The Red Bar and the Hot SoWal Summer

August 10, 2012 by SoWal Staff

It's been one of the busiest summers in South Walton history. The cars full of visitors have come in waves just like the surf in the gulf, but there's no lull in the visitor waves until school starts back in Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans Houston...

Meawhile the crowds clamor for the food and fun times at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach. Can you call it a hidden gem? Almost anyone who has heard of SoWal has heard of the Red Bar. But if you get a puzzled look from someone when you mention Grayton Beach in Chicago then you better believe the Red Bar is a hidden gem to them.

"We've had an amazing summer to be sure, and we're thankful." says owner Oli Petit. "We might get a little break when school starts back but we keep pretty busy all the year round."

At the Red Bar the decor is funky and the food is excellent, it's served up quickly and is a great value. The joint is as cool as any place in New Orleans or Memphis, and offers up wonderful live music. The Red Bar is a legendary Grayton Beach institution that brings together locals, visitors, and even an occasional celebrity on a nightly basis.

The real bonus is that it's a beach bar of course. Walk out back and down the boardwalk and you're on the beautiful white sands of wide, wonderful Grayton Beach.

Technically, it’s called “Picolo’s Restaurant and Red Bar,” but most know it by the simple “Red Bar” moniker (and sometimes, "Red Barn"). The one-time general store is owned by Belgian-born brothers Oliver and Phillipe Petit, who modeled the eclectic decor on a nightclub their father once owned in Leige, Belgium.

Foreign film posters and Christmas lights dominate the main dining room, with street signs, photos, statuettes and mismatched tables and chairs taking up most of the remaining available space. Oliver Petit calls it his “tribute to pop culture.”

The menu varies daily (menus are written on chalkboards), and includes items such as pasta with crawfish and shrimp, penne chicken and mashed potatoes, stuffed eggplant, crab cakes, fish of the day, and according to Oli, the best key lime pie on the Florida Panhandle.

Then, of course, there’s the music. Whether it’s the house’s Red Bar Jazz Band or a local favorite like Dread Clampitt, you can count things cranking up after the dinner crowd thins out. And that might be when you spot a celebrity in the crowd. Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Steve Winwood and bluegrass legend Sam Bush are among the musical A-listers who have taken in a show here (and sometimes sit in on the jam)... as have star quarterback siblings Peyton and Eli Manning.

But despite its cool cachet, The Red Bar still maintains a laid-back, beach bar, everyone welcome vibe. You might see a couple in swimsuits and flip-flops at one table, a family in their Sunday best at another, and some bikers at the bar. Oli bills it as the area’s “most popular indoor destination,” and by many accounts, he’s right. To many regular South Walton visitors, a beach vacation isn’t complete until they’ve been to the famous Red Bar.

A couple of things to know before you go, though... there are no reservations and no credit cards accepted. So bring a little patience (there will be a wait during peak hours) and some cash (there is an ATM on site) and plan for a great meal and a good time. At the Red Bar, fun is always on the menu.


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