Growing up in the Scenic 98 Coastal area, all beaches along the Central Gulf of Mexico were fair game. The Jewels of the Mississippi Coast to the far reaches of Mexico Beach, Florida were considered our playground. We often found ourselves at Dauphin Island, Sand Island, Ft. Morgan, Gulf Shores, and Pensacola Beach. But there was a special affection for Orange Beach and the Perdido Key area.

The inland waterways of Cotton Bayou and Old River were designated ski areas, and many a summer job was found at the docks and marinas where fishing charters and recreational boats refueled, and purchased beer, ice, and bait while passing long, hot summer days either on or in the water. 

A lot has changed since we rode dune buggies up and down the unobstructed beaches, climbed through Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines playing hide and seek as kids, and occasionally jumped off the old Perdido Pass bridge unbeknownst to our parents. 

The one constant was the Flora-Bama Package Store. It sat as a small cinder block building on the Florida side of the Alabama-Florida state line when the age to purchase beer was 18. It was built and named by the Tampry Family who owned the land when the Perdido Pass Bridge was built.  It finds itself humbly world-famous in 2024 celebrating its 60th Anniversary.

Fast forward past several hurricanes, condos rising, the development of Goat Island into the ultra-luxury Ono Island, and the Flora-Bama tales pile up like a huge dune with each grain of sand a story unto itself. When asked what his favorite beach bar was, the late Head Football Coach, Mike Leach, known as the “Pirate,” said, “The best beach bar in America is a place on the Alabama-Florida state line called the Flora-Bama."

The more a story is told, the more embellished it gets. Since we launched Scenic 98 Coastal two years ago, I’ve wanted to capture a few of the legendary tales and relish the memories. Whether it is truth or fiction, it doesn’t matter. A good story is a good story.  

Through our mutual friend, Kelli Dill, I caught up with John McInnis, who now owns the Flora-Bama with business partners, Cameron Price, and original owner Pat McClellan to hear the history. Cameron is a former Army Ranger, West Point, and MIT grad and Pat is a former Navy Officer who joined Joe Gilchrist in 1984 to run the Flora-Bama. 

John and his family have many ties to the Scenic 98 Coastal area, so it quickly became clear that their involvement along the coast contributed to the growth and prosperity of the area. He grew up on the western shore of Mobile Bay on Mon Louis Island where he tells me they had no mailbox, only a P.O. Box in Coden. John’s father and grandfather were in the bridge-building business and constructed bridges all over the southeast, specializing in Alabama.

After attending St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, John’s family moved to Montgomery where the construction business was headquartered when he was nine. John graduated from Jeff Davis High School in 1996 and then the University of Alabama in 2000. While there, he earned his Business and Political Science degree and moved to Orange Beach in 2000, to work in the family’s business interests.

By the time John graduated from college, the family businesses had diversified into underground utilities, military base work, and the toll bridge and ferry boat business. The family company built the Dauphin Island to Ft. Morgan Ferry and then sold it to the State of Alabama a decade ago. They also built the Foley Beach Express toll bridge, which just recently was sold to the State of Alabama for $60 million, so the tolls will cease. 

They also entered the disaster clean-up and recovery business. After Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, they were hired to clean up the entire city of Orange Beach. After Hurricane Katrina, from 2006 to 2009, they had the largest FEMA-funded demolition project in U.S. history. For 3 years, John lived in New Orleans and oversaw the project with his father and partners. 

When the New Orleans project was completed, John moved back to Orange Beach where he met his wife, Shelley, who is from Birmingham. They now have three boys aged 17, 11, and 7. He tells me he is still involved in the construction and disaster business internationally, but the company is selective on which projects they choose to participate in. He also mentioned that they are focused on non-profit organizations that help support the local communities.

“We enjoy using skills we learned in the business world to serve God’s kingdom by helping with Christian ministry projects or nonprofit disaster rescue and rebuilding operations. John served as the Director of  Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation based in the U.S. Virgin Islands helping manage the response to Hurricanes, Maria and Irma."

The Flora-Bama hosts charitable events throughout the year. He and his family have put down roots in the area and live in Orange Beach and on his farm in Baldwin County, Alabama. The morning we visited, John had risen early to turkey hunt on the farm. He is adventurous, has raced the Baja 1000 for years, likes to skydive, and enjoys cave diving at night. His reputation is that of a good businessman with many talents, who is generous and well-liked.  

So, how did you end up in the bar business? I asked. He tells me that around 2008 to 2009, John and his business partner, Cameron contracted with Joe Gilcrest and Pat McClelland to purchase a majority stake in the Flora-Bama. The idea was to preserve its larger-than-life reputation and protect it in the future. 

“I decided to spend my time focused on the Flora-Bama and less time in the construction business. We began to learn and understand the beach bar business. What better place than the Flora-Bama? Since then, we have developed multiple ventures including Coastal Orange Beach, The Orange Beach Store, and several properties in the 30-A area including Shunk Gully, Gallions, and three liquor stores with our partner Thomas Gallion.”

We shifted our focus to the many tall tales and rumors that have emerged from Flora-Bama beginning with the first day it opened. It was torched by a local competitor and gambling boat owner in the Perdido area. That event is a testament to the Flora-Bama’s resilience to build back better, regardless of circumstances.

In a nod to the late Joe Gilcrest’s sense of humor, one time a large billboard was erected on site saying “Coming Soon” showing a large highrise condo opening April 1st. Joe and Pat hired a fake Texas cowboy on April Fool's Day and called a press conference to announce they were building a 30-story condo and putting the Flora-Bama on top. Even Jimmy Buffett was concerned, calling a friend to find out if the rumor was true.

John quickly dispelled the rumor that Jack Robinson, “Big Earl” to most of us, and the almost 30-year weekend house band with a raucous show was the head of HR for Flora-Bama. “Not true,” says John. “But he did have a distinguished healthcare career and has served on councils at the City of Orange Beach and has always helped the owners of Flora-Bama with its employees and patrons to make everyone's life better.”

Today, the Flora-Bama employs over 500 staff and consists of the original package store and five stages for a constant array of country, rock, dance, and beach music seven days a week, all day and night.  

A featured annual event is the  Santa Claus Drop with Santa and his helpers parachuting into the crowd assembled on the beach in front of the main building. The annual Polar Bear Dip follows the Flora-Bama New Year’s Eve bash. The Super Chili Bowl Cook-off benefits the American Cancer Society, the Beach Run/Walk for American Warriors, the Boozy Adult Spelling Bee, The Easter Egg Hunt & Bunny Drop, and the Mullet Man Triathlon, are some of the annual spring events.

Perhaps the most famous FloraBama event, the Interstate Mullet Toss & Greatest Beach Party, took place last week. It is world-renowned. As summer reaches its zenith, Flora-Bama hosts several bikini contests beginning with the Miss Memorial Day Bikini Contest. 

In June, The Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo is followed by the Freedom Run and the Miss Firecracker Bikini Contest around the Fourth of July. If that’s not enough, Labor Day officially wraps up Summer with the Miss Flora-Bama Bikini Contest. The good times never stop!

Of course, the Fall brings a full slate of big events including the Bulls on the Beach Rodeo weekend, Halloween Costume Contest, Oktoberfest, and the internationally renowned Frank Brown Songwriters Festival. There is always something fun happening at Flora-Bama throughout the week, too. 

You can mix up your experience at Flora-Bama Yacht Club, the Marina, the Old River Grill, and the Oyster Bar to complement the good food served in the main bar. Bring the kids. They will have a blast playing on the beach, eating good seafood food and burgers, and listening to great music. 

On Sunday you can attend Flora-Bama Church. It draws a serious crowd for worship and John says they talk about God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and how important it is to have a relationship with Jesus. 

If you grew up around these parts, the Flora-Bama is part of your life. Through each hurricane that ripped it apart, it comes back bigger and better every time. It is truly an amazing place, and John McInnis takes his responsibility seriously to keep the good times rolling.

Did I mention the famous Bushwacker? It is worth a visit. Big Earl is a must-see. The ladies who have contributed their bras to the clothesline overhead of the main stage room are doing their part for philanthropy, too. The bras are collected and donated to local homeless shelters and thrift stores.

Thank you, John. May the legacy of the Flora-Bama live on forever! It is the home base beach bar establishment for the entire Scenic 98 Coastal family.

May 1, 2024
Dive Bars & Music

Join Our Community

Sign up below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

More from 

Dive Bars & Music


View All