The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music. On Sunday nights at the Fort Walton Beach location, a comedy show cranks up the revelry at 9 p.m. after the dueling pianos stop for a rest.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. The menu includes military specials and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 32-ounce booze buckets filled with fruit-flavored rum or other fruity libations. Honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.
The balcony at Helen Back Again affords views of bustling Palafox Place below. As guests sun and people-watch, bartenders keep busy doling out ice-cold beers. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, fresh ingredients are tossed onto award-winning pizzas with a butter garlic crust lauded by writers from Esquire. Helen Back Again caters to bar and restaurant employees, and they have a deep and abiding appreciation for the military. Open 7 days a week, they host live entertainment as well as Military Night, Guys Night, Ladies Night, Bike Night, and Sin Night, in addition to broadcasting all sports games on a collection of HD televisions.
Captain Larry maneuvers the Sea Blaster––a 73-foot speedboat––on four different cruises in the Gulf, departing from the HarborWalk Village. Dolphin cruises speed through the water during the day, coming up close to dolphins as they leap out of the sea in an effort to distract humans while they steal their sunglasses. With the addition of snorkeling, passengers strap on a simple breathing apparatus and paddle through the crystalline waters. Others spy dolphins during the sunset cruise, as the horizon burns pink and orange, or watch fireworks burst over the water from the Sea Blaster’s deck every Thursday evening.
The Boathouse Oyster Bar has shucked local Apalachicola oysters and ladled specialty gumbo at their harbor-side restaurant for a quarter-century. With gulf winds gently blowing through the open-air dining area carrying breezy live tunes, customers can slurp raw oysters ($5.95 half-dozen, $7.95 dozen) or polish off prepared pearl-maker varieties including the Baked Action oysters, doused in butter and flavored with onions, bacon bits, and melted mozzarella ($13.95 dozen). In addition to rib-sticking bowls of gumbo ($7.95), The Boathouse Oyster Bar's chefs prepare savory fruits of the sea such as grilled or fried mahi-mahi ($15.95) and a one-pound-plus stack of Alaskan snow-crab legs, which can be placed on fingers to span large intervals on the piano ($18.95). Landlubbing appetites can be sated with juicy burgers ($8.95+) and sandwiches such as grilled chicken ($8.95) or Black Angus prime rib ($12.95).
As breezes drift in from Sandestin Marina on the Choctawhatchee Bay, live blues tunes also permeate the air at Graffiti & The Funky Blues Shack. An eclectic Italian American menu offers dishes such as escargot Milano, which comes sautéed in garlic, olive oil, and fennel seeds. Entrees include gourmet pastas such as chicken parmesan and fettuccine bolognese, as well as familiar fare including wild buffalo meatloaf and cedar planked salmon.
Fat Tuesday, a New Orleans–style bar, complements its array of frozen drinks with classic shareable bites. Frozen daiquiris ($7.75 for 12 oz.; $9.75 for 20 oz.) appear in a variety of flavors including 190 Octane, Bushwacker, and a Bourbon-Street-style Hurricane, perfect for cooling down sizzling maws recovering from spicy eats or tongue-rolling competitions. Diners can hone their hand-mouth coordination by ordering a batch of hot, medium, mild, or barbecue wings ($12 for 9; $18 for 13), Sante Fe chicken egrolls ($9), or Cajun nachos ($8). While abdominal vacuoles embrace hearty sips and bites, patrons can ogle sports on Fat Tuesday's flat-screen TVs or practice advanced thumb-wrestling maneuvers on their nondominant hands.