Kick Back for Adult Beverages – Pirate-Style!
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
With plenty of historic scenery on the island, nostalgia is in no short supply. When I first came to Fernandina Beach, I was blown away by the historic downtown district. As a professional singer, I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to perform in such a noteworthy place. After I had settled into my new digs across the island, I came downtown to check out the scene. I stopped at most of the pubs around; making my way down towards the marina. After my adult beverage-laced tour of Centre Street had been going on for a few hours, I had worked my way down to Second Street. I walked into the Palace Saloon for the first time and hadn’t seen a more rustic and authentic bar setting any time that I can remember. The Palace plays a very significant role in the town’s social and music scenes. Myself and several friends of mine – some of whom you can see on a river tour – have been performing there for a solid decade, and then some.
The saloon has been a focal point of Centre Street’s decor for over a century! In the last of the 19th century, the south’s busiest docks were those right here in Fernandina Beach. There were imported goods and ships of all kinds coming from every part of the globe. As you can imagine, sailor’s coming off of a boat, that they’ve been on for months at a time, only had a couple things on their agenda upon reaching land. Alcohol was near the top of the list and ready for consumption up and down Centre. At the time, there were over 20 saloons at the turn of the century, but only one of them held the honor of being called the “Ship captains Bar,” and that was the Palace Saloon. However, the saloon – while a great one – was never intended to be a saloon from the beginning. It was originally opened as a haberdashery in 1878. It wasn’t until 1903 that Louis G. Hirth purchased the Prescott building and brought in the booze! With many other pubs around, it begged the question, “Why is the Palace so special?” There are several answers for such a question, but one rings truest to my ears. Authenticity. You can find alcohol in all sorts of places at any given time. When you are in the Palace, the booze sits second chair to the brilliance that is the decor. There are countless elegant features that give the saloon is boisterous character. The mosaic tiled floors, tin ceiling, and hand carved woodwork make for a nostalgic cocktail venue. The biggest impression that was made on me was that of the 40-foot bar that had been shipped in pieces and reconstructed on sight once it reached Fernandina Beach. You can take in the magnificent commissioned paintings that cover the walls, depicting scenes from the early days of the Palace. There was in the beginning, and still sits a strong since of family and comradery amongst the regular patrons of the Saloon. Hirth would simply bill the locals for their bar tabs monthly. For those just passing through, he purchased the brass cash register that still sits there as a decorative piece today.
It’s said that the Palace Saloon was the very last bar to close up shop on day that prohibition began. Mr. Hirth wasn’t going down easily. Being the businessman that he was, he intended to make as much money as possible before prohibition settled in. Hirth had the most ridiculous of throw downs and cleared over $60,000 in a single night’s run! There were many firsts at the Palace. Another one worth mention is that the saloon was the first hard liquor bar that would begin serving Coca-Cola, in 1905.
Its history isn’t the only thing that makes the Palace Saloon so special. It’s more about the feeling you get being inside and sitting at those stools cozied up to such a beautifully crafted bar. There’s no place better for catching up with friends over cocktails. A while back, The Sheffield family purchased the saloon and has expanded the quality of service they render at the Palace to Sheffields, Dogstar, Hammerhead, and the Surf Restaurant, bringing them all under the banner of the Amelia Island Hospitality Group (AIHG). Next time you are out and about in downtown Fernandina Beach, be sure to stop in for the friendliest of service and the chance to kick back for adult beverages, pirate-style!
Join us on a Beach Creek Tour any day at 2:30pm and after the cruise go and check out the Palace Saloon. (more…)