By Charmaine Engelsman-Robins
Threading neatly through the southern end of Siesta Key is Midnight Pass Road, a winding two-lane drive named for what was an adjacent natural waterway created hundreds of years ago by Mother Nature, then destroyed in the early 1980s by two self-serving humans determined to live where they pleased. The sad saga in Siesta Key history has been told many times in many places, perhaps best in this very publication by my friend and former editor, the late/great journalist extraordinaire, Paul Roat.
Despite the waterway’s tragic story, the road bearing its name goes on forever … or so it may seem. Whatever you do, don’t turn back or you’ll miss something wonderful. There is an end in sight so just enjoy the wonderful excursion. Drive south, south, and still further south on this winding, tree-shrouded road (extra points for those in convertibles or on motorcycles) and eventually you’ll find yourself at Turtle Beach Bar and Grill, a bay front, boat-accessible (inter-coastal waterway marker 48) dog-friendly (on the deck section) oozingly-tropical thatch-roofed throwback old-Florida island restaurant and bar with affordable eats and a Thursday through Sunday Happy Hour side of live music for your listening and deck-dancing pleasure.
It’s a friendly, laid-back atmosphere where a cheerful, welcoming staff serves a rather extensive pub menu; boasting, among other offerings, what has been named the area’s best burger, there are also some vegetarian and gluten-free choices, and $3.99 happy hour appetizer specials from 3 to 6 p.m. The Gulf breezes, salt air, and spectacular sunsets are included at no extra charge.
A first look at this castaway-ish venue may belie its silent secret: while it certainly bears no resemblance to a high-tech/pitch-perfect, finely tuned band shell or concert hall, it features some of the best acoustics available for performers and listeners alike. The cushy thatch roof absorbs enough ambient noise to make a four hour gig a little easier on a solo vocalist, while allowing listeners to listen and converse without having to strain their ears or vocal chords. This rare attribute, pointed out to us by Sunday night special entertainer B. C. Hathaway, is one part of what has made Turtle’s his favorite place to play, a privilege he says he’ll thankfully continue “for as long as they’ll have me.” And this man has played a lot of rooms all over the country over the years.
In a rocky start, Texas born B.C. faced a future without his mother; she died the day after he was born. He and his older sister grew up in what was called a “Children’s’ Home,” with its own self-contained school, then “graduated” into the open world at 18 years old. B.C. says he thanks God for that upbringing and remembers it fondly. It was there that he and some of the other boys sang (under duress at first) in what had formerly been an all-girls glee club, and where he bought his first guitar from a fellow resident “for four dollars,” he laughs, adding wryly “and it was worth about fifty cents.” But it was a great investment, fueling what would turn out to be a lifelong love of music, an amazing career, and a constant source of joy.
In 1973, B.C’s agent booked him into a Tampa gig, at the end of which he called to query if the singer might like to extend his Florida stay by playing a marina club in a city slightly farther south: Sarasota. The town was not as yet “on the map,” but it sounded good so B.C. accepted, never dreaming he would fall in love with the area and the “extended gig” would turn into many, many southwest Florida gigs that would both last and sustain him for the rest of his life. B.C. finally came off the road where he’d lived for so long, to a home of his own where he could settle down and sleep in the same bed every night… quite a novelty for someone who had spent his childhood in a group home and his young adult life on the road. This certainly isn’t lost on him; B.C. says “I thank God for every day, I love it here. I am so blessed.”
So that’s how this seasoned entertainer ended up at the end of Midnight Pass Road some 45 years later to entertain the crowds at Turtle Beach Bar and Grill every Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. The music is, as B.C.’s life was, varied. In the course of an evening you may enjoy some old time “real country,” some Big Band tunes, a few Latin rhythms, and of course the 50s and 60s classic rock that is the soundtrack of every Boomer’s life. In a locale like Siesta that draws people of all ages and backgrounds, from all walks of life and every part of not only the country but the world, entertainers[iii] need a wide repertoire. B.C. has just what the club owners search for when choosing entertainers who will keep the customers happy and coming back for more. And as B.C. says, he’s happy to do it for as long as they’ll let him, so meander down Midnight Pass to the south end of Siesta and enjoy it with him.
Also appearing at Turtle Beach Bar and grill for this month’s Happy Hours: Patty Highland on Thursday and Saturday; Captain Dave on Fridays.
Charmaine Engelsman-Robins is a Chicago-born, award-winning writer of screenplays and articles, including a 10 year stint writing for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. She has lived in SW FL most of her life and, as an animal rescuer, has occasionally been forced to support this work with temporary straight jobs that she lists on a secret “resume” titled “My Little List of Things I Never Want To Have To Do Again.” She won’t have to if you keep reading her articles, and she thanks you all very much for saving her from that horrible fate.