The Red Bar is South Walton’s most popular indoor destination. It’s the place to have fun with friends and family while taking in all of the eclectic decor, listening to great live music and enjoying great food and cocktails. The simple but varied menu includes pasta with crawfish and shrimp, panné chicken and mashed potatoes, stuffed eggplant, crab cakes and fish of the day. Oh, and don’t forget about the salad – it is the best anywhere on the Emerald Coast!
The Red Bar Jazz Band plays almost nightly during dinner. The party gets cranked up a notch after the dinner crowd thins, creating a more funky atmosphere. Don’t be surprised to spot celebrities here late at night. But please be cool, everybody just wants to chill at The Red Bar. Located in Grayton Beach, Florida, The Red Bar is just a short drive from Destin & Panama City Beach. Housed in the old general store at 70 Hotz Avenue.
Written by Chad Thurman of Vue Magazine
Originally from Liège, Belgium, owner Oliver Petit learned the restaurant ropes from his father, Louis, who had moved to the United States in the 1970s. Oli eventually joined Louis in Little Rock, Arkansas, and helped him create a new restaurant from the ground up. It was the first of several restaurants Oli would build. His trajectory was interrupted by mandatory military service in Belgium, where he became a base cook feeding 1,500 people three meals a day. He welcomed the experience as a learning opportunity until, only three months in, he slipped a disk moving a huge bag of potatoes. His military career was over in an instant, but his career in food was just beginning.
Oli returned Stateside in 1990 and settled in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, near his best friend, Chuck Stiles, familiar to locals as the owner of the popular Destin restaurant Graffiti. Oli hired out his considerable culinary skills to several area restaurants before deciding it was time to branch out on his own. He set his sights on a building that had been abandoned for a year, the latest in a long string of failed establishments at the location in Grayton Beach. Its history—and its bare-bones state—didn’t bother Oli, who had helped his father transform a similarly vacant space.
The original Red Bar building
Needless to say, he had ridiculously underestimated the Red Bar’s appeal. Oli modestly chalks it up to “the right time and place,” though owners of the previously shuttered restaurants might disagree. Actually, the time element might have helped. In an era when all other bars on Scenic Highway 30-A closed at 10 p.m., the Red Bar stayed open until 2 a.m. It soon drew waitstaff and bartenders from all the other bars and restaurants in town who needed a place they could unwind and let someone serve them.
I thought with that, I could pay the rent and the light bill. But the doors blew open the first day, and people came in and started partying. Just like that—from day one.
His one glaring misstep early on was installing pool tables. If you’ve been to the Red Bar, it may be hard to imagine where in the world pool tables could fit. The short answer was that they didn’t. Not really. Oli found out that drunks and pool sticks weren’t a good combination, but more important, he needed to reclaim that space for dining. “Within three months, the pool tables came out,” he says. “I used to cover those billiard tables with tablecloths during dinner, and people literally sat on the pool tables to eat.”
The space and the sloshed-with-cue-sticks problems were solved, but he had to take care of one more issue: making nice with the neighbors. He admits to running afoul of noise laws on more than one occasion, even ending up in the newspaper a few times. The atmosphere for the first two years was “party hearty,” Oli says, including live music every night, and, when the band stopped, disco music cranked at top volume. With no air conditioning, the windows were thrown wide open, and his Grayton Beach neighbors were up in arms.
Oli was just trying to entertain his crowds, but he admits to going about it the wrong way. His life soon revolved around county commission meetings, liquor ordinances, and other problems lobbed at both the business and his patrons. The Red Bar has been under a noise and liquor ordinance since 1997, effectively shutting down his previous operational style. Oli accepted it with his usual good grace, even pulling his close time back to eleven o’clock. “I came to the realization that I liked my neighbors and that they had real concerns,” he says. “From 1997 until now it’s been harmony, and our relationship has been spectacular. I thank everyone in Grayton Beach who put up with me.”