The Red Bar Rebuilds

A Gulf Coast favorite promises to return following a devastating fire

Photo: courtesy of the Red Bar

The Red Bar

Since opening on Super Bowl Sunday in 1995, the Red Bar in Grayton Beach, Florida, has provided cold beer, hot crab cakes, live music, and a welcoming atmosphere to snowbirds, vacationers, bikers, beach bums, and the occasional celebrity alike. (Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, and the Manning brothers have all been known to drop by the Gulf Coast hangout.) But last month, almost twenty-four years to the day since the funky bungalow off Highway 30A first opened its doors, black smoke filled the skies above town as the bar burned to the ground in an early morning fire.

Though no one was injured, almost immediately following news of the blaze, messages began pouring in with notes of encouragement and pictures from old visits and of Red Bar stickers everywhere from New York City to Bora Bora. “It’s so overwhelming,” says Mark Jimenez, one of the bar’s managers. “Everyone is mourning this because it was a home to a lot of people.”

But the Red Bar isn’t staying down for long. Late on February 28, staff got the green light to begin clearing the site. “We’ll start building seven days a week,” Jimenez says, “as much time as we can possibly pour into it.” The team is working with an architect to rebuild as close to the original as possible—the new version will feature the same interior layout, pitched tin roof, and vine-covered wooden façade.

The bar’s old door

The local community has rallied around the bar, helping clear debris from the site so construction can begin. For the bar’s out-of-work employees, a GoFundMe has been organized, and Grayton Beer Company held a fundraiser that brought in nearly $30,000 in one day. “The craziest thing is the neighbors,” Jimenez says. “They would complain about our noise sometimes, but when we’re not there, all they’ve been saying is how much they want us back.”

“Since the fire, people will tell me: ‘I met my wife here’ or ‘I had my first date here’ or ‘We celebrated signing on our first house here,’” adds co-owner Oli Petit, who founded the bar with his brother, Philippe. “So many family vacations and bachelorette parties. It’s a place of celebration. Just imagine when it reopens, and everybody comes back to create new memories.”