The smell of fresh fish, salt in the air, smiling faces, warm breeze, children laughing – these were all common elements found in decades past at what had been dubbed the “City Pier” on Panama City Beach. Located a couple miles east of Highway 79, the City Pier used to be called Dan Russell Municipal Pier, but has since found a new name. But, we’ll get to that in a moment.
The Dan Russell Pier was home to many exciting summer memories, thousands of plates of fish and stood as an icon for decades. In 2004 and 2005, the active hurricane seasons ravaged the structural components, all but closing it down completely. Portions at the end of the pier were so badly damaged that permanent gates were built to keep pedestrians away. The pier remained in this tattered state for a few years while a plan was formulated to make this a destination worth visiting again.
Fast forward to summer 2009 – the “City Pier” greeted Panama City Beach with another Grand Opening for the Fourth of July weekend that was written in spectator’s memory books as the greatest July 4th celebration ever. Tens of thousands congregated in Pier Park, right across Front Beach Road for live music, entertainment and a whole mess of food and shopping. The pier was back, with a new name, the Russell Fields Pier, and it extends more than a quarter mile out into the emerald green waters of the Gulf. But, the pier was just one component, one part of the memories. Sure, it was the landmark, but there was still something missing.
One year after the grand opening of Russell Fields Pier, for July 4th weekend, the “amenities” at the foot of the pier was open and ready to host concourses of spectators for the Pier Park Star Spangled Spectacular fireworks show. The pier alone was a source of enjoyment, memories, spectatorship, but without the amenities, it was just a pier, not a destination. The plans all along included a cafe, bait shop, beach services, restroom facilities, and a huge deck, and now it’s here.
As you walk onto the expansive dark red-stained deck, you notice the vibrant colors, reminiscent of the adjacent Pier Park architecture. The smell of fresh grouper sandwiches drifts through the air, luring you into Hook’d, the beach-front cafe with gulf-view dining. With a full bar and a menu that rivals that of a full blown restaurant, your appetite is sure to be pleased here.
Memories of old can be memories of new. Generations have been coming to the beaches of Panama City Beach for as long as there have been roads. Grandparents and grandkids alike will surely ponder the time they spent at this Panama City Beach icon for years to come.