“You never know what you’re walking into,” says Candice Blake.
The Flora-Bama Lounge marketing director is referring to the 1964-built joint outside Pensacola that was once just a roadhouse and package store. Now it’s a compound that would demand too many hyphens to explain — part concert venue, oyster restaurant, Gulf Coast beach bar and competition space. Oh, and it hosts a church service every Sunday.
So where to begin?
The main space is perhaps the most famous, photographed often for its beer pennants strung with hundreds of bras. Here, a mix of country, rock and blues bands plays daily — on holidays, the house is so packed that traffic may back up a quarter-mile on Alabama State Road 182 to the west, and Florida State Road 292 to the east.
The de rigueur order is a bushwhacker, the signature cocktail Blake describes as a coffee-flavored adult milkshake. “Your limit should be two,” she advises of the concoction containing five different liquors, including Kahlua and rum. “They’re super good, but super strong.”
Across the street at the Flora-Bama’s Yacht Club, opened in May 2013, the vibe is mellower, less crowded and more family friendly. This bayside open-air eatery serves an eclectic menu with items such as Greek shrimp nachos, wasabi-pea-crusted tuna and a lobster corndog served with a Dijon beurre blanc sauce.
For oysters, head to the main lounge. If you’re not in the mood for the bivalves served raw, try the Cajun steamed version with hot sauce, garlic and parmesan cheese. They’re also served Perdido style, baked with jalapenos, onions and Monterey jack cheese. From March to May, seafood lovers can order a 2-pound flat of crawfish, dished up with sausage, corn and potatoes.
After sunset, the focus is less on food and more on cutting loose, whether that means getting down on the dance floor or having a cold one at the bar, where you’ll be rubbing elbows with a crowd that spans tattoo-covered bikers and undercover CEOs. “Even if you’re famous, you don’t get any special treatment,” Blake says. It’s precisely this down-home ease that has attracted Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Kid Rock, Kenny Stabler and a handful of other celebrities who relish the low-key setting.
Adds Blake, “It’s about the music, the atmosphere and the community — we’re a family. Shoot, I think we’ve hired one new bartender in the last two years.”
There’s a loyalty among staff, and it’s matched by that of patrons, rewarded just as much with everyday consistency as with gotta-see-it-to-believe-it special events. The most well known is the annual mullet toss, where guests pay to lob a dead fish over the state border in an attempt to set a record; proceeds benefit charities in both Alabama and Florida. For the kids and kids at heart, on Christmas and Easter the lounge brings in Santa and the Easter Bunny. The catch? Both arrive by skydiving.
Those who expect their entertainment to parachute in won’t be surprised, but for the rest, this is definitely one joint that packs in the unpredictable.
Flora-Bama Oyster Bar & Grill, 17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, 850-492-0611; florabama.com
Brooke Morton is a veteran travel writer based in Orlando whose tales of her extensive treks around Florida and the Caribbean frequently land on the pages of travel and water sports magazines, including Sport Diver, Scuba Diving and Islands.