The Boathouse, rockin' for 30 years

Annie Blanks | 315-4450 | @DestinLogAnnie |
Patty Liberati talks to bartender Rich Parsons at the Boathouse on Monday night. The bar and grill celebrated their 30th anniversary Monday. ANNIE BLANKS/DESTIN LOG

There are dive bars, and then there’s the Boathouse.

The ramshackle, “come as you are” waterfront bar and restaurant, best known for its oysters and its live music, has been a staple in Destin for 30 years. It was founded in October 1986 by Wanda “Mama Gumbo” Green and Paul “Action” Jackson, both of whom have since passed away, but both of whose legacies are still alive and well, according to general manager Jenn McGee.

“I can remember Mama and Action working behind the bar. We miss them dearly,” McGee said. “We’ve got a shadow box and their photos in the restaurant. We celebrate their birthdays every year when they come around.”

In almost every way, the Boathouse is still the same place it was in 1986. It’s in the same location in the heart of the Destin harbor, serving the same oysters and gumbo recipe that Mama and Action conjured up, and even still has a lot of the same locals drinking beer and dancing to music on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Once upon a time it was just the front section of (what is now) the Boathouse area and we didn’t even have a kitchen,” McGee said. “Then it expanded to include a kitchen, and then they got grilled food. Now we’re really known for our oysters — you can get them raw, steamed, 'action' or SOB, which stands for south of the border.”

The Boathouse’s décor is, in a word, original. The ceiling on the restaurant’s inside seating area is lined with dollar bills and brassieres. McGee said the dollar bill tradition started in the 1980s when fishermen would come in and leave a dollar on the wall so that the next time they had a bad day and needed to come in for a cold one, they could just take their dollar off the wall.

As for the brassiere tradition?

“I have no clue how that one started,” McGee said with a laugh. 

In July of this year, the Boathouse opened a neighboring bar called The Upper Deck that is “still trying to find its own identity”, according to McGee. Seeing as its sister restaurant is the one and only Boathouse, McGee doesn’t think it will be hard for the Upper Deck to establish itself as another one of Destin’s most unique bars.

As for what’s in store for the next 30 years for the Boathouse, McGee couldn’t say, but thinks the bar and restaurant’s recipe for success has proved successful so far and probably won’t change a whole lot.

“Honored, that’s the word I would use to describe us being here for 30 years,” she said. “And a little bit of luck if we can add that somewhere in there. But most o f all, we’re grateful for all of our locals and faithful people who keep coming back.”