Before there was Casino Beach Bar, there was just Casino Beach.
Even before that, there was a casino. On a beach.
But it wasn’t home to slot machines and roulette wheels. In those days, the word ‘casino’ was defined simply as a place for social amusements. Only later did it take on the gambling connotation.
“The Casino” on Pensacola beach was a community recreation complex for dancing, shopping, bathing and dining. Opening in the summer of 1931, it was the site of weekly boxing tournaments, as well as the Miss Florida beauty pageant.
Like many beacons of the past, The Casino was demolished after falling into disrepair in the 60s. But all this time later, the beach where it stood still bears its name.
Today, Casino Beach is known for its family-friendly sands, fishing pier and a free summer concert series called Bands on the Beach. To find it, just look for the water tower painted to look like an enormous beach ball.
Casino Beach Bar sits at the foot of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, a favorite of fishermen and families alike. It costs $1.25 to walk, and up to $7.50 for adults to fish, with discounts for children, seniors and military. But at just over a buck, it’s worth the trip. You can almost always catch some form of Florida wildlife swimming below, and the sunsets are something to see.
The bar began as just a bar, brought to the beach by Gulf Breeze natives Scott Zepp and Matt LaFon, founders of the World of Beer franchise. After owning and operating WoB in Tampa and beyond, they wanted to herald the history of their hometown with Casino Beach Bar & Grille.
It opened in June 2014. Within months, the locals wanted food with their drinks, so in August of the same year, they opened a small kitchen. By December, crowds were getting bigger (and hungrier), so the bar closed yet again for 45 days beginning in January 2015.
Later renovations have led to a complete kitchen remodel, an outdoor bar, stage and exterior walkway. Every year, Casino Beach Bar has grown and expanded. They are now three times their original size.
Even the basic lunch menu has grown to include breakfast and dinner. Everything is made to order, including every order of coleslaw. The sushi grade tuna, sheepshead and Amberjack come in fresh each day. Chef Shane Bourke is passionate about creating fresh and exciting food.
CBB has also become home to original events on the island. The weekend we sat down with General Manager Joey Lanier, the bar was set to host a launch party for a brewery never before seen in the Panhandle – and the first to carry its product.
There’s live entertainment every weekend, featuring local and out-of-town acts. This is a place that supports its community, from the bands that call Pensacola Beach home to the residents who do.
“Some locals, I see four and five times a week, for just a drink or to eat,” Lanier says. “The best thing about living in this area is the abundance of life … whether creatures from the sea or the people, the overall life of the island is very attractive. I never feel rushed or late. It just is here.”
Of working for Casino Beach Bar, Lanier says he is proud to have been able to grow with the company, a first in more than 20 years in the industry. He started as a server and is now the GM.
If You’re Dining
Try the Shrimp and Green Mango Ceviche or the Fish Tacos.
“We put a lot of care into our menus,” Lanier says. “If we notice something isn’t working, we take it off.”
CBB listens to its locals and visitors. To that end, they’ve added Gluten Free dishes to the menu.
If You’re Drinking
The bar fresh squeezes its juices every day – orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime – for cocktails that stand out.
They offer craft cocktails made with love, like the signature CBB Margarita, created with a special blend of tequila and housemade agave syrup. The Painkiller is always a favorite, but Lanier cautions, “Don’t stand up too fast if you’ve had two.”
Happy Hour is Monday to Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
‘Sunday Funday’ features $4 Bloody Marys and Sailor Jerrys, plus $2 Mimosas.
The cool, clean atmosphere is all part of the brand tagline, “Where every day feels like a vacation.” Whether you live on the island or you’re just visiting, this truly does feel like an escape.
Lanier says Casino Beach Bar had no trouble transitioning from a bar to restaurant, but he does get a lot of phone calls asking about slot machines.
(There are none. But if you play your cards right, you’ll realize you’re pretty lucky just to be on Casino Beach.)
– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels