At some point in the very near future, maybe even this month, a multitude of our neighbors – maybe even us – will be traveling to the East, returning like a migratory flock of gulls, heading to “The Beach.”
It is amazing that for a place surrounded by water, like the Isle d’Orleans, we don’t have a good beach for miles away. And, since we are water-based carbon units, we like being near the water.
The French, in their best Age of Discovery mode, founded our city almost 300 years ago and the nearest beaches were then days, not hours, away. They settled those areas also, but La Nouvelle-Orléans was going to be Louis XIV’s Utopia, a place with grand promenades, laden with culture and wealth, birthing grand philosophies and philosophers and offering its residents the products and grand existence of a Golden Age – but without beaches.
So we’ve made the best of an obviously erroneous geographic placement and from time to time head for the most beautiful pristine beaches in America, if not the world. Sugar sand, it’s called, and it’s fine, soft and white. The waters are emerald and the rays of the sun on the beach never accomplish those, “ouch, ouch, ouch” moments of pain on bare feet.
And we, being the people we have turned out to be, never quite achieving the Sun King’s lofty goals, require the comforts of a watering hole or two along the way – and certainly so when we reach journey’s end. The modern challenge since we’ve overcome the distance issue is that the road we have constructed, Interstate 10, is not conducive to leisurely travel, nor to enjoying the sights of nature and community. What has been built along that mega-highway isn’t to the standards of comfortable travel at an easy pace.
Getting off the road and going the “old way” – hugging the Gulf’s waters – while not the most rapid path, is much more satisfying to the soul. Old towns, fighting for prosperity and even existence, dot the entire journey. But the bars, ahh, the bars, tell the tales of days gone by and provide today’s version of gracious Southern hospitality.
These along-the-way “comfort stations” are for your drinking pleasure. I suggest light snacks at these stops – the culinary arts aren’t their specialty. Good drinks and meeting the natives are the stock-in-trade.
Shaggy’s Pass Harbor
What could be more coastal than a place called Shaggy’s in a former bait shop at The Pass? These guys don’t have a lot of old stories since this has been one, among many, of the success stories rising from the devastation after Hurricane Katrina. But the place is cool – Key West cool. Against my previous warning, this is a place where you may want to sample the culinary fare. The founders, Ron Lacher and Thomas Genin, spent some time with Emeril Lagasse and are committed to offering food better than the usual expectations.
120 Hiern Ave.,Pass Christian, Miss., (228) 452-9939, Shaggys.biz
Irish Coast Pub
When the Irish came to the Gulf Coast in the early- to mid-19th century, they worked in a number of industries – most notably the hospitality business. They ran boarding houses, and appropriately, bars. The gang over at Irish Coast Pub doesn’t mess with history. They feature a revolving menu number of craft and specialty beers on tap, and loads of other beers and ales from all over the world in bottles and cans.
1307 25th Ave., Gulfport, Miss., (228) 867-7022, IrishCoastPub.com
Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino
Maybe dive bars aren’t your deal. Maybe you like them but would appreciate a break. Maybe you’re the swanky, swell-elegant type. OK, gotcha covered. Stop by The Beau, one of Mississippi’s grandest gambling halls, which also has no end of watering holes all under one roof, and each with a different theme. Even if the weather outside is frightful, this place can be delightful.
The Breeze Bar is located in the heart of the action. The considerate folks at The Beau have placed a complete, full-service bar in a location where you only have to trek a few steps to be at “the tables.” Or, if you already had your fill of exercise for the day (likely navigating the entire length of the buffet line), then you can just sit at the bar and play video poker on machines conveniently located right on the bar.
875 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, Miss., (228) 386-7111, BeauRivage.com
Kwitzky’s Dug Out
Do you like baseball? Well, this baseball-themed bar in the most unlikely of communities, Ocean Springs, can satisfy your desire to immerse yourself in the grand pastime and quench a stadium-sized thirst. Kwitzky’s Dug Out can not only prepare an excellent beverage, but they also encourage you to bring your own grill items and use their equipment for your hamburgers, hot dogs or whatever suits you.
It isn’t a big place and the intimacy makes it that much more interesting. It can probably hold 25 folks, tops. The bonus is if you’re fan of the St. Louis Cardinals; the owner hails from there and while he’s not in mid-America any more, he has transported his love for the Cards to the Gulf.
1025 Government St., Ocean Springs, Miss., (228) 875-7827, KwitzkysDugOut.com
Taste Wine Bar
Do not let the name throw you – this bar can prepare a darn good cocktail too. If you’re a beer fan, the list isn’t really complete. Mobile isn’t a town renowned for its ability to serve the finer wines and a good drink. Taste is the destination, however, for those items. There is a heavy lounge feel with couches and comfortable chairs that’s chic, not funky. It is located right near the downtown hotels, and lately there has been a de-emphasis on the wines with more effort in the cocktail area.
2033 Airport Blvd., Mobile, Ala., (251) 287-1490
In the dictionary when you look up “local watering hole,” there should be a photo of My Place. It isn’t a big photo in keeping with the theme of “intimate.” You will make friends fast because you’re not that far from everyone in the joint. You will also not be confused that you’re anywhere else but the South as the menu is given to barbecue and slaw. Keep your drink orders simple and you’ll be well rewarded with cold and refreshing fare. Fancy doesn’t cut it at My Place.
68 N. Bancroft St., Fairhope, Ala., (251) 928-1300
More visitors have learned more subject matters at the Flora-Bama than in the finest schools within a 250-mile radius. This cinderblock house of alcoholic pleasure straddles the state line of Alabama and Florida, and sits right on the sugar-sands of Perdido Key. Walk left or right and visit another state; walk straight to the Gulf and tickle your toes in the clear waters; or stay in the bar and listen to rock ’n’ roll and country western. It is raucous. Right now, the majority of your fellow readers of this publication have visions and memories of past afternoons spent here.
17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, FL, (850) 492-0611, FloraBama.com
Landshark Landing Beach Bar
Jimmy Buffet doesn’t just write music and lyrics about the beach; he builds places that make sense to his memory bank. This bar is located at his Pensacola Margaritaville Hotel, and is an open air, right on the beach, true parrot-head destination. Open only March through October, but rocking every day of that period, experience volleyball, hammocks under palm trees and a drink menu with names of cocktails taken from Buffet songs.
165 Fort Pickens Road, Pensacola Beach, Fla., (850) 916-9755, MargaritavilleHotel.com
The Whale’s Tail
When you’re in Destin, where do you go to applaud the sunset? You visit Whale’s Tale on Old 98. Open to the beach and the Gulf, no shoes are required for service here, which is pretty much you walking up to the bar and ordering your favorite tropical drink – something with rum, of course, like a Planter’s Punch, rum and tonic or maybe just a Red Stripe beer. Then go off and roam with the surf at your ankles.
100 Seascape Drive, Destin, Fla., (850) 650-4377, Seascape-resort.com/ResortWhalesTail.aspx
The Red Bar
For this one you can haul out the word “funky.” Grayton is easily the most laid-back community along the entire length of the Emerald Coast, and Red Bar is a must-stop watering hole.
There is music, menus, beverages and plenty of young people shaking the place to drain every drop of party out of a beach weekend. But don’t even think of going home early.
70 Hotz Ave., Grayton Beach, Fla., (850) 231-1008, TheRedBar.com
Southern beaches, Southern beach places for drinking and Southern tempos. Allen Toussaint had it exactly correct, “Southern Nights.”