Our Kind of Place: Rod and Gun Club
This Florida outpost is a true original
Near the end of a long and fairly fruitless day at
the mouth of Lostmans River, I hooked a redfish, surprising me as much as him. I played the fish and brought it into the boat and was about to free the hook when my guide said, “You ought to keep that fish. They’ll cook it for you at the Rod and Gun. Best supper you’ll get in this town.”
“They been doing it for years.”
My guide was a man named “Peg” Brown. He was supposed to have been the most successful poacher (since retired) of alligators in the Everglades. You knew, after watching him thread the unmarked channels through nameless mangrove islands, that he was an able man.
So I followed his advice on the Rod and Gun.
That was more than twenty-five years ago, and it’s still good advice. To find the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City, go down the west coast of Florida, past Naples and Marco Island—apotheosis of the New Florida—until you can’t go any farther. Then, you’re there.
The Club is the jewel of Everglades City, which—along with sister settlement Chokoloskee—is the last outpost of civilization (more or less) before the land turns into a maze of mangrove islands only a handful of which consist of any hard ground at all.
The towns have gotten by, over the years, on commercial fishing and crabbing, a certain amount of smuggling (whiskey during Prohibition and drugs more recently), and tourism that amounts, mostly, to angling. One travels to Everglades City not to visit galleries and shop but to fish for tarpon and snook. And to do it in some of the most forbiddingly beautiful surroundings left in America.
The Rod and Gun, then, is a sort of bastion of elegance at the edge of a watery badlands. It was built in the 1920s and breathes that era’s sense of grandeur. The lobby of the main building is paneled in cypress, cut locally and thoroughly, since trees seemed like an inexhaustible resource back then. The walls are colored like old wine, with tarpon mounts hung in strategic places. There is a billiard room just off the lobby.
This part of the operation is certainly worth a visit, ambience like this being hard to find. But the real point of the Rod and Gun is the dining room and attached porch, which face the Barron River. This space is as bright and airy as the lobby is dark and close. The view of the river and the mangroves on the opposite bank and the boats that occasionally pass establishes an undeniable mood, and you think, “I believe I’ll drink some strong rum before dinner.”
That, anyway, has always been my thought when I’ve eaten here, including that first time, when my redfish was served nicely blackened with an order of those small red, local potatoes. Key lime pie for dessert.
I was alone, so I imagined myself in conversation with some of the famous people who had visited here. Everyone from Al Capone to Mick Jagger and including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover, and Nixon.
Since then, I have returned at every opportunity. The last was with friends from New York who make a large fuss over food and restaurants. We ordered stone crabs and some kind of dry white wine. It was evening, and we watched the flights of ibis and other birds in low formations over the green wall of mangroves and the tannin-stained surface of the river that showed gold in the sunset.
The crab claws were excellent and so was the wine. But my friends had something else in mind when one of them said, “Well, there’s certainly nothing like this in Manhattan…or, I suppose, anywhere else in the world.”