The Weirdest, Wildest, Must-Visit Bars in Florida
You’ve heard of Florida Man—now get ready for Florida Bar.
Make all the jokes you want about Florida, but one thing we do better than any other state is pure, unadulterated fun. Where else can you watch alligator wrestling in the morning, ride the Incredible Hulk coaster in the afternoon, and finish the day with a walk on the beach and probably more alligator wrestling? Considering these activities are often paired with alcohol procured from our inordinate number of bizarre bars, it’s pretty difficult not to have a good—albeit weird as hell—time.
These tropical watering holes are Sunshine State legends—iconic spots that tiptoe the line between dive bar and fish shack, with oodles of storied history and unmatched atmosphere. From the Panhandle to the Keys, here are a dozen Florida bars you don’t want to miss.
If stateline word play isn’t your best subject, here’s a primer: This bar sits right on the state line between Florida and Alabama at the far end of the Florida panhandle, a destination for spring breakers, bikers, or anyone who wants to see what a beachside roadhouse would look like if MC Escher designed it. Flora-Bama’s multi-story complex is a maze of license plates and hanging brassieres, with multiple music stages and bars stretching from the main entrance to the sand. It’s also home to the annual Mullet Toss weekend festival, a competition to see who can hurl a fish furthest across state lines. And if you’d like to experience the Bama with a side of gospel, the place also holds weekly church services on Sunday. And yes, the bar is open.
Though this luxe island off the coast of Sarasota has become synonymous with privileged teens thanks to the namesake TV show, the legendary Siesta Key Oyster Bar couldn’t be further from that scene. Here you’ll find salty Gulf Coast locals posted up under a forest of dollar bills, just a few steps from a stretch of sand once rated the best in the world. It was also the site of one of the most Florida crimes ever, when Florida Man Danny Limongelli broke in and stole $150 in singles from the walls. He was arrested when he attempted to use the stolen souvenirs to purchase—what else—a pub sub.
Floridians know the name of this waterfront bar on the Intracoastal has nothing to do with fish. It’s a reference to a coast guard term for floating bales of cannabis, dropped with alarming regularity in the waterway during Florida’s pot-smuggling heyday of the 1970s. The bar dates back a lot further than that, though; during the 1890s, it was a hotel and saloon catering to ritzy rail and steamship snowbirds. Today, it’s a spacious tiki bar and live music patio, the effective social hub of northern Palm Beach County and pretty much the best place to hang out in Jupiter. It was also the backdrop for Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet’s video for “It’s Five o’Clock Somewhere.”
This bright green Bahamian icon sits off the side of Ocean Avenue, where guests enter through a historic home built in 1889 out of now-extinct Dade County Pine. And much like in 1889, there’s no AC, with only the wind off the waterfront patio and the cold beers behind the bar to keep you cool. You’ll also be shaded by an authentic Seminole Chickee hut, built with oversight from Seminole Chief James Billie to replace the old roof after Hurricane Wilma ripped it off in 2005. Even roofless, owner Wayne Cordero opened the next day to help first responders reacting to the storm.
Stan’s holds the distinction of being the only bar on this list with its own dance: the infamous Buzzard Lope, named after a song written by founder Stan Gober. The bar even hosted a beauty contest in honor of the tune, crowning a Buzzard Lope Queen at the end of the festivities. Stan died back in 2012, but his son Steve keeps the legacy alive, packing this sprawling, two story bar with live bands and thirsty patrons every day of the week but Monday. The big annual event here is the Mullet Festival, which has nothing to do with the early-90s hairstyle and everything to do with three days of fresh fish and Florida-style partying.
No bar captures Ft. Lauderdale’s spring break legacy quite like the 83-year-old Elbo Room. It was a shooting location for the classic Where the Boys Are, and the March after its release saw nearly 400 students get arrested as thousands flocked to the now-famous beachside dive. The next year, Life Magazine famously captured another student swinging on a lamp post outside the bar. The two-story icon still hosts bands on the regular, and while Laurderdale Beach is never lacking in great dives, none are quite as steeped in youthful, bad decision-fueled American history like Elbo Room.
Some iconic Florida bars have a cool ocean breeze blowing through. Mac’s has a steady cloud of smoke that, by all accounts, has been there since the 1950s. The Deuce is a South Beach legend, opening its pastel-and-neon doors in 1926 and living through the Rat Pack era on to the days of cocaine cowboys and South Beach glam. Miami Vice held its wrap party here. It has stayed open during hurricanes, staved off development, and still welcomes patrons for its early morning happy hour from 8 am to 7 pm.
“Last Chance” is a little bit of a misnomer, as anyone who's driven from the southern tip of Florida’s mainland to the Keys knows there’s no shortage of places to find booze. But this is the last place to buy liquor that doesn’t have a Keys price tag, so it’s essentially tradition to stock up here for a weekend on a boat or at a beach house. It’s also a classic place to pregame for the drive down (drivers excluded, obviously), as deer heads, skeletons, kitschy signs, and snarky bartenders make for an easy transition from city life to the laid-back islands.
Humphrey Bogart takes his bars seriously—and if the life-sized statue of the ‘40s film legend at this Key Largo landmark isn’t endorsement enough, you might need to adjust your standards for beachside Florida dive bars. The original Caribbean Club was built as an exclusive getaway for the rich and famous, and was a major filming locale for Bogey and Bacall’s 1947 classic Key Largo. Purportedly, it was also a hangout for the stars during filming.
Today, it’s a sunny bar on the bay side of the Overseas Highway, where a breezy indoor-outdoor setup allows daytime drinkers to enjoy the sunshine without further leathering their skin. The Key Lime Rum Punch is the drink to get here, but be careful: more than one might require a nap under a palm tree on one of the oversized chairs out back.
Big Pine Key
No one’s stumbling across the No Name Pub, as the bright yellow bar lives down a long road off the Overseas Highway on lightly-visited Big Pine Key. The ceiling dripping in dollar bills will tell you that plenty of people have managed to find the place, but it’s far enough off the beaten track that, unless you stroll in after a big pack of bikers, it’s rarely crowded. It is also the best lunch stop on a Florida Keys road trip. The pizza is legitimately the best bar pie in the state, and arguably the best pizza of any kind in all the Keys. Roll in for a cold one and a slice on your way to Key West, and it’ll instantly become a go-to stop on any drive down US-1.
The entire island of Key West is pretty much one giant Florida dive, but none so steeped in legend and lore as Captain Tony’s. Ernest Hemingway stole a urinal from here. The building was once a morgue and still has bodies under the floorboards. The ghost of an adulterous woman roams the halls. The tree in the middle of the bar was once the city gallows. The list goes on. What’s more, Jimmy Buffet got his start here, and even gives his ode to it in “Last Mango in Paris.”
Card Sound Road
Savvy South Floridians know that on busy Florida Keys weekends, the best place to wait out the traffic is Alabama Jack’s. Tucked a couple of miles down Card Sound Road—the alternative route from Florida City to Key Largo that avoids the two-lane Overseas Highway—this swampy fish shack is like a trip back into pre-dredged Florida. On weekends, live bands and dancing make it a lively respite from the endless road. And on other days, it’s a warm place to enjoy a fish sandwich and cold beer on the water, and let the tourist masses clear before continuing on.