Joe Gilchrist, the 80-year-old co-owner of a legendary Gulf Coast bar, passed away Wednesday.

Gilchrist is one of four owners of Flora-Bama, which sits on the border of Orange Beach, Alabama, and Pensacola, Fla.

A music enthusiast, Gilchrist created the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival and funded music programs for local children.

“Joe was a philanthropist, a community leader and an unwavering and untiring supporter of the U.S. military and his country,” said a post on the Flora-Bama Facebook page. “He would be proud to remind everyone that Memorial Day is a time dedicated to remembering and honoring those that have fought and died for our country.” 

Joe Gilchrist from Flora-Bama Facebook Page
Joe Gilchrist. Photo from Flora-Bama Facebook page.

Flora-Bama is located immediately across the Florida-Alabama border on Perdido Beach Boulevard. Technically in Pensacola, Flora-Bama is only 25 feet from the city limits of Orange Beach.

The bar is known for its live music and features country, rock, dance and beach bands. It includes several indoor and beachfront bars. Its most popular drink is its famous bushwhacker, a milkshake cocktail invented in 1975 in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

Flora-Bama got its start when the state of Florida gave the state of Alabama two miles of beachfront land in exchange for the construction of the Perdido Pass Bridge. Ted Tompary and his two sons, Connie and Tony, decided to build a bar on the new state line. 

At the time, Baldwin County was a “dry” county, meaning alcohol could not be sold there, but the bar was located in Escambia County, Florida, which was “wet.” 

Gilchrist bought the bar in 1978 and was joined in 1986 by his business partner Pat McClellan. The two brought in live music and created signature events such as the “Interstate Mullet Toss,” where partygoers compete to see who can throw a dead mullet the furthest over the state line of Florida and Alabama. 

The Flora-Bama Lounge bills itself as "the most famous bar in the country" and has spawned a number of songs and mentions in stories and movies.

Flora Bama Mullet Toss 1986
Flora-Bama Mullet Toss 1986. Photo from Flora-Bama website.

In 2009, John McInnis and Cameron Price also became co-owners.

“Joe built a legacy and culture around treating others with kindness and respect, asking only for the same in return,” read the Facebook post.

The Gilchrist family is asking for privacy and will release information about a celebration of his life in the near future.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email will.blakely@1819news.com

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