Perdido Key, Fla. (WKRG) — We sat down with a couple of the great raconteurs of Perdido Key. Allen Bizzell is an owner of Holiday Harbor Marina and Sunset Grill. Pat McClellan is co-owner of that world-famous honky tonk the Flora Bama — you know, it’s right on the Florida-Alabama state line. Here’s a fun fact: the Flora-Bama sits at the same place where Perdido Pass was once located.
“When the line between the states was originally set, the pass was where Flora-Bama is today,” said Bizzell, a Pensacola native and life-long resident of this corner of Florida.
It was a natural border, and when the pass gradually moved to where it is today, most likely due to hurricanes, Florida could have fought for that two-mile stretch, but didn’t — providing that Alabama build the bridge over the pass — which it did.
It also gave Alabama Ono Island, which wasn’t always called Ono Island.
Bizzell said, “It was Goat Island, because that’s all that was on there. A gentleman, Mr. Key, who lived on Innerarity Point, kept goats on that island.”
And another fun fact: Perdido Key hasn’t always been an island. It was once a peninsula.
“It only became an island in 1933, when the government dug the Intracoastal canal,” Bizzell told us.
Much of the development of Perdido Key could be the result of different liquor laws in Florida and Alabama. The Flora-Bama was built in the early 1960s catering to fishermen from Orange Beach in Alabama, which was dry. Florida was not.
McClellan said, “It was still 18 to drink in Florida. So when the spring breakers came down, they weren’t allowed to drink in Alabama, guess where they all went? The Flora-Bama. So it was awfully busy.”
I asked, “So, we have alcohol laws in Alabama to blame for Perdido Key’s growth?”
“It didn’t hurt, Bill. It didn’t hurt,” said Bizzell.
You can also thank the military, particularly the Navy and NAS Pensacola right next door, for much of the modern history and development of Perdido Key.
Bizzell said, “A large portion of the retirees in this area are the result of having been here in the Navy for training during World War Two and after.”
And you may wonder why NAS Pensacola and this region of the Gulf Coast came to be known as the ‘Cradle of Naval Aviation.’
McClellan added, “They found out that there were more visual flying rule days available in this particular area because of the land and water masses, there was always a spot in the sky where you could take the new flight student up and learn how to fly.”
But these days, it’s not just flight students who get in on the action. Perdido Key Chamber Director Tammy Thurow, a transplant from Nashville, says jets and notably the Blue Angels are a common and welcome sight on the island.
“I mean, I’ve been at Flora-Bama when they have flown by and the people cheer and hoop and holler. I mean, they get so excited just to see the Blue Angels just running the beach,” she said.
Added McClellan, “We promised them a beer afterwards…”