Libation Destinations: Unique Southern Bars
The South’s a colorful region, full of fascinating characters, foods and traditions. So, it’s fair to expect its bars to mirror that culture. These unique Southern bars are destinations unto themselves – full of character, history and lore.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Sitting here at the Flora-Bama
‘Bout to open up a big old can of
Good times, unwind
Fall in and out of love in the same night
—Kenny Chesney, “Flora-Bama”
Not often can a person enjoy a beer in one state, walk a few feet and order a cocktail in another. The famous Flora-Bama exists in both Perdido Key, Florida, and Orange Beach, Alabama, placed on the state line as a small bar and package liquor store in 1964, back when you could drink in one state but not the other.
The honkytonk has expanded greatly since its inception and is now not only known for its unusual location, but regular live music, signature drinks and fun festivals, including the “Interstate Mullet Toss” where participants throw fish as a competition. There’s several bars and stages within the establishment, plus shuttles to take visitors back to their hotels. There’s even church service on Sundays.
Specialties: The Bushwacker frozen cocktail.
Perfect for: Tourists and locals alike, although the place fills up on special events and Spring Break.
Fame: John Grisham wrote about the bar in his novel “The Pelican Brief,” Jimmy Buffett mentions the Flora-Bama in his song “Bama Breeze” and Kenny Chesney wrote a “Flora-Bama” song.
Accolades: It’s routinely voted one of the world’s best beach bars.
Carousel Bar & Lounge
New Orleans, Louisiana
Whether it’s the drinks, circus-like atmosphere or the camaraderie, writers have flocked to the Carousel Bar in New Orleans’ historic Hotel Monteleone, located in the heart of the French Quarter. Numerous authors have graced the seats of the famous bar, which was added to the hotel in 1949 and remains the city’s only revolving lounge.
The Carousel bar consists of 25 hand-painted seats featuring brightly colored circus animals with a lighted canopy on top resembling an elegant Merry-Go-Round. The center bar rotates every 20 minutes or so, enough time to enjoy a drink. (When the original spot appears, you know it’s time to reorder.)
Louis Prima and Liberace have performed here, and authors have included Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Anne Rice and Rebecca Wells. Truman Capote used to brag he was born at the Monteleone, but it’s more likely his mother went into labor there.
Specialties: Vieux Carré, a marriage of rye, cognac, dry vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters and Angostura bitters.
Perfect for: Everyone, but perhaps more so for writers.
Fame: References to the hotel and the Carousel Bar are included in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo” and “Orpheus Descending;” Rebecca Wells’ “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Little Altars Everywhere;” Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers;” Richard Ford’s “A Piece of My Heart;” Eudora Welty’s “A Curtain of Green;” Ernest Hemingway’s “Night Before Battle” (published in “The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway”); and Harry Stephen Keeler’s “The Voice of the Seven Sparrows,” to name a few.
Accolades: Vogue Living named the Carousel one of the Top 20 Bars in the World.
The Ohio Club
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs was once a hot bed of gambling, attracting some of the country’s most notorious gangsters in its day. The Ohio Club saw it all. Started in 1905 as a bar and casino, the club attracted the likes of Al Capone, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano and many more. And since the town was also spring training for Major League Baseball, famous players such as Babe Ruth crossed its threshold. Mae West, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett performed here as well and it’s rumored that President Teddy Roosevelt once enjoyed a beer there.
Today, The Ohio Club serves as both a restaurant and lounge and offers live entertainment, including blues every Wednesday and jazz on Thursdays.
Specialties: The Ohio Club is known for its burgers and if you’re really hungry, choose the Big Al Double Cheeseburger.
Perfect for: Everyone.
Fame: Gangsters, Major League baseball players and famous musicians frequented the club.
Accolades: Arguably the oldest bar in Arkansas.
Back in the day Natchez had a split personality. The highfalutin folks lived on the bluff above the Mississippi, which routinely flooded and attracted roughnecks moving products up and down the river. The po folks and working class hung out closer to the water. This tough section of town, filled with bars, gambling and prostitution, was known as Under the Hill.
Remaining true to its history is the Under-the-Hill Saloon, a historic, colorful bar that attracts tourists, although doubtful the roughneck variety. Photos showcasing a different time line the brick walls, and back rooms contain almost everything, from Americana memorabilia and antique farm tools to a giant elephant that patrons love to use for selfies.
Specialties: Just outside the front door are rocking chairs if the music gets too loud.
Perfect for: Adults. Live music is performed here regularly so the front room may be too loud for conversation, but back rooms are quieter.
Fame: Located in one of the oldest buildings in south Mississippi.
Accolades: Country Roads magazine of Baton Rouge listed the bar as the “Favorite Place to Take a Visitor in Mississippi.”
You can’t mention Natchez without including King’s Tavern, the oldest building in town with a bar known for its cocktails and delicious flatbreads as well as a ghost named Madeline.
The story attests that three bodies were found inside the tavern’s wall during renovations in the early 20th century. The female bones were rumored to have belonged to Madeline, who once tended bar at King’s Tavern and was mistress to the previous owner, Richard King.
As for spirits of another kind, bar manager Ricky Woolfolk serves up signature drinks incorporating rum from Charboneau Distillery located next door and run by Chef Regina Charboneau, who owns both establishments.
Specialties: Cocktails with rum from local Charboneau Distillery. Woolfolk also offers mixology classes.
Perfect for: Everyone, especially history lovers. Be sure to order food, too.
Fame: Ask Woolfolk to show you the video of apparent paranormal activity.
Accolades: Oldest building in Natchez, built in the 1760s.