bar and roadhouse east of the Mississippi. Although I can’t vouch for the quality of the oysters since I’ve only been there for beers or the occasional “Bushwacker”. Yes, you read that right. Ahh the infamous Bushwacker, their signature drink: a mind-numbing, frozen mixture of alcohol that tastes like a Slurpee made with coffee and black liquorice – mmm, yummy (ack)! And they are strong let me tell ya. A couple of those and your bra might wind up hanging from the rafters with no recollection of how it got there. I’m not speaking from personal experience of course…
Considered a gulf-coast cultural landmark, the Flora-Bama has a unique history. It was built in 1964 and is located on the Florida/Alabama border, thus the name, although it was actually built entirely on the Florida side with the Alabama state line about six feet to the west. It’s known as a place where you can find millionaires sitting next to bikers, tourists mingling with locals, and has been a frequent stop for celebrity types like Payton Manning and Kid Rock. Jimmy Buffet’s song Bama Breeze was written as a tribute to this saloon.
As the area grew with hotels and condominiums so did “the Bama”, although it did in a kind of a haphazard way. Prior to it’s destruction by hurricane Ivan in 2004, it had become a compilation of buildings and decks with strange add-ons and had 20 different bars, 4 stages for live bands and a large outdoor deck on the beach side that offered great views of the Gulf of Mexico. Although now The Flora-Bama consists mostly of temporary trailers and tents, it still has the original top deck that survived Ivan. There’s talk of more permanent rebuilding but I think the owners figure another hurricane will only wipe it out again and besides, they still get the crowds despite it’s dilapidated state.
Yes, the Flora-Bama maintains the quirky charm and ambiance that it did before the hurricane. And even after being closed for almost a year while they tried to rebuild, the crowds returned to The Flora-Bama in droves as soon as it opened up again. After all, if not for the Bama who would be there to hold the Annual Interstate Mullet Toss? This is an event where participants, usually inebriated, compete–I use the term loosely–by throwing a dead fish from a ten foot circle in Florida across the state line into Alabama. You’re probably asking “why?” Well, this is really just an excuse to throw a big beach party, but the event also raises money for local charities so it does have a more lofty purpose.
Many a family reunion spent on the beach in L.A. (lower Alabama) has been capped off with a visit to the Flora-Bama, although we frequented it more in our younger days than we do now. On my latest trip to see the family in Orange Beach, my brother and I stopped in for a cold beer and some reminiscing after a round of golf. It wasn’t much to look at before the hurricane, and even less now, but I wanted to share a few pictures from our visit to this treasured landmark.