GRAYTON BEACH, Fla. – Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a popular Florida panhandle restaurant is open again. An electrical problem sparked a fire that destroyed the Red Bar in February 2019. Johnny Murray worked there. He was heartbroken, saying, “It is just a tragedy to see what has just happened.”
Locals and those of us who had made the restaurant and bar an annual part of our vacation felt a sense of loss. South Walton resident Daniel Ulhfelder said, “Without the Red Bar, there is no Grayton Beach.”
It was a local piece of history off scenic Highway 30A. “Red bar is an icon and more than that, Ollie and the whole Red Bar, Red bar family is a family. Grayton Beach resident Mark Gorbett said fighting back tears, “It’s um, they’ve been more than just neighbors they have been family to Grayton Beach.”
The iconic Red Bar was gone. Gorbett added, “It can’t be replaced but it can be rebuilt.” And in the fall of 2019, they broke ground to do just that. “For me especially it was more than a business,” owner Ollie Petit said. He scattered some ashes from the destroyed building before they turned the sand. “I’m still grieving the place and it was a way for closure and to honor the place and from the ashes can the rebirth occur,” he added.
Remembering the past and looking to the future. “We’re following the architecture to the T. The only thing that will be improved is the bathroom,” Petit said with a smile, “We’re expanding the men’s and women’s but otherwise, you will have that same familiarity when you enter the restaurant.”
16 months after burning to the ground, the Red Bar is open to the public again. Looking back, it’s a day some staff thought they’d never see. “It was like a nightmare, I thought I was sleeping, and I woke up,” manager Mark Jimenez recalls, “And no, it was true, the place was on fire.”
The Grayton Beach community and customers have been waiting for this day. Renne Jaquess is a long-time customer. She was excited saying, “Our family has been coming here for so long, and to have it re-open and have the same feel it’s just one of those things, you walk in and you’re like oh this is the same Red Bar, you kind of forget that it actually did burn down.”
Customer Connie Dismukes agreed, “We felt like it was just the same as before, you’re coming to a place that is kind of like your second home, and it was just amazing.”
Red Bar employees are excited as well to see old and new customers walking through the door. “It has been just so wonderful, people have been kind enough to respect, with everything going on with Covid, they respected our space and our time,” spokesman Kyle Petit said, “But they’ve also shown us love and support. They are showing up even better than we could’ve hoped for.”
It’s like seeing an old friend again.“ Mark Jimenez says the staff is glad to be back home, “There’s not a word to describe how happy we are, from all the people who work here, the owners were so happy to finally get back to our groove and do what we do best.”
Everyone is making new memories. “We have people that live here that are sending us stuff to put in the restaurant,” Kyle Petit said, “We have people that don’t live here sending us stuff to put in the restaurant, like pictures that they took when they were here.”
The Red Bar is back! As Walton County resident Rene Endres said last fall, “She was the heartbeat of Grayton Beach.” And that heart beat is stronger than the waves in the Gulf.
And Ollie Petit kept his promise. The Red Bar’s restrooms are bigger and better.