For many, it’s the traditional way to start a Florida Keys experience: take lonely, wild Card Sound Road from Homestead to Key Largo and stop at Alabama Jack’s for conch fritters on the way.
Alabama Jack’s has been an outpost in this mosquito-filled crocodile habitat since 1947.
It’s the sort of dive bar and restaurant that would get mentioned in a Jimmy Buffett song. (But I don’t think it ever has.) Alabama Jack’s is long on atmosphere and short on pretense. We’re talking plastic utensils and a roll of paper towels on the table.
But the view overlooking a canal and the mangroves is beautiful and the prettiest red-wing blackbirds flit around the railing looking for a fallen French fry. In the water, hundreds of fish are visible circling with similar ambitions. It’s decorated with license plates and it looks like the next hurricane will blow this shack away. Of course, it has survived dozens.
We stopped here recently in order to update the Florida Rambler story about Alabama Jack’s.
If you’ve been around as long as Alabama Jack’s, half the world says “it’s not what it used to be.”
I can’t vouch for what it was like in the 1950s, but if you stopped at the restaurant/bar a decade ago, I can assure you: it hasn’t changed much. And that’s a good thing.
Don’t stop at Alabama Jack’s because of the food. My conch fritters (for which Alabama Jack’s is famous) were OK; the sweet potato fries were good. My husband really liked his mahi reuben.
No. Stop here because it’s authentic, and the world is full of places along busy suburban highways that are trying to capture instantly the 70-year-old patina and ambiance that Alabama Jack’s comes by naturally.
You can’t compete with the real deal, which is what Alabama Jack’s is.
It’s shabby and it’s proud.
Alabama Jack’s history
Alabama Jack’s is located in what used to be the fishing community of Card Sound. It’s right next to the toll booth for Card Sound Road, which is now your ordinary Sun Pass station. Until 2017, there was a human being stationed there, a retro touch, now a thing of the past. The toll is $1.50.
There was a real Alabama Jack, but it turns out he was actually from Georgia. Apparently on one of his first jobs, he was given the nickname to distinguish him from other men named Jack, perhaps because of his southern accent.
His real name wis Jack Stratham and he had been a riveter working on the Empire State building; then a worked on pipelines/refineries around the world. His wife Alice became well-known for her crab cakes. They bought the lease for the property on Card Sound Road to use as a weekend place after World War II to keep their boat. Out of this beginning grew Alabama’s Jack’s restaurant. Jack Stratham died in 1977.
The Alabama Jack’s experience
The best time to experience the place is on the weekends when a live honky tonk band “The Card Sound Machine” plays from 2 to 5 p.m. and the place fills up with cloggers and dancers and day trippers from Miami. (The band has been playing weekends for about 30 years.) Motorcycles line up out front and you may have to wait for a table and/or food.
The restaurant is completely open air, and thus closes at dusk, when the mosquitos would drive you away anyway. (Also, there are no lights on Card Sound Road.)
Alabama Jack’s was named one of the manliest restaurants in America by the Travel Channel – but I don’t hold that against it.
Favorites include the conch chowder, conch fritters, smoked fish spread, shrimp-and-crab spring rolls, a variety of sandwiches and seafood platters.
Is Alabama Jack’s pet friendly? The restaurant allows only service animals.
Can I arrive by boat? Yes, docking is available.
58000 Card Sound Road
Resources for planning a visit
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
- Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway
- Free beaches in the Florida Keys
Things to do in Key Largo and the Upper Keys
- Key Largo is a half-hour away, with great snorkeling possibilities at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
- An interesting stop in Key Largo is the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.
- Original African Queen boat in Key Largo
- Things to do in Key Largo
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.