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Alabama Jack’s: Classic way to start a trip to Florida Keys

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.

Alabama Jack's overlooks a canal lined with mangroves next door to a wildlife refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Alabama Jack’s overlooks a canal lined with mangroves next door to a wildlife refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Conch fritters and all things fried on the menu at Alabama Jack's near Key Largo. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Conch fritters and all things fried on the menu at Alabama Jack’s near Key Largo. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 attracts motorcyclists, but this is a family-friendly fish shack.
Alabama Jack’s attracts motorcyclists, but this is a family-friendly fish shack.

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.

Read the complete Alabama Jack’s history by noted Keys historian Jerry Wilkerson.

Vintage sign at Alabama Jack's on Card Sound Road. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Vintage sign at Alabama Jack’s on Card Sound Road. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Here’s what folks say about it on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Is Alabama Jack’s pet friendly? The restaurant allows only service animals.

Can I arrive by boat? Yes, docking is available.

Alabama Jack’s menu

Red-wing blackbirds make pretty beggars at Alabama Jacks. (Photo: David Blasco)
Red-wing blackbirds make pretty beggars at Alabama Jack’s. (Photo: David Blasco)

Alabama Jack’s
58000 Card Sound Road

Resources for planning a visit

Sign welcoming motorcycles at Alabama Jacks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Sign welcoming motorcycles at Alabama Jac’ks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Things to do in Key Largo and the Upper Keys

Tony DeSouza

Monday 20th of January 2020

Visited in January 2020. Great stop we enjoyed. Key West was maybe a littld overrated but we live in Hawaii so our standards are high. Food was great, people friendly. Same old shopping....homogenization courtesy corporate retail. Location bejng driveable is ! Bjg plus.

Tuesday 20th of August 2019

Bonnie, Here in the Fl. Keys we are quite happy with our unique restaurants amongst other things, so much so that we pay much higher prices to live here. Not sure if you've priced any homes here or groceries, etc. Keys residents like my self are more than happy for nonresidents to stay elsewhere. Our traffic is unreal with mainlanders and everyone else coming and filling our streets as well as our waters, and leaving their trash behind. So we will keep our mosquitos and restaurants and for those of you who don't like them please do not come here we are over loaded with tourist.


Monday 4th of November 2019

Dear Anon, You live in Florida. In The Keys, no less. Deal with it...

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