Leaving with more than just a good buzz, laid-back guitarist Jim Couch forever redefined the terms boss and business owner when he bought the local watering hole where his band played in 1998.
Now, KJ's, lovingly referred to as "the dive-iest of dive bars in Destin" on Yelp, is closing its doors after more than two decades on the harbor.
The Destin native bought the popular Kangaroo Jack's bar on the harbor in 1998 from the previous owners, Australian Rusty Hammerstrom and Englishman Steve Parrish.
Hammerstrom and Parrish bought the bar in 1994, eventually selling because they became "too successful," according to Hammerstrom. "You could hardly get in the place five or six nights out of the week it was so busy."
A fellow Aussie even played at Kangaroo Jack's while the duo owned it — Keith Urban. Hammerstrom, who currently lives in Destin, is also a musician in the band Banjorama. He told The Log that the bar was too small for the amount of business they were doing at that time, and they weren't equipped to make the costly changes.
When Couch took control, he did things a little differently.
The Australian decorations and uniforms were among the first to go, with Couch getting rid of the staff’s Akubra hats, which are Australian-style cowboy hats.
"As Kangaroo Jack's they served only beer and wine, but they were hugely successful," said Couch, "and they focused on their weekends, like most bars do."
With a name-change and a liquor license, Kangaroo Jack's became KJ's.
Couch told The Log that he unintentionally ran all of his customers off that first winter he was in business.
"The first Halloween we were open was awful," said Couch, "two people came, and one of them was the girl I was dating."
Couch said he thinks the crowd wasn't into the new KJ's because it didn't necessarily fit into the stereotypical "Jimmy Buffet-esque kind of Florida scene people were used to."
People came around quickly, though; warming up to the cool 90's cover songs his band Roshambo played as quickly as they did to the Florida weather.
With beer specials and Roshambo playing every Monday night, Couch started promoting Monday like it was a Friday or Saturday night. And it worked, drawing in customers like a drunk to a karaoke machine.
"I got a big box of business cards and passed them out to local bars and restaurants, targeting the service industry folks," Couch said, "that first Monday we made more than $900 — which is really good for us."
After owning the bar for 15 years, Couch is closing the doors — announcing the bars' final last call on Saturday, Feb. 2.
"It's a culmination of things," said Couch, who attributes the bar closing to more than one reason — the main one being financial, and the fact that the bar is just making less money.
"When the bar was doing its best I lived really close so I could be here all of the time, and I can't now. I moved to Santa Rosa Beach and it's just harder now."
Long-time patron Jason Wilbur of Fort Walton Beach said that KJ's closing feels like "the last season of Cheers."
Wilbur, Chip Hall, Eric Pryor and Lance Bolk, all locals, are only four of the dozens of loyal customers and friends of KJ's who turned out for the bar’s final Monday night.
Hall said that he has known Couch forever, "I knew him before KJ's, I followed his band here, and a lot of other people did too."
The group said they will definitely miss the local-feel of the bar. For his part, Couch said he will miss the loyal and unique customers and friends he's made because of KJ's.
Roshambo will be playing their final last call this Saturday at KJ's, located at 306 Harbor Blvd. Couch, his band and employees invite everyone out for one final legendary KJ's night. The staff at KJ's will be auctioning off some of the most iconic items and decorations in the bar this weekend, so manager Greg Nass said if you want to own a piece of Destin harbor history, make sure you bid.
Although Couch is closing KJ's, he's not going to be gone from the spotlight entirely. Along with Ron Pekrul (drums) and Adrian Howland (bass), Roshambo will continue playing their version of 90's favorites like Beck, Green Day and Beastie Boys music up and down The Emerald Coast.