They’ve been blasting off the cannon at Schooners every sunset for as many years as folks around here care to remember. The crowds roar in unison “10, 9, 8, 7.” counting down to the precise moment that the sun dips below the horizon and the old cannon roars. It’s the beach’s official signal that one more beautiful day has ended, and the real fun is just beginning!
They call Schooners, “The Last Local Beach Club,” and it really is the last of the old open-air hangouts left on the Gulf Coast. It started back in the late 60’s, when it was known as “The Beach Party.” In 1985, Jim Cannon purchased “The Beach Party” from Kinney Strickland and renamed it “Schooners.” Most people think the name means a type of sailing ship, but, actually, Jim was sitting in Australia sipping an ice-cold ‘schooner’ of beer when he learned that his favorite bar, “The Beach Party,” was for sale! He cut his world-tour vacation short, and flew back to Panama City to buy the place.
Back then, Schooners was a rustic beach bar. You could get a plate of nachos or, if you were lucky, a cheeseburger! But, the locals loved it, and laid claim to the place. Atchafalaya and Telluride were the most popular bands in those days, and, when they played, the crowds were so huge that the cops would have to direct traffic!
In 1995, Jim Cannon sold Schooners – just eight days before Hurricane Opal blew in to town! Schooners’ new owners, Sparky Sparkman and Toni Davis, were committed to rebuilding the historic original structure, and, although it took six months longer to do so, the original bar, along with every original floorboard, piling, wall and rafter was lovingly restored. The beach was in a shambles after the devastating hurricane, and it was hard to find construction workers, so we did a lot of the work ourselves, and the long-time staff of Schooners pulled together and searched through the wreckage to find and restore old photos and historic memorabilia. Schooners reopened Memorial Day weekend of 1996, and locals were thrilled to see that the “old Schooners” hadn’t changed! (Well, the bathrooms were a lot better!)
Over the years, not much has changed at Schooners. Cops still have to direct traffic when the crowds pour in to see their favorite bands or attend the annual Lobster Festival. The beer is ice cold, the pace is kicked back. There are waverunners, sailboats and sandcastles… there’s always a volleyball game on the beach. All day long, the locals wander up from their lounge chairs and umbrellas to grab a bite of lunch or cool off with a frozen margarita at the bar. The band cranks up early every afternoon, so the dance floor is crowded before the sun sets, and it stays that way til 2 or 3 in the morning.
There’s nothing “fancy” about Schooners cuisine; it is simple, fresh and perfect. No sauces cover the unbeatable flavor of truly fresh Grouper sizzled to perfection on the Schooners grill. A platter of fresh Fried Oysters, Hushpuppies and icy cold beer blend perfectly with the salty breeze blowing in off the Gulf. Every morning, Schooners restaurant in Panama City Beach chefs buy fresh local seafood from local boat captains and, by lunch time, they have created a menu of daily specials which make the most of the fresh seafood and fresh local produce. There is a decidedly “Southern” flavor to the menu… Gumbos and Blackened dishes from New Orleans. Hushpuppies from the Mississippi Gulf Coast… succulent Grilled Shrimp and Tomato Greek salads “stolen” from friends and restaurant legends at Capt. Anderson’s restaurant. Homemade Key Lime Pie and fresh baked bread from local pastry chefs. It is a magical mixture that keeps locals coming back for more.
Schooners, the Last Local Beach Club, is open 7 days a week from 11 in the morning till the wee, wee hours of the night. Lunch is awesome. Dinner is awesome. The bands are awesome. The beach is awesome. The sunsets are awesome. As a matter of fact, this just might be the best place on earth.