UPDATE: The Red Bar officially broke ground on Tuesday, October 8th at 10AM. The following article appears in the latest issue of The 30A Life, CLICK HERE to read online.
Young or old, conservative or hippie, Alabama or Auburn. It’s rare for a restaurant to have the power to bring people of all backgrounds together, spark intimate conversations between strangers and foster connections within a community, yet Grayton Beach’s The Red Bar did just that. Located in a ramshackle 100-year-old building mere steps from the sugar white beach, The Red Bar’s unique come-as-you-are atmosphere, simple and consistently delicious menu offerings and first-class musical entertainment produced a fiercely loyal following of fans from across the globe.
Founded in 1995 by Belgian-born owner Oli Petit with brother Philippe and father Louis, the concept was a leap of faith in a time when the 30A beaches were nearly deserted with little development and not many tourists to keep a young business afloat. Yet the team carried on with the belief that they were creating something special, and they did just that. CNN once dubbed the space, “the Panhandle artists’ enclave and celebrity hideaway of Grayton Beach.”
Famous faces became a frequent occurrence with celebrity sightings including Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Kenny Chesney, Sam Bush, Vince Vaughn, Greg Kinnear, Stephen Spielberg and Peyton and Eli Manning, to name a few. Petit credits the success of the restaurant in part to the nightly live music that kept the party going and the customers grooving. The Red Bar Jazz Band, the beloved house band, was anchored by drumming legend Jabo Starks until his recent passing, and the space served as the birthplace of the popular local bluegrass band Dread Clampitt.
With the brightly adorned walls of The Red Bar as the backdrop for so many cherished memories of both locals and area travelers, it’s no surprise that news of the devastating fire in February 2019 sent ripples across the country as word of its total destruction spread via social media. Mourners gathered at the scene as the fire department worked to contain the flames, and months later, people still stop by the cleared site to pay their respects and share their colorful stories of good times come and gone.
Local artist Bryan Hand, the master behind much of The Red Bar’s original artwork including its famously photographed front door elaborates on the establishment’s significance to the community, “Over the years, The Red Bar came to embody the spirit of our community, the playful, happy and eclectic side of our life at the beach. The atmosphere was infectious and made people fall instantly in love. Whether you’d lived here for two months or twenty years, The Red Bar was the one place you’d take your friends to introduce them to the area.” Hand, also a server on and off at the restaurant for twenty years, will be an integral contributor to its rebirth.
Since the day following the fire, Petit has been fiercely committed to rebuilding the restaurant and to keeping it as close to the original design as possible. In a fortuitous turn of events, Petit had secured blueprints of the historic building a decade ago making it possible to recreate an authentic footprint of the restaurant. Remnants salvaged from the fire, including the front railing where countless customers have mingled over the years waiting for a table and catching up over a jumbo-sized margarita, will be incorporated into the new space.
Petit released the following statement regarding the rebuild, “On behalf of my family and the staff of The Red Bar, I want to thank the community for the tremendous outpouring of support that we have already received. It means a lot to me that we live in a county where our leaders recognize the importance of our shared history, and the efforts so many of us make to shape our community in a positive and unique way. I want to tell our patrons and my staff that we will be back, and we will rebuild to the exact previous specifications – maybe with a better bathroom. Life goes on.”
Petit has assembled a distinguished team of local experts to assist in the reconstruction including BOHEME architects and O’Connell and Associates engineers. For fans who have fears of Petit being able to recreate the eclectic and charming interiors, he explains his father has long collected knick knacks, memorabilia and art that will make it easy to recreate a familiar vibe. Groundbreaking on the new building is slated to commence early October 2019.
While an opening date is not yet secured, it can be assured that when the Red Bar returns, the streets of Grayton Beach will be rocking, and new legends will be born.
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