At any destination, one of my favorite things to do is take a guided tour of the city. There are several options in the historic city of Fernandina Beach (on Amelia Island) and most of them are offered by the Amelia Island Museum of History: http://ameliamuseum.org/tours-2/. This was the first time I’d ever seen a pub crawl operated by a history museum. My friends and I decided to get to know the town this way, one drink at a time.
When we first arrived on Amelia Island, we drove straight to the Historic Train Depot to catch our tour. At the time of this writing, the tour was held only once a week on Thursday night, starting at 5:30pm. There were two groups that night, and each was given their own tour guide, so my friends and I basically got to barhop with our own personal Amelia Island history expert.
The Palace Saloon
Our first stop was the Palace Saloon. “If you visit only one bar in Florida, make it the Palace Saloon,” writes Sandra Friend and Kathy Wolf in An Explorer’s Guide to North Florida & the Florida Panhandle. I couldn’t agree more. Open since 1903, The Palace Saloon is the oldest continuously-running saloon in the state of Florida. During prohibition, they operated as an ice cream parlor, but they never closed their doors. During the early 1800’s, Amelia Island, like most of the state of Florida, was plagued by pirates. But by the time the Palace Saloon opened in 1903, the pirates were gone, the union was safe, and the ships of Fernandina Beach were busy with shipping and shrimping, as they still are today. So the Palace Saloon was not where pirates went to drink – it was a gentleman’s establishment frequented by legitimate ship captains. But in celebration of the Island’s history, the Palace Saloon made its signature drink a Pirate’s Punch, a delectable combination of…oh wait, it’s a secret recipe. Let’s just call it a great rum punch. If you go to the Palace Saloon, you should try it. And one more fun fact about the Palace Saloon before we move on: Did you know that the mayor of Fernandina Beach still tends bar here? Well, he does. How cool is that?
The Three Star Saloon, 213 Centre St.
This is the one pub on our tour that we didn’t go in, because it is no longer a pub. There used to be over 20 saloons in the town of Fernandina Beach (c.1900), but things have quieted down significantly since then. The 1877 building pictured below once hosted the Three Star Saloon, but now it is home to the clothing shop Lori + Lulu. When the owner of the Three Star Saloon died (alcohol may have contributed to his death), his daughter sold the place with the condition that alcohol never be served again on the premises.
The Mermaid Bar at the Florida House Inn
Built in 1857, before the onset of the Civil War, the Florida House Inn is the oldest continuously operating inn in the state of Florida. The Inn housed Union soldiers during the war, and tourists soon after, making Amelia Island one of Florida’s earliest tourist destinations. Inside, the Mermaid Bar has an Old Florida vibe. The many mermaids on the walls and mirrors look perfectly at home in this seafaring town. In addition to modern craft beers and sangria, the Mermaid Bar specializes in classic cocktails from the prohibition era. We tried New Belgium’s Heavy Melon Ale, a refreshing watermelon lime ale that pairs perfectly with a hot Florida summer. If you go, be sure to check out the courtyard in back, and bring your drink with you.
Pablo’s Mexican Cantina (in the 1878 Tavern Grill Bldg)
Once a historic 1878 steakhouse, the two-story brick building at 12 North 2nd Street now hosts Pablo’s Mexican Cantina. This place has GREAT margaritas, and if you’re lucky, they may be served up by Pablo himself. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Pablo is the best host I’ve ever met. He greeted us at the bar, made us a fabulous drink, let us stay for dinner, and walked us to the door when we were ready to leave.
This was a great tour. You could visit any one of these three currently-operating bars and have a great time, but it’s even more fun when you visit them all with a local history expert.