Where else but Florida could a place like Jimbo's exist?
It's a Miami bait shack - emphasis on "shack" - a few miles from downtown but with an isolated island feel and a diverse mix of customers. Beer is self-serve and the 82-year-old owner watches over the activity in a rickety boat captain's chair. It's been a location in films like "Wild Things" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and TV shows like "Flipper" and "Miami Vice," yet most folks don't know where it is.
And where else but Florida would you find places like the Flora-Bama, a beach bar known for live music and airborne fish; Square Grouper, named for the bales of marijuana that sometimes float ashore; The Last Resort, a biker bar where serial killer Aileen Wuornos drank her last beer, or a bar in Key West where Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett hung out (though not at the same time).
Florida has 23,398 licensed places to sit and drink a beer, wine or a cocktail. A long "research" trip around the state found many bars reflect the wild, eclectic, historic and often bizarre character of the state itself. Here are a few worth noting.
JIMBO'S, Duck Lake Road, Virginia Key: So hard to find, the Jimbosplace.com Web site has a video showing the way.
CHURCHILL'S, 5501 NE Second Ave., Little Haiti, Miami: Serves English ales and bills itself as "A sort of English pub." Marilyn Manson played his first gig here, and it appeared in the movie "There's Something About Mary" as a strip club.
TOBACCO ROAD, 626 S. Miami Ave., downtown Miami: Oldest licensed bar in the city. A long, dark narrow bar leads to an outdoor courtyard. Blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor and Buddy Guy have played the upstairs hall. Concert posters, most signed, line the clapboard walls downstairs.
ALABAMA JACK'S, 58000 Card Sound Road, Key Largo: Located on the water on a road lined with mangroves. Drink beer, watch pelicans and hang out far from civilization.
NO NAME PUB, North Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key: A former general store, brothel and bait shop hidden in a house beneath the trees, popular with locals (probably because tourists have a hard time finding it). Walls and ceilings are covered in dollar bills that patrons have signed and stapled to the wood.
CAPTAIN TONY'S SALOON, 428 Greene St., Key West: The bar where Hemingway drank, known then as Sloppy Joe's. Mentioned in the Buffett song "Last Mango in Paris." (Buffett also left graffiti on the bathroom wall.) The Key West "hanging tree" grows in the middle of the bar through the roof. Bar stools are adorned with names like Bob Dylan, Jerry Seinfeld, Ted Kennedy and Truman Capote - whom the saloon claims as past patrons. Buffett's and Hemingway's stools hang from the ceiling to prevent theft.
THE BULL & WHISTLE, 224 Duval St., Key West: Murals of Key West history on the first floor; wraparound balcony for watching the street scene on the second floor; rooftop clothing-optional bar on the third floor.
GREEN PARROT, 601 Whitehead St., Key West: Known for a wild mix of art, photos and objects representing everything from Abraham Lincoln to the rock band Kiss. A large parachute hangs above the bar with green Christmas lights.
LE TUB, 1100 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood: A 1959 gas station redone in the 1970s as a multilevel bar that feels like a tropical forest sprouted in and around it. Large wooden booths overlook the intracoastal waterway. Old bathtubs and toilets, colorfully painted, serve as planters and signs.
THE ELBO ROOM, 241 S. Atlantic Blvd., Fort Lauderdale: This place has been pouring drinks since 1938 on the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and Route A1A - directly across from a popular spring-break beach. Featured in the 1960 movie "Where the Boys Are." Music and patrons still spill out on the sidewalk from the open walls.
SQUARE GROUPER TIKI BAR, 111 Love St., Jupiter: Located across from an 1860 lighthouse where the Loxahatchee River empties into the Atlantic. Country music artist Alan Jackson filmed his video "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" here.
WALDO'S AT THE DRIFTWOOD, 3150 Ocean Drive, and OCEAN GRILL, 1050 Beachland Blvd., both in Vero Beach: The eccentric developer Waldo Sexton built these landmarks, Waldo's in 1937 and the Ocean Grill in 1941. Both feature the interesting building materials and unique objects Emerson was known for collecting. The Ocean Grill's bar hangs above the beach for great views.
POMARS, 6896 Route A1A South, St. Augustine: Classic old Florida beach bar from the '50s.
TRADEWINDS LOUNGE, 124 Charlotte St., St. Augustine: A slice of the South Pacific amid historic downtown's Spanish architecture. House band Mantanzas, led by Troy Locke, has been rocking the place for 26 years. Locke's colorful stories include one about a Ringo Starr impostor who made big local news sitting in with the band until folks found out it wasn't the real Beatles drummer. "He didn't know anything about the Beatles," Locke said recently.
PASTIME, 5301 Lenox Ave., Jacksonville: Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Gimme Three Steps" was written after singer Ronnie Van Zant was chased out of the Pastime at gunpoint. The tiny building has the look of a biker bar, but the feel of a neighborhood bar. "If it was any bigger, the song would have been called 'Gimme Five Steps,'" said owner Billy Bob Johnson.
PETE'S BAR, 117 First St., Neptune Beach: Inspiration for the bar in John Grisham's "The Brethren." It's been around since 1933. On display: World War II-era guns and knives, and photos of Fidel Castro and Hemingway from Cuba.
PALACE SALOON, 117 Centre St., Fernandina Beach: Located in the northeast corner of the state. It opened as a bar in 1903 and converted the downstairs to an ice cream shop while continuing to serve booze at an upstairs speakeasy during Prohibition. Adolphus Busch, founder of Anheuser-Busch, helped design the bar, an elegant throwback to another era.
FLORA-BAMA LOUNGE, 17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola: Located in the westernmost Panhandle on the Alabama line. This may be Florida's best beach bar, even as it continues to rebuild from 2004's Hurricane Ivan. Famed for its mullet toss, a fish-throwing contest watched by multitudes.
SANDSHAKER, 731 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach. Multi-room beach bar that invented "The Bushwhacker" - a frozen drink with coffee liquor and rum. Tastes like a chocolate shake, but is deceptively strong with 151-proof rum.
RED BAR, 70 Hotz Ave., Santa Rosa Beach (Grayton Beach): Poster-covered walls, vintage white leather men's shoes, a large-mouthed bass, random photos, and figurines ranging from Donald Duck to Jesus are all part of the decor. The bathrooms are illuminated by red Christmas lights.
LEON PUB, 215 E. Sixth St., Tallahassee: One of Florida's best beer bars, with nearly 50 taps, 300 different bottled beers, and the feel of a smoky, grungy brewania museum. Enormous beer signs meant for outdoor use hang on the walls, as do beer trays, beer clocks, beer mirrors and beer towels.
SKIPPER'S SMOKEHOUSE, 910 Skipper Rd., Tampa: A great place to see a band, with an outdoor stage among large oak trees and brightly painted beams and fences.
LOU'S BLUES, 3191 N. Highway A1a, Indialantic: Also a good place to hear music. Lou's has a strange assortment of stuff: barber chairs, a chandelier covered in bras, a mannequin riding a stuffed mountain goat, a skeleton on an old motorcycle frame wearing a red sparking top hat. As the member of one recent band told the crowd, "You never know what you're going to find when you come here to Lou's Blues. Just look around."
WALLY'S, 1001 N. Mills Ave., Orlando: Proud to be a dive bar. Marked with a classic red neon sign, smoky, dark and small, with an orange Formica bar top and strong drinks. The wallpaper is printed with a faint pattern of naked women that look like '70s Playboy shots.
DESERT INN, 5540 South Kenansville Road, YeeHaw Junction: Lost-in-time bar and restaurant where cowboys and Indians stopped in the early 1900s. Has that same feeling today.
THE EVERGLADES LOUNGE, 108 Royal Palm Ave., Clewiston: The bar in the historic Clewiston Inn features an amazing mural of Everglades flora and fauna.
THE LAST RESORT, 5812 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange: The biker bar where Wuornos was arrested and the Charlize Theron movie "Monster" was shot. The small building is covered with graffiti left by patrons, including Theron. Outside, busted, rusted and burned motorcycle frames hang from the limbs of an oak tree. A nearby marker lists the names of bikers whose ashes have been spread under the tree.