Aug. 8, 2021
By Laura Holloway
GRAYTON BEACH – For many, the turn off of 30A onto Defuniak Street signals the beginning of the vacation, cruising into Grayton Beach where time seemingly stands still, where traditions include flip flops and to-go-cup wine sunsets, where dogs are viewed as guests and tourists are treated like family.
And for even more, the flavor of that kind of lifestyle and vacation is found at the world-famous Piccolo Restaurant and The Red Bar. A restaurant so simply perfect in taste and unique in style that it earned its place on the famous Red Bar t-shirts (who doesn’t have at least one of those?), the place where you start and end your vacation, a splash of red amidst the muted pastels found elsewhere all around it.
This is the kind of restaurant that rallies a community to rebuild it when a fire takes it completely to the ground, and this is the kind of restaurant that rises up from the ashes for its second act of mouth-watering food, uniquely Red Bar ambiance, and the cool, friendly beach moods that always bring you back, time and time again.
Hearts were broken throughout that February day in 2019 – both locally in Santa Rosa Beach and all around the world on social media – with the news that everyone’s favorite dive was on fire, and then later that day, that it was unsavable, and then that it was gone entirely. True grief took hold of the community in the loss of what felt like a dearly loved friend, for some, even more.
Restaurant partner Louis Petit recalls, “It was as though someone we truly loved had died. I was making breakfast for my kids that morning and Mike Ragsdale called me and said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but The Red Bar is on fire.’ And then we were all rushing to Grayton Beach to just stand helplessly and watch it burn. It was a hard day for us all.”
But the community loved The Red Bar family as much as they loved the eatery itself, and plans to rebuild began immediately. At the time of the fire, owner Oli Petit said, “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.” And just as promised, The Red Bar reopened in the summer of 2020, inviting guests back to the table and proving that they truly could retain everything about the original restaurant that made it so uniquely theirs. The red ambiance, the funky spirit, the groovy music, and of course, the food; the simple yet unforgettable menu that reminds us exactly what our favorite vacation should taste like.
Good food doesn’t have to be complicated, and a menu doesn’t have to be big to include something for everyone. The Red Bar’s beloved dinner dishes include the Blackened Grouper (served over spinach with a bacon cheddar grit cake, topped with brown butter sauce, and served with a house salad), the Daily Fish (topped with citrus beurre blanc and served with mashed potatoes), Shrimp and Crawfish (sauteed and served over penne pasta and topped with tomato beurre blanc), Baked Eggplant (stuffed with shrimp, scallops, zucchini and squash and topped with tomato beurre blanc), Panne Chicken (topped with lemon butter caper sauce and served with mashed potatoes), Manicotti (stuffed with three cheeses and baked in a red sauce), and Crab Cakes (topped with citrus beurre blanc and served with mashed potatoes – and so good it’s only available on Friday and Saturday nights.) Every dish but the pasta dishes come with a house salad.
Lunch offers a more extensive menu, with favorite beach fare such as Seafood Gumbo (with a house salad), Smoked Tuna Dip, Smoked Salmon Salad, Fish Sandwich, Fried Shrimp or Oyster Po’boys, Shrimp and Grits, as well as traditional burger and chicken sandwich options. Appetizers are served all day, and include Jalapeño Poppers, Chicken Wings, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Fingers and Fries, and several other picky-eater-friendly selections.
Sunday brunch at The Red Bar is beloved by locals and tourists alike, so get there early for a Belgian Waffle and Bloody Mary and stay for the live music and people watching. The Red Bar Jazz Band plays most every night, and there’s usually a crowd, so come ready to let the musical groove help pass the time. The wait is definitely worth it. And hey, if you’re lucky enough to be here in this moment at this world-famous restaurant, listening to unforgettable music, you’re truly lucky enough.
The Red Bar can be found at 70 Hotz Avenue, and while no reservations can be made, you can find out more by calling 850-231-1008 or visiting https://theredbar.com/. The Red Bar is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight.