The Flora-Bama Lounge & Package Store has been around as long as anyone in these parts can remember. The problem is, no one can remember the nights they’ve spent there.
But aside from serving thirsty fisherman and frat boys for 50 years, the bar that takes its name from its sandy stance on the state line also serves the community with an annual calendar of events benefiting local charities and youth programs.
The last weekend of every April, locals and visitors alike flock to the Flora-Bama for the “Interstate Mullet Toss,” which is exactly what it sounds like, if you know what a mullet is. As the event webpage teases, the mullet is a haircut and a fish – both predominant throughout the region. But for the purposes of the toss, we’re talking about the bottom feeder.
It’s basically an excuse to throw a fish across the state line from Alabama into Florida – but also to throw a big party.
So, whose idea was it to toss a mullet? That would be Jimmy Louis, a long-time Flora-Bama musician. Back in 1985, he came up with the toss because – according to 30-year veteran of the management team Pat McClellan – “folks were getting their name in the Guinness Book of World Records for cow chip tossing. Why not?”
The following year the Flora-Bama took it further by creating “The World’s Longest Beach Party” to generate business during a slower season. With help from the Perdido Key and Orange Beach Chambers of Commerce, organizers incorporated an Interstate Tug-of-War in addition to the Mullet Toss. There were events and entertainment up and down the Gulf Coast, from Florida’s Fort McRee to Alabama’s Fort Morgan, but the Flora-Bama was the center of the action.
And it still is.
“Besides being a great time of year, when beaches are mostly desolated, folks come down for the fun of it, not because it’s a required time to holiday on the beach,” McClellan says.
“It has become such a popular ‘elective holiday,’ it now covers three full days of tossing … enjoying the camaraderie of folks of all ages, from all walks of life, with good times, popular music and great food throughout.”
Today, the Flora-Bama awards plaques to the Top Three Finishers in all thirteen age categories for all three days. There are plenty of fun things to do on the beach – and if you’re hungry, there’s more on the menu than mullet. Outdoor grills will provide sausages, BBQ, burgers and the like.
If you don’t want to watch fish fly through the air, perhaps you’d prefer a vision of a different kind. Friday and Saturday, the Mullet Toss will welcome a lineup of Gulf Coast beauties to compete for the title of “Ms. Mullet” and a chance to win a $5,000 Grand Prize.
It may be all in good fun, but it’s also all for a good cause.
“We’ve always maintained a strong tie to the community that has supported us so strongly over the years. To that end, it is the youth, our most valuable natural resource in the generation to come, that is our prime consideration,” McClellan says.
The Flora-Bama actively supports area youth athletic programs, Boys & Girls Clubs, youth ranches and local schools in drug & alcohol education programs and counseling.
Now, there’s a reason to throw a fish.