MARY READY: The Best of Destin of days gone by

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

The Log often reports on the latest developments to grace our modern and bustling city. Shiny, sleek, and sophisticated, it may be a posh restaurant, an upscale retail store, or an elegant boutique. Usually, the motif underlying these stories is “Best of Destin.”

Now, I’m not exactly saying, “Bah, Humbug,” but that’s not my idea of Destin’s best — at least, not to my nostalgic way of thinking. My personal best of Destin has long since been covered over in concrete or replaced by the latest monuments to progress.

If you can abide my sentimentality, take an imaginary ride with me in my Memorymobile through a sleepy little village where everyone has an 837 telephone prefix, and if you dial a wrong number, you’d probably get someone you know any way.

Driving east over the Destin Bridge, on the left we see The Sea Store, a business struggling to convince our fishing patriarchs that dive boats deserve equal respect on Destin’s waters. Beside the dive shop is an optometry office with a gigantic pair of red neon glasses rising skyward, like the eyes of Dr. Eckleberg over the Valley of Ashes in Great Gatsby, but, in this case, it’d be the eyes of Dr. Fregger gazing over the harbor.

To the immediate right was the Kelly Building where Doctor Odom extracted fish hooks from feckless flesh and treated a wide range of ailments. Nearby, quaint little Marina Point and The Wharf, where a generous basket of delicious seafood cost a couple of dollars, but only local captains of reverence could sit at the big round table.

The Tower of Babel and its sprawling courtyard stands there now.

City Hall was once where The Shed (and a bunch of failed restaurants) now stands.

Swinging back to the left (where the green ziggy-zaggy lights now gleam over McGuire's) were stores on property owned by Coleman Kelly. There was Fred’s breakfast café (open early for captains and anglers), Western Auto, Destin Jewelers, Jitney Jungle, Destin Clipper (barber shop) and Sibyl’s Variety.

The story is told that a single mother of modest means went there to buy her child’s clothing on layaway. The clerk shocked the customer by giving her the clothes at no charge. Although sworn to secrecy, the saleslady revealed that Mattie Kelly was her benefactor. Stunned, the grateful woman replied, “Gosh, is she rich or something?”

We drive past the small, but homey community center, with its wooden plank floors and cedar smell. The modern structure there now is a beauty, but I loved the Norman Rockwell character of the original building. It was Destin’s only polling place for years.

Ah, there’s Miss Chen’s, the best place in town for Chinese food. And across the street is the Village Cheese Shop where Jeannie Barnett served the best sandwiches in town. Near there, at the foot of that impossibly steep hill leading up to Captain Howard Marler’s and the old Kelly Docks was a coffee shop run by the captain.

We pass The Blue Room, but now it’s painted orange and called Florida House. In the sixties and seventies, it was THE place to eat, and people came from all over the county to have their famous Captain’s Platter. A little ways up, still on the water side, there’s Braden’s Motel, Gwenn’s Dress Shop, the Fishing Hole, and Odom’s Grocery (home delivery!). Up from there were Evan’s Cottages and other modest accommodations for fishing visitors. Places like Florida Girl Motel, Marlboro, Flamingo, The Sea Oats, Destin Beach Motel, and The Reveille.

None of them fancy like a high-rise condo, but clean and comfortable with an “Old Florida” feel. Jewel Melvin’s Restaurant nearby would cook your catch for you and serve it up with wonderful sides.

On the left, further into town, we drive past The Silver Sands Restaurant and Hinds Radio and T.V. Repair (back when people repaired instead of junked things). They stood in a little strip of shops facing the parking lot to the old post office where two cheerful employees knew everybody by name.

Down Marler Street, we pass the first Destin Log building and remember “Dashing with Dot,” and a lady named Tinkie True who wrote stories spilling over with warmth and humor about her “helpmate.”

Now, we slow down at the Green Knight Restaurant with its delightfully tacky giant statue of a lime-colored knight in full armor, standing guard at the corner of Highway 98 and Main. He was Destin’s version of the 40-foot doughnut found along Route 66. Gosh, I miss him.

We can park here or go further east a few miles toward the Frangista Beach Inn and the Spyglass Inn, but there’s little else beyond them except a virtually empty stretch of road all the way to Panama City.

Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.