Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
September 1, 2012
No man is an island — and, obviously, the same applies to riverside watering holes.
It had been two years since I had ventured out to Wekiva Island, the utterly laid-back local bar tucked along the Wekiva River in Longwood. At that time, the Jimmy Buffett-style outpost had sparked controversy among environmentalists and local neighbors for its potential impact on the river's natural surroundings.
On my post-workday visit, the ambience hadn't been affected by the debate that ultimately allowed the Island to stay open. There was a handful of chatty locals gathered around the wooden bar, which looks like something the Skipper and the Professor might have constructed on Gilligan's Island.
A $3 draft beer was a nice complement to my dinner, a bellyful of brisket from the exceptional 4 Rivers Smokehouse, just east of Interstate 4 on State Road 434. Miraculously, there was no line of hungry diners out the door in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac's rain, so I was feeling pretty lucky.
That mood was bolstered at Wekiva Island, which still seems impressively remote despite being literally around the corner from the bustling traffic of the Sweetwater Oaks business corridor on Wekiva Springs Road. The island is tucked at the end of Miami Springs Drive, just three miles north of the State Road 434-Wekiva Springs Road intersection.
It's claim of island status is still a tenuous one, although a tiny canal off the river does snake around far enough to technically justify the distinction.
Wekiva Island (wekivaisland.com) occupies the site of the former Wekiva Springs Marina, which had fallen on hard times after a 1999 fire burned down the restaurant and put the dock out of commission.
The new place, established by Longwood businessman Bill Weinaug and his wife, Mary Sue, features spruced-up bathrooms and grounds, a sand volleyball court and a covered patio where acoustic musicians often play on weekends.
There are "Riverbana" cabanas available for daily rental from $75 to $200, which can include a canoe, water and ice. Otherwise, canoe and kayak rentals are available from $20 to $35 daily.
For details, visit wekivaisland.com, which touts a "green, carbon neutral riverside oasis."
Fortunately, that also makes it nice spot for a sunset beer.
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