The wooden watering hole has seen countless storms since opening on the Alabama and Florida state lines in 1964. It was constructed on land set aside for a new bridge that added two miles of beach to Alabama. And conveniently for the owners, the Alabama side was in a dry county, making it an essential stop for travelers.
For many years, it was the only building for miles but is now surrounded by high rise condos. The structure is covered in license plates and bras left behind by patrons. It’s equal parts dive bar, live music venue, store, oyster bar, package store, and on Sundays, it’s even a church.
It’s called, appropriately, the Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar.
Since its founding, the bar has earned mentions everywhere from Jimmy Buffett’s songs to John Grisham’s novel The Pelican Brief. Its logo is worn on t-shirts and beer coozies, a badge of honor for those in the know. Few bars in the country have such a high profile.
The bar stood strong through countless storms until Hurricane Ivan in 2004, sweeping it away. For weeks, the staff served out of tents. It now sits firmly on 20,000 square feet on the Perdido Key, Florida side, but is within walking distance from Orange Beach, Alabama. The bar even used some of the building materials when they rebuilt.
It’s not uncommon to see a bachelorette party here on weekends, bobbing along to the music, donning matching shirts and the occasional phallic straw in the labyrinth of rooms. Live music is offered every night for a $5 cover and it’s considered to be an essential stop for country singers like Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean.
The beverage of most patrons is a cheap beer but the bushwhacker is a close second. The frozen cocktail was invented in the 1970s in the Virgin Islands but made its way north to the Gulf Coast. It has dark rum, Kahlua, and cream of coconut, blended with ice and topped with a maraschino cherry. Flora Bama’s recipe is a secret, so don’t ask how to recreate it.
You might not think to eat at a bar, but the Flora Bama is known for its local seafood. Their oysters come topped in cheese or raw. They also serve burgers and fresh shrimp. One of the most unusual items is the oysters Rockefeller ice cream.
Come Sunday, the back porch is set up for Worship on the Water, their own church services. The stale beer is cleaned up and chairs are placed around the stage where honky-tonk is swapped for hymns. They even have baptisms in the ocean and the bar is open during church services if you need some hair of the dog.
Bull riding is sometimes held in the parking lot for an event called Bulls on the Beach. And yes, they’re real bulls, not those mechanical ones you see at wannabe city versions of country western bars.
The Mullet Toss is one of their other annual events. It has nothing to do with the hairstyle and everything to do with the fish, but you’ll likely see both. The massive beach party involves throwing the deceased fish from the Florida side to the Alabama side, inspired by the cow chip throwing contests out west. Anyone can participate for a small fee, serving as a fundraiser for community organizations.
If you find yourself driving down 182 on the Gulf Coast, don’t hesitate to stop at the ramshackle beachfront bar. You’ll be welcomed like a regular.