Along the sugar white sand coast of the original Panama City Beach, sits what remains of an old historical 1,000-foot pier opened to the public in 1936, at the time known as “The Panama City Beach Pier”. Over the past 80 years, this pier has seen the best and worst that life and nature have to offer. It’s witnessed people taking in the gulf air and crashing waves for the first time in their life, boys catching their first big fish, children laughing and running up and down the wooden boards, lovers kissing and saying, “I do, forever”, and families making memories year after year. But during Hurricane Flossie in 1956, the 1,000-foot pier lost a majority of its structure when a barge struck it by the blunt force of the tidal surges.
Following Hurricane Flossie, the remainder of the pier stayed intact. Over next several years it was exchanged by the hands of different entrepreneurs, witnessed nearby fires to adjacent buildings, and survived yet another hurricane, known as Eloise, in 1975. Eventually, the pier and the land it sits on was acquired by the Pier 99 Hotel next door and was turned into the Pier 99 Lounge. Bill Buskell, who was a managing partner with Pier 99 Hotel for several years, saw much more potential for this lounge. With determination and a mountain of faith, Mr. Buskell bought the Pier 99 lounge and started with a small sandwich & salad menu, and of course delicious tropical beverages. After 5 years of being in business as Pier 99 Lounge, Mr. Buskell decided to change the name of the business – a name from his most popular drink and a name that would eventually become recognized around the world – Pineapple Willy’s.
For the next 11 years, Mr. Buskell and his two sons began turning his dream of Pineapple Willy’s into a family tradition for thousands of families visiting the area each year. With the popularity of Pineapple Willy’s increasing every passing tourist season, business and life was great. But, after one busy season in 1995, another Hurricane named Opal hit the area leaving destruction and devastation behind. This was the hardest hit for Pineapple Willy’s to date, taking out much of the building, including the kitchen and bar. The old pier, however, remained again intact, losing only some of its wooden boards.
For many, this would be as easy time to throw in the towel, but for Mr. Buskell, this was a time to be the leader many speak of him to be, hold his head up, rebuild and push forward – and push forward he did. Pineapple Willy’s eventually reopened in 1996 and has continued to grow ever since. In 2007 Pineapple Willy’s opened its venue next door, introduced at the time as “The Pier Bar”, later named “Pineapple Willy’s Live”, and in 2019 renamed to “Willy’s Pier Bar” which is used as a waiting area for guests to enjoy refreshing appetizers and an ice-cold beverage while listening to some of the best local musicians in the area.
Much has changed over the years for what once was a 1,000-foot pier spanning into the Gulf of Mexico. Once a pier for sightseers and fishermen, the pier now serves as a dining area for Pineapple Willy’s with the most breathtaking view on the Gulf Coast. It may not be as young or as big as it once was, but one thing that has not nor will ever change for the pier at Pineapple Willy’s: it will forever be a tradition for generations to come on “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches”.