Joe Gilchrist of the iconic Flora-Bama beach bar.
 
By John Mullen
Fish will be flying, Joe will be smiling and a good time will be had by all. Just like Joe has wanted and expected since he took over a shack on the beach and turned it into one of the world’s most famous beach bars.
 
Happy 76th birthday to Joe Gilchrist, the lifeblood, heart and soul of the iconic Flora-Bama Lounge, Package Store and Oyster Bar. After Joe took over in 1978 the Bama has started and grown several must-see events, parties and holiday celebrations.
 
One of the most famous, the Interstate Mullet Toss, is just a week away. It’ll be a 4 day celebration of the mullet – the fish and the hairdo – also known as the Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party. It’s also been likened to an adult spring break.
 
But Joe will mark another important date right now, today, April 17. Not only will Joe celebrate his birthday, it also marks the 40th anniversary of when Joe took possession of the keys to the famous watering hole. There will be a celebration today from 4-6 p.m. with live music, cake and free drinks from 5-5:15 p.m.
 
And while there have been numerous parties, the explosion of the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival and New Year’s Day Polar Bear dip, friends and family also remember the kindness Joe displayed to customers, musicians, employees and his generosity to the community at large.
 
This is what we are celebrating today.
 
“The small little shack on the state line now employees over 400 people in the community, employs thousands of musicians from around the world and has donated millions to local charities since its doors were opened,” Flora-Bama majority owner John McInnis said.
 
McInnis said Gilchrist took his cues from the original owners of the Flora-Bama.
 
“In 1978 Joe bought the Flora-Bama from the Tampary family,” McInnis said. “He took what he learned and observed from how the Tampary family treated people and instilled a culture of tolerance, acceptance, and mutual respect to all those who came into the Flora-Bama. The culture Joe built is what everyone since then has carried on and why it is a special place. Without the culture, it would be a condo site today.”
 
People flocked to the place and it became a regular hangout for locals and visitors alike. One day some ol’ boys were having a good time talking about how far they could throw a mullet. It came down to just who can throw it the farthest.
 
Now, 34 years later, the Interstate Mullet Toss is a four-day party that raises money for the Community Drug and Alcohol Council, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and youth athletic programs in both Alabama and Florida.
 
“Joe always thought a bar was more of a community hub than a bar,” McInnis said. “He along with Pat McClelland built the Flora-Bama into a community center that was more focused on giving back to the community and supporting charities than it was making money. The success came because the Flora-Bama is loved and supported by the community.”
 
Another legend spawned when a challenge was made about taking a dip in the Gulf on New Year’s Day. Now, more than 30 years later, it’s an annual event that packs out the Flora-Bama every New Year’s Day. 
 
Other rollicking parties include the Super Bowl Chili Cook-Off annually on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, several athletic events, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus skydiving to the sands and many, many more. 
 
And live music. Always live music. Joe's love of the art of songwriting has attracted hundreds of musicians and songwriters to make the Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast their home.