Rena Adkins, bartender at AJ’s on the Bayou, usually just goes by Reno. It’s easier that way.
“Whenever I put the 'A' on my name tag, I get Rita, Reina, Renee. Reno has always just been easier,” she said. “My legal name is Christina. My sister couldn’t pronounce it, so she came up with all these variations, and Rena just kind of stuck. I didn’t know Christina was my real name until I was like 6.”
Even as a military kid, Adkins calls Fort Walton Beach home. She’s lived here 23 years and said, even on the days she wishes she was off work and enjoying the Northwest Florida weather, she is grateful to have a job on the water.
“You can’t be mad with that as your background. It’s just too perfect,” she said pointing toward the sparkling water the restaurant backs up to. “I think I’d rather be working on the water then to be landlocked and not even see it at all.”
In fact, when she’s not slinging drinks, Adkins said she and her boyfriend spend most of their time together on the water.
“Every second that we can, we’re on the water,” she said. “My boyfriend and I go out on the boat, we fish, play pool all the time, recently got into shooting, but most of the time we are out on the water, whenever it’s nice out.”
Adkins said she waited tables for nine years. Then, two years ago, got her first taste of working behind the bar and hasn’t gone back.
“I was made to just be a bartender I guess,” she said. “Whenever you serve tables, you see the same families, older generation, but when you’re in the bar, you see everyone from brand new 21 to people who are in their 90s. You see everybody and they are not afraid to talk to you at the bar.”
The most popular drink at AJ’s on the Bayou, Adkins said, is the Bimini Bash named after Club Bimini at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar in Destin.
“It’s our signature out at all of the AJ’s. It’s the strongest drink we have; you’re only allowed three of them,” she said. “It’s like a fruity rum Long Island. It has five different rums in it, with orange juice, pineapple and cranberry, so it is sweet but it is strong as hell.”
When it comes to a signature sip at AJ’s on the Bayou, Adkins chose a drink closer to home, the Bowlegs Punch. The drink is a nod to Billy Bowlegs, a fictitious pirate who is celebrated in Fort Walton Beach annually with the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in June.
The Bowlegs Punch involves Malibu rum, Captain Morgan spiced rum, orange, pineapple and cranberry juice with a Grand Marnier floater.
AJ's on the Bayou is at 200 Eglin Pkwy. N.E. in Fort Walton Beach. For more information, visit http://www.ajsonthebayou.com/ or call 850-226-7579.