Dive Bars - Friends in Low Places
Written by Doug Simmons
Some spots would bristle at being called a dive bar, others wear it as a badge of honor. Meet some of the loudest, rowdiest, most fun establishments on the water.
Flora-Bama - Pensacola, Fla.
Without doubt the root’n toot’n-nest dive bar on our list, Flora-Bama is like a nonstop beach party housed in a building designed by M.C. Escher. The all-wood, ship-like structure towers over the sand with multiple levels, stairways and decks — most of them facing the big dance floor and stage. Live music happens daily, sometimes several times a day, and the crowd certainly isn’t shy (clotheslines draped with bras hang from the balconies). Outside, a tent regularly hosts wet t-shirt and bikini contests. The annual interstate Mullet toss, where Florida and Alabama residents throw fish back and forth across the state line, is legendary. Flora-Bama has its own marina (251-980-5222, fishflorabama.com), or you can dock at nearby Holiday Harbor Marina (850-492-0555, myholidayharbor.com) just a short ride down the Old river.
Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe - Fort Myers Beach, Fla.
Don’t be fooled by the froufrou name. Bonita Bill’s is a dive of the highest (lowest?) order. There’s nothing fancy about the joint, which is open air, cash only and dog friendly, so wear your flip-flops and drive your boat right up to the pier. An authentic south Florida atmosphere draws a congenial crowd of locals (many live-aboard boaters have their sailboats moored in the pass out back) and returning customers who can’t get enough of the cheap food and drink, daily entertainment and ocean breezes. The grouper sandwich is said to be one of the best anywhere. Dock at the restaurant or just a short dingy ride away at Pink Shell Beach resort & Marina (888-222-7465, pinkshell.com) for some pampering. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Bert's Bar & Grill - Matlacha, Fla.
Bert’s has had a colorful 70 years of history. One of its two buildings started out as a “sweet shoppe” in the 1930s. stories abound about the other building, the “hotel,” being a brothel and, later, a gentleman’s club. If only the walls could talk. These days the waterfront hideaway is known for its ultra laid-back vibe, “million dollar view,” dockside dining, live music and a menu that features seafood platters, burgers and sandwiches, wings and homemade chips — no fries. Bring your rod and reel and fish off the back deck. The village of Matlacha has a notable artists’ community and is close by the cruising meccas of sanibel and Captiva islands. A good base of operations is Olde’ Fish House Marina (239-282-9577, oldfishhousemarina.com), and it is less than a half mile walk from Bert’s.
The Green Parrot - Key West, Fla.
We all know what goes on in Key West. so, when we say the green Parrot is the oldest and divey-est bar in town, well, that’s saying something. A shady ambiance operates in stark contrast to the sunwashed beauty
of the nearby beaches. Add to that a serious curio fetish — beat up guitars, placards and other old junk cover the walls — a self-serve popcorn machine and Root Beer Barrel shots, and you’ve got yourself a funky oasis.
A few tips: Don’t wear a collared shirt (tourist!). Get there at 5:30 p.m. on weekends for the 90-minute sound check before the band really starts. And “no snivelling.” The marinas at the Bight are within walking and biking distance, including Conch Harbor Marina (305-294-2933, conchharbormarina.com).
Dockside Tropical Bar - Marathon, Fla.
It’s so salty that you wouldn’t be surprised to see notorious sailor and founder of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine Bob Bitchin sitting next to you at the bar. No, really, that’s him. Along with owner/musician Eric Stone, Bitchin can sometimes be found hanging out here. Maybe it’s the awesome pub food — street tacos like you’d find in small-town Mexico and hog handles, which are smoked pork shanks rolled in a spicy jerk sauce. Maybe it’s the dark ‘n’ stormy served in a tall glass or the signature dockside punch. Perhaps it’s because of the adjacent live-aboard marina. Whatever. Just be there. Tie up at Dockside Tropical Bar or at Marathon Marina & Boatyard (305-743-6575, marathonmarinaandresort.com) and dinghy over. It is just on the other end of Boot Key Harbor.
Alabama Jack's - Key Largo, Fla.
This is as “Old Florida” as it gets. And by Old Florida i mean faded, tilting, seaside cabin built on two floating barges. What Alabama Jack’s lacks in frills it makes up for in dependability: it’s been a watering hole for boaters, anglers and bikers heading from Miami to Key West and back since 1947. Dawg, the bartender, has been there forever — so stay on his good side if you ever want to come back. the huge, handmade conch fritters are a must, as are the homemade conch salad and lima bean soup. there’s live music on the weekends, and there’s no shortage of entertainment from the crusty old guys at the bar. stay at Ocean Reef Club (800-741-7333, oceanreef.com) for all the amenities this dive does without.
Archie's Seabreeze - Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Archie’s started in 1947 as a military shed that served beer to soldiers stationed in South Beach. Then, in 1994, Patty McGee bought the place and put her heart and soul into making it a fixture of the local beach bar scene. The ramshackle assortment of palm trees, umbrellas and bar areas sits across from the Atlantic, with license plates on the walls inside and marine paraphernalia scattered all around. Archie’s is known for its killer burgers, which you can wash down with $1 happy hour drafts. There’s live music most evenings, plus the biannual Hogg Wild festival with all-day bands and vendors. Stay at the Ft. Pierce City Marina (772-464-1245, fortpiercecitymarina.org) located on the west side of the ICW, about a seven-minute drive away.
Hurricane Patty's - St. Augustine, Fla.
A weather-beaten, tin-roofed shack on the property of Rivers Edge Marina, Hurricane Patty’s is supposedly haunted and definitely can “bring the ocean to your table” with a finger-licking bill of fare that includes low country boil, crab legs, seafood platters and a raw and steamed bar. That’s in addition to a drink list that takes up two full pages in the menu: 36 different beers, handmade hurricanes, dozens of frozen concoctions and specialty cocktails. Local musicians perform throughout the week, from southern rock to zydeco to karaoke. sit in the dark, wood-heavy dining room or out back on the covered patio. You can dock right at Rivers Edge Marina (904-827-0520, 29riversedgemarina.com) on the west side of the iCW.
Lou's Blues - Indianlantic, Fla.
It’s almost like a tale of two taverns. Outside, Lou’s Blues is a tidy, bright, two-story building with a wood deck running along the back facing the Atlantic. There’s an open-air bar upstairs and another at ground level. Inside, though, Lou’s evokes a showbiz pizza meets biker bar feel, with a retro-futuristic raised stage, a dance floor, bric-a-brac décor, neon lights, and a wraparound balcony. Every night brings live music, dancing or some other form of shenanigans (dirty bingo, anyone?). The food menu is mostly pub grub — burgers, sandwiches, apps — but, hey, pub grub! Telemar Bay Marina (321-773-2468, telemarbay.com) offers a convenient berth on the iCW and is just a six-minute drive from Lou’s Blues.
Are you cruising to the Bahamas this winter? Stop by some of our favorite waterfront bars.
- Captain Jack’s Hope Town Elbow Cay
- Nippers Beach Bar Great Guana Cay
- Pete’s Pub and Gallery Little Harbour
- Snappas Marsh Harbour
- The bar at Staniel Cay Yacht Club Staniel Cay
- Chat N Chill Stocking Island
- Rainbow Inn’s Seaside Bar Hatchet Bay
- Sammy’s Rock Sound