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Think of seaside piers and you might well
have traumatic flashbacks of ‘kiss-me-quick’ hats, along with a quick flash of
bright, brash and breezy Blackpool or Brighton.
But forget the piers of this realm, stick
with the ‘B’ and head for the much more laid-back scenario of the piers around
Bradenton in Florida, starting with the obvious one at Bradenton Beach.
Like other same-name city/beach combinations along the glorious Gulf Coast, Bradenton Beach is a good few miles from big, booming Bradenton itself, the Manatee County capital with its bustling Downtown and business districts.
Village-style Bradenton Beach,which is also
listed as a ‘city’, despite being a community of only around 1,500, is across
from the mainland over on beautiful Anna Maria Island, only a couple of hundred
yards from the main Cortez Road drawbridge and its arrow-straight link to
big-town Bradenton on the other side of the Intra-Coastal Waterway.
Its picturesque, restored pier reaching out
into Sarasota Bay is a remnant of the original wooden bridge from the 1920s,
which was retained as a fishing pier when the new drawbridge was built nearly
50 years ago, and has been lovingly refurbished, complete with a new restaurant
in the locally-run Anna Maria Oyster Bar
It’s a great fishing spot, too, and there’s much more to it, but perhaps that can wait until after my next visit, which is coming up very soon, when I plan to stay in the heart of the village and soak up as much of that Old Florida feel as I can.
Instead of lingering there now, head to the
top end of the island, through the Holmes Beach settlement, to the ‘city’ of
Anna Maria - again, a quiet, up-market village full of tucked-away homes with
private moorings - and you reach two other signature piers, well loved by
locals and also popular focal points for many, many regular visitors,
especially returning ‘snowbirds’ fleeing the cold weather further north.
The Anna Maria City Pier dates back to 1910
and stretches more than 700ft out over crystal clear water to a restaurant
which is proud of its seafood, its happy hour, its live music and Bill the
jewellery-maker, whose intricate work is well worth a browse. The single-storey
restaurant has Greek-style see-through plastic screens which roll up to allow
al fresco dining with great views as far as the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across
the southern end of Tampa Bay, and there’s also a kiosk-style bar where you can
buy drinks and snacks if you don’t want a more formal sit-down feed.
Like almost every other pier I’ve come
across on the Gulf Coast, there’s special provision for anglers, and this one
is no exception, with a bait shop and decking all round for both serious and
playtime fishermen, with space enough to cast out as far as you can or just
dangle a line into a sea teeming with fish.
Look along the coast a few hundred yards
and just beyond Bayfront Park you can see another angling hotspot at the Rod and Reel Pier, this time sticking
out more than 350ft into the sea and with a two-storey wooden structure at the
end which houses all you need for a day-long relax.
The wooden walkway, made up of planks with touching memorial dedications, leads to a bait shop where you can also buy a day pass for a couple of dollars, which means you don’t have to buy a full fishing licence, compulsory in Florida, for sea as well as freshwater sport. There’s also an excellent bar, where you can buy substantial snacks, some pretty good beer and massive helpings of good-natured banter, tall fishing tales and maybe a smattering of local gossip.
There’s never a shortage of fishing tips,
either, but some anglers don’t need them. One day, a little girl about four
years old armed with a tiny, Walt Disney-merchandise ‘toy’ rod and reel was
pulling in fish as fast as her dad could put bait on her hook.
I was fishing next to her, and caught
nothing except a few amused looks, but then again, I told myself, I was just
there for the atmosphere and a meal in the bustling restaurant upstairs, with
great views over the island and the constantly-active seascape full of boats
Not surprisingly, the restaurant specialises in fish, and the kitchen would have been happy to prepare and dish up anything I might have caught, so I promised myself I would try harder next time. And maybe buy a little pink fishing rod.
I paved the way by buying a licence so that
I could fish anywhere in the state, which turned out to be an expedition in
A rather dull Sunday morning meant time to kill, but with major bait and tackle shops closed, my only other option was a large out-of-town store not unrelated to Asda.
After locating a deserted sports gear
department, complete with glass cases full of guns and ammunition, I eventually
managed to track down an assistant, who disappeared to summon help as he didn’t
know how to use the licence machine. After about 20 minutes, along came an assistant
manager, yawning and rubbing his eyes as he tried to figure out my ID.
I wish I could put over his languid, Deep South drawl as he explained: “I’ve been asleep in the office. I just sat in the manager’s recliner and that was it”.
I could hardly keep a straight face as he
tried and failed to input my details, seemingly because I was a Brit, so he
sent for even more help, before struggling to serve a fellow customer trying to
buy a shotgun as a surprise prezzy for her husband! She never did get the gun, because she
apparently smelled of alcohol, but I did finally get a fishing licence and by
then I could have done with a drink myself. Sadly, my permit shows my middle
name as my surname, but I hadn’t the heart or the time to go through the
rigmarole of having it cancelled and re-issued. A grinning Park Ranger later
told me that the chances of being asked for it are relatively slim, but then I
might have a splendid bit of cabaret to look forward to when I have it renewed.
Still on the mainland, it was back to the
delights of Bradenton’s celebrated 1.5-mile Riverwalk, a showcase for artwork
and fun which I reached by walking down Old Main Street from the Village of the
Arts district. The Riverwalk comes
complete with, yes, a fishing pier, reaching out into the Manatee River
estuary, but this time, I left my fishing gear in the car and was ‘smart
casual’ as I went to meet a friend at the Pier
22 restaurant by the marina.
The Memorial Pier began life back to 1878
and its impressive Spanish-style two-storey building was constructed in 1928
and dedicated to the memory of more than 200 Manatee County men who died in the
First World War.
It was once the home of Manatee’s first
radio station, among other things, and now the riverfront top floor is a posh
ballroom, with the former shipping warehouse below a rather nice ‘upscale yet
casual eatery’ with a tree-shaded patio and firepit, which serves interesting
seafood and sushi, all of it prepared
Bradenton does have a heck of a lot to
offer - you could say there’s plenty more to peer at.
David Graham visited Bradenton as part of an extended trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, flying with Virgin Atlantic and then hotel-hopping while based in Sarasota, mostly using independent Best Western hotels booked in advance.
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