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Guitar craftsman Chris Alvarado preserves history of The Red Bar in South Walton

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News
Northwest Florida Daily News

GRAYTON BEACH – Chris Alvarado was at The Red Bar the last night it was open before it burned down in February 2019.

The longtime 30A musician and his wife, Naomi, went to see the band Heritage perform that Sunday night. Alvarado had played a handful of gigs at The Red Bar and was where the couple had their first date.

“It always was a special place for us,” Alvarado said. “It literally is the beating heart of the culture of 30A, in my opinion.”

After the fire, owner Oliver Petit reached out to the community before its demolition. The Alvarados were some of the first people to show up.

Alvarado, who builds acoustic guitars, already had a notion for why he was there.

“For me, with my guitars, it’s always been, ’How can I build a guitar that has pieces of your history in it with my inlays?’ ” Alvarado said. “It was immediately evident (Petit) was going to rebuild, but it was, ‘How can we rebuild and preserve some of the old building?’ ”

Alvarado knew if he found a chunk of the floor in good enough condition, he could repurpose it. He just didn’t know how yet.

While there, he spotted an area near the restrooms where a wall had fallen into the floor and protected it from damage. Alvarado salvaged a small chunk of the floor, took it home and let it dry in his shed for the past year.

As the wood dried, Alvarado’s idea for it solidified.

Because of The Red Bar’s musical nature, Alvarado decided to mimic the stage at the Grand Ole Opry. When the Grand Ole Opry relocated, a square of wood was cut from a portion of the former stage and installed into a perfect six-foot circle in the new stage.

“It’s kind of considered hallowed ground for anyone who performs on that stage,” Alvarado said. “That was my thinking with The Red Bar. It already is hallowed ground.”

Alvarado created a three-foot circle from a colorful piece of wood that will be inlayed where musicians perform. He didn’t want to inlay it, though, without people knowing what it stood for.

Petit helped him come up with an inscription.

“On the bottom, it says, ‘Happy days are here to stay’ – that’s something Oli says,” Alvarado said. “It’s something he says to cheer people up. And then around the top, it says, ‘Original floor of the Old Butler Store 1937-the Red Bar, Feb. 13th 2019.” Oli insisted I put my name on it as well – if he gives me free manicotti and a gig.”

Alvarado said he is excited to inlay the circle into the new floor, which will be installed in the next couple weeks.

“It’s cool for me to be a part of bringing that back. It’s like I do with the guitars: preserving some history so we can move it forward in time.”