Friday, April 11, 2008

Two great roadhouses, Lulu's and the Florabama

While in the Pensacola area we actually stayed at an area called Perdido Bay and at an RV park called the the Playa del Rio RV Park. The park is a fine, small park and consistently has been getting good reviews over at so I can't add much to that except to say that if you have a big rig you might want to get in before the sun sets. We had a devil of a time getting into the park and situated, never mind that we were originally assigned a space suitable for a smaller RV. Once settled in, however, the place was great.

Perdido Key has, like much of the Florida coastline, been "enjoying" tremendous development. Whereas the legendary Florabama oyster bar and grill (conveniently a 1/2 mile walk from the RV park) used to be out in the middle of Nothing only a few years ago now it's surrounded by high-rise condos on both sides. If high-rise condos are your thing then you'll be right at home but if you are looking for an area where tourist dollars don't have such a major impact on the local economies and locals and travelers enjoy the same restaurants and bars then perhaps "progress" has passed Perdido Key by. Let's just say that other than the Waffle House across the street from the Florabama all of the dining that we enjoyed on Perdido Key was excellent if pricey, but was more refined then what most of us would think of as being fun.

And fun is where it's at these days. right?

On the other hand Gulf Shores, Alabama, home to Jimmy Buffett's "crazy sista's" place LuLu's, is a bit of a hidden gem. Just a few miles west of Perdido Bay they have plenty of tourists there, alright, but the Plague of the Giant Condo hasn't set in quite as massively. Gulf Shores still has plenty of funky little shops (want a genuine hippy tattoo? - well, this is your place then Mon) as well as plenty of Mom and Pop restaurants that don't cost a fortune to feed a couple and their brood.

So far we are a week into this trip and our schedule is nothing like what we had originally planned, so I'm a bit reluctant to make predictions, but I wouldn't be too surprised if we return to this area and hang out at Gulf Shores a bit more.

The Florabama is arguably the #1 all-American roadhouse. Sitting squarely on the Florida and Alabama state lines, the Florabama was pretty much destroyed by the hurricane of a few years ago. Reconstruction has consisted mainly of shoveling the sand out of the dance hall, bringing in two 48 ft. beer trailers to act as giant coolers, righting the blue ISO container that you see in front of the place (that has been there for years but got blown over and knocked around during the Big Storm), and adding a souvenir trailer and a few other portable structures. If the place looks makeshift then you are right - it was a rambling collection of poorly-constructed buildings before the hurricane and that theme continues. The word is that, after 3 years, the local government still hasn't gotten around to issuing all of the permits necessary for a permanent reconstruction anyway. No problem Mon - the party continues!

If you doubt the kind of traffic that this place generates, notice that not only is there a Waffle House directly across the street, but that the Florabama rates it's own stoplight. This is one popular saloon, and I am happy to report that they are once again going strong.

Like I said, this was all rural not too many years ago. The Florabama is opposite from the Waffle House, although it's tough to tell from this shot:

This is pretty much what greets you at the Florabama these days. You walk between the motorcycle parking and a souvenir trailer, past a row of temporary toilets, past the two large trailers being used as beer coolers, and there is what is left of the two-story bar and dance hall.

Perhaps just as the Florabama struggles to retain it's image as a bar where (almost) anything goes in the face of an onslaught of civilization, Lulu's place is surprisingly family-oriented. Lulu's closes at a civilized hour (10PM most nights and, as we have discovered from previous trips, don't even think about dropping in during Turkey Day or X-mas) and has playgrounds for the children.

Quite a surprise in my mind considering LuLu Buffett's reputation as Jimmy's wild sister.

Lulu's has some excellent food and imaginative mixed drinks. And just like the Florabama Lulu's is building quite a reputation from the numerous and excellent performers that drop by to play live.

As a fan of what one author termed "mobile architecture" I have always enjoyed simple building structures and the building that houses Lulu's has long been one of my favorites. In essence her restaurant is an open-span steel building with garage doors on each end; with the doors rolled up the building is basically wide open. Wiring and HVAC runs are completely exposed and, indeed, are painted bright colors to make the various building components stand out.

Simple yet sturdy.

Sturdy enough that when the hurricanes hit a few years ago Lulu's suffered so little damage that it became a center for disaster relief as the community recovered.

Incidentally, the full name for the joint is "Lulu's At Homeport Marina." Homeport is a well-equipped marina that had a handful of large cruising boats in dock when we were there so if you are a sailor this would be a perfect stop on your way up or down the Ditch. Look for Lulu's directly underneath the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge on Rt. 98.

Yes, tow boats really do get this close to the bar:

A view across the other side of the indoor bar at Lulu's:

The details of the building are tough to see in these photos, but as I said this is actually a very simple yet high quality steel structure. With all of those garage doors it can be opened wide or sealed tight in minutes - perfect for these tropical climes.

Lulu's and the Florabama - two of the best party spots in the country.

As I write this we have been in Bay St. Louis, MS for several days, spending way too much time in casinos and equally too much time with realtors. On one hand we see quite a bit of potential for parts of this area but on the other hand the pace of reconstruction has been agonizingly slow since the hurricane and since our last visit almost 2 years ago. We are trying to figure out how much of the delay in rebuilding are things that we can correct vs. things that we cannot change, such as issuance of building permits, before we invest anything. But stay tuned - we have been debating about whether we need to return to Jacksonville at all. Life is funny that way sometimes.

This whole casino/gambling thing is a bit of a mystery to me; frankly, I'd just as soon go into the bar, pay for my drinks, and watch the television rather than sit at a slot machine and get served free drinks. But so far the tally is something like this: Casino A comp'd our RV spot for 5 nights when Casino B promised 2 nights in their RV park. I have lost maybe a total of $7 during 3-4 days of half-hearted gambling. Deb lost $20 one night, nothing another night, and then snuck across town last night to Casino B where she won about $365.

Our RV spot is literally on the ocean, incidentally. Beautiful views in the AM.

For one of the few times in my life I don't feel an urgency to stay on schedule ;)

Will chat with y'all again in a day or two.

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