By Bruce Collier
G.I. Jade Tiki Bar & Bistro in Fort Walton Beach has been open just a few months. The restaurant sits on the harbor, at the Marker 21 Marina. There’s a main building with an inside bar and dining room, a dining and service bar area just behind that, and the tiki bar, right on the water.
There’s also an open-air space, with sand and picnic tables. In keeping with the name, you’ll see plenty of thatch, fronds and carved tiki figures. There’s also respect for the armed forces—a carefully tended memorial to a fallen soldier, placed in the sand. These cold evenings, the management has thoughtfully provided canopies and tent covers throughout, with space heaters to keep off the chill.
I stopped at G.I. Jade on a recent weekend. The main building looked to be pretty quiet inside, but the sound of laughter and cheering drew me toward the back. I passed by the service bar/dining area and was greeted by a server, who invited me to sit anywhere. People were seated at tables enjoying their meals (and the space heaters), but I was there just for drinks. The server directed me to the tiki bar, which sits on the dock, next to the Marker 21 sign. It too was wrapped for warmth.
The bar is square, with seats all around and the bartenders in the middle. There’s a TV at each end—Georgia was playing Auburn—and all but a few seats were occupied. The bar staff—Lisa and company—were busy taking care of a lively crowd, most of whom seemed to be Crimson Tide fans, which gave them license to cheer or boo both teams. And it wasn’t even six o’clock yet.
G.I. Jade’s dock bar has all the trappings of a beach or tiki bar, including a list of frozen daiquiris, though I did not see a menu of tiki cocktails—Suffering Bastards, Zombies, Mai Tais or assorted Don the Beachcomber libations served in the hollowed-out heads of gods. But since my November Beachcomber article was on overproof rums and related cocktails, I was okay taking a break.
I took a seat at the bar next to a guy who looked about my age. Unlike most of the customers, he was not drinking beer, but a bourbon and water. He wasn’t paying much attention to the game. I ordered a Dewar’s and water and we struck up a conversation. I’m not sure how they accomplished this, but we actually were able to have a conversation—something acoustical in the canopy, I guess.
It was the ideal bar conversation—whiskey, the impending single malt scotch tariff, the Decline of the West—interspersed with long, comfortable silences. I had a second drink, Knob Creek bourbon on the rocks. The bar configuration at G.I. Jade’s allows you to see your fellow drinkers, enabling communication—fan shouts of “Tie this s#%@ up!” and “I hate Auburn with a passion!”—with everyone within range.
A staff member came to the bar to pick up a drinks order. She looked vaguely familiar. Then I realized she was the woman on the bar sign—“G.I. Jade,” in military fatigues and bandanna. I was too far away to ask for confirmation, but the guy next to her did (I read his lips), and she gave a “yep, that’s me all right” sort of nod.
My acquaintance and I shook hands and he headed out. I had a last drink, a draft Shock Top Belgian White beer with a juicy garnish of orange. It was my first Shock Top, and I regret all the snarky comments I’ve made about it in the past. The football game was coming to an end, a husband and wife were necking more or less discreetly, and people were ordering snacks and plates.
The restaurant has a full menu (including kids’ meals), with starters, salads, baskets, tacos, “Po’ Girl” sandwiches, pizzas, steak and ribs, and pasta plates. The servers seem willing to take the food anywhere you’re sitting, so don’t be shy about pulling up a seat at the bar and chowing down.
G.I. Jade’s might be a little chilly here and there for the time being, but the staff all seems united in making customers welcome, warm and well topped-up.
G.I. Jade Tiki Bar & Bistro is located at 38 Miracle Strip Parkway SW in Fort Walton Beach and is open daily from 11 AM until 11 PM—midnight Saturdays and Sundays. The telephone number is 850-374-8454.