By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer
Old Florida is fast disappearing on Anna Maria Island. The laid-back, kick your shoes off and do it tomorrow attitude is being replaced by over-scheduled lives, high speed Internet and trophy homes. But there is at least one holdout on the Island, a place that looks virtually the same as the day it was built in 1952 and plans on staying that way. Skinny’s Place, across from the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, is the quintessential Florida beach pub. If you want a burger and a beer within walking distance of the sand and surf, Skinny’s is the place to go.
The Freeman family has owned the building where Skinny’s is located since 1952 when the patriarch of the family, Skinny Freeman, built it as a seasonal business and winter getaway. Janice and Skinny Freeman fell in love with Anna Maria Island while honeymooning from Illinois in 1936, they vowed to return some day and establish a small restaurant. In 1952 with two small children in tow, they did and opened a little beach place called the Mid-Island Drive In. Every winter they came back to run their little place while their children attended Anna Maria Elementary and explored the yet to be developed Island. By the early 1960s, their children’s schedules and other business commitments made it more difficult to stay all winter, and they reluctantly decided to lease out their restaurant.
The Freeman’s continued to run their other restaurant in Illinois, but their hearts were in Anna Maria, where they would return every year. Eventually they moved for good in 1981 along with their daughter Jan and three grandchildren Clark, Estella and Maggie.
While Jan Freeman raised her children and worked at the school she formerly attended, Anna Maria Island Elementary, her father kept dreaming of reopening a restaurant at his original location. Five years ago, shortly after his death his family decided to fulfill his dream and opened Skinny’s Place as a final tribute to the man who made it all happen.
Today Skinny’s Place is exactly they way Skinny Freeman would have envisioned. Hearty burgers and chili, ice cold beer and classic sides of onion rings and curly fries are the mainstays of the menu, but patrons can also order chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, wine and soft drinks.
The popular beach pub is manned by Jan Freeman, and her three children along with a small staff of employees and friends. Even Grandma Janice Freeman, now 90 years old, helps out from time to time, as well as her son Gary Freeman and his family, who offer support and advice from their home in California.
Skinny’s Place will be celebrating its five year anniversary on Saturday, Dec. 22, from 11 am through 7:30 pm. There will be a tent in the parking lot, bands playing throughout the day, give-aways and specials.
The next time someone tells you that Old Florida is gone forever, just tell them to chill-out on the ice cold beer at Skinny’s Place and see how one man’s vision has kept tradition alive.
Across from the Manatee Public Beach
3901 Gulf Drive N.
Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.