Set on a stretch of soft, sugar-sand beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico, a ramshackle collection of structures cozies up to the Florida-Alabama state line. It’s the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar, which first opened in Pensacola, Florida, more than 50 years ago. Today it’s comprised of a few original areas plus multiple additions: decks, a massive tent, the main band room with a loft, a womb-like lounge, a rowdy pool room, countless bars and a gift shop full of the requisite tacky t-shirts.
These disparate parts are connected by a maze of walkways and staircases, and the folks you’ll find there are just as diverse: leather-clad, bearded bikers, frat boys and sorority belles, vacationers, band groupies and locals. Old and young, representing every spectrum of society, they don’t swarm this legendary bar for its craft beer selection or handmade cocktail list. They come for one thing—a good time. And at this uniquely Southern dive, they usually get it (and probably leave with a good story too). If you’re anywhere near The Flora-Bama, stop in and find your fun. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once. Here are five ways to make the most of your visit.
1. Drink a Bushwacker
This creamy, chocolaty, adult confection in a cup is not confined to the Flora-Bama, but they make one of the finest examples. If you’d like to remember your time at “the Bam,” it is advisable to enjoy only one of these stout, frozen, milkshake-based mixes that get their punch from a secret blend of five different liquors. And enjoy it slowly—beware of brain freeze—on one of the decks overlooking the water.
2. Make your Mark
The walls, railings, tables and chairs at the Flora-Bama are covered in ink; thousands have scrawled their names, messages of love and salty sayings on any surface within reach. And the bar’s owners don’t frown on this practice. They encourage it. If you don’t happen to have a pen on you, buy a Flora-Bama-branded Sharpie in the gift shop and get to your graffiti.
3. Throw a Fish
You can’t go all Swedish chef at this bar just any time, but in April, during the annual Interstate Mullet Toss, it’s practically required. While you’ll probably see a few mullet hair-dos, they’re not what you want to try and hurl across the state line (unless you’re looking for a black eye). That would be the mullet fish, a small silver-flanked species that’s more aerodynamic than you might think. The end goal is simple, as are the rules. You stand in Florida, and without stepping out of a circle traced in the white sand, throw a mullet as far into Alabama as you can. The guy or gal who gets their fish the farthest (for their age group), wins, as do the charities that benefit from the event’s proceeds. And never fear, no mullet are harmed during the event. They were killed before you got there.
4. Pack a Spare
The Flora-Bama’s main band room ceiling is adorned with zigzagging clotheslines that hang heavy and draped with bras of every kind, size and color. A combo of live music and too many stiff drinks seems to whip some ladies into a frenzy that drives them to add their undergarments to this interesting aspect of the bar’s décor. Gals, if you feel compelled to participate in this ritual, consider stashing an extra bra in your purse so you can leave the one you’re wearing in its place, doing its job.
5. Go During Daylight
On weekend nights in the spring and summer, the Flora-Bama can become almost unbearably crowded. But during the day, mixing and mingling is a bit more manageable, as are the bar and bathroom lines. You might miss out on the headlining bands, but you’ll be able to find a place to comfortably sit and people-watch while throwing back a dozen or so raw oysters. Yes, the Flora-Bama serves food. If nothing on its menu sounds appealing, simply stroll across the street to its family-friendly sister establishment, the Flora-Bama Yacht Club (a place you know is classy since it has yacht in the name). Here, a real-deal chef is making some of the best eats at the beach, including the fried green tomato and crab stack, the Greek Shrimp Nachos (best shared) and sesame-wasabi crusted tuna.
Jennifer Stewart Kornegay is a freelance writer based out of Montgomery, Ala. She writes about food and travel and traveling for food.