Cocktails in Paradise

Where to find the best rum-soaked drinks along the Alabama Gulf Coast

Story by Erin Z. Bass

Boat drinks
Waitress, I need two more boat drinks
Then I’m headin’ south ‘fore my dream shrinks
I gotta go where it’s warm …

Songwriter Jimmy Buffett coined the term “boat drinks” in his 1979 song by the same name. Otherwise known as cocktails garnished with umbrellas, and often containing rum and fruit juice, boat drinks are a summer staple—especially in the Gulf South. You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant or bar in neighboring Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, that doesn’t serve some type of rum-flavored drink. These warm Gulf waters and white sand beaches are the perfect backdrop for sipping a summer concoction.

A favorite vacation destination for folks driving in from surrounding states like Louisiana and Mississippi and even the Midwest, the area touts its signature cocktail the Bushwhacker. A blend of dark rum, Kahlua, crème de cacao and milk, this creamy drink is said to have been invented at a bar in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was named after a visiting guest’s dog “Bushwhack” and eventually made its way to the Sandshaker Beach Bar in Pensacola, Florida, just 45 minutes from Orange Beach.

Photo by Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

Despite owing its name to a dog, the Bushwhacker could be said to sneak up on you and do battle with your sobriety just as the guerrilla bushwhackers did to rural areas during the Civil War. Some versions contain up to 75 percent alcohol.

Seasoned beach-goers know that their limit should be no more than two Bushwhackers at a time, especially when combined with sand and sun, not to mention the calories. U.S. President Barack Obama sipped just one at Tacky Jacks restaurant in 2010 after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The legendary Flora-Bama Lounge, which has the self-proclaimed title “Home of the Bushwacker,” is located on the border between Alabama and Florida and makes a tasty version that can be sipped in one of its five bars or out on the beach.

Many beach or bayside hangouts serve a version of the boat drink in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Built out of shipping containers, The Gulf overlooks scenic Perdido Pass and has its own white sand beach. Its signature cocktail is the colorful Surf’s Up made with Malibu Coconut Rum, peach schapps, Blue Curaçao and pineapple and cranberry juices. Ingredients are layered in a clear glass, resulting in a drink that’s as beautiful as it is tasty. An order of Smoked Tuna Dip or a fresh Grouper Sandwich is a nice accompaniment, best enjoyed at the open-air bar or sitting on a beachside sofa.

Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy, has her own take on boat drinks at her restaurant LuLu’s in Gulf Shores. Her Bushwhacker blends vanilla ice cream, coffee liqueur and coconut rum, but it’s the Jet Ski Killer that will really soothe the sunburn at LuLu’s. Margaritaville Spiced Rum, Cruzan Coconut Rum, Blue Curaçao, banana puree and pina colada mix combine in this concoction that the menu warns will “sneak up on you.” Pair one with a Cheeseburger in Paradise or starter of Fried Green Tomatoes so you don’t go overboard.

No matter where you choose to sip in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, rest assured the rum will be flowing and the view postcard-worthy. Sometimes you gotta go where it’s warm….

Photo by Erin Z Bass

Surf’s Up Recipe

  • 1 oz. Malibu Coconut Rum

  • 1 oz. peach schnapps

  • 0.5 oz. Blue Curacao

  • 2 oz. pineapple juice

  • 1 oz. cranberry juice

Put ice in a glass then pour in the Blue Curaçao, Malibu, peach schapps, pineapple juice (in order) and lastly the cranberry juice. Garnish with a fresh orange wedge.

Erin Z. Bass


Erin Z. Bass is editor/publisher of She lives and writes in Lafayette, La.