How Bars Ended up on Active Airport Runways


2 minute Read

How Bars Ended up on Active Airport Runways

Many Americans are familiar with getting a drink at the airport. Not so many Americans are familiar with walking to their neighborhood restaurant bar and watching planes roll down the street to the takeoff at the local runway. But that’s exactly what happens at airparks (or fly-in communities), which are residential areas designed for people who own personal planes.

There are more than 600 airparks in the U.S., according to Living With Your Plane, a directory of airparks and airpark accommodations. More than 70 of them are in Florida and there are more than 65 in Texas, but it’s not limited to the South. Washington State has more than 50. All of them, however, are essentially your typical self-sustaining community — restaurants and restaurant bars included.

At the Spruce Creek Fly-in Community, one of the largest in Florida, an Italian-American restaurant bar called the Downwind Restaurant sits near the local runway. An outdoor patio offers seating and tables for people to kick back and have a drink while watching their neighbors take off and land. The bar portion, called Sky Bar, is a full bar with beer, wine, and cocktails made by the community’s very own mixologist.

“Most of the time the best things in life are the hardest to get to,” the Downwind Restaurant writes on its website. “So come on over and give us a try, I guarantee it will be worth the trip.”

Just like your local bar, Sky Bar has specials like Martini Tuesdays, Margarita Wednesdays, Captain & Coke Thursdays, and Bloody Sundays. Just, you know, the whole plane thing. As long as none of the patrons are getting into the cockpit after the bar, it’s a raging good time. And you can expect it to be a much better experience than being stuck in a regular airport bar — even the best airport bars.

Airpark communities first came about after World War II, when the U.S. had plenty of airfields and even more pilots. In 1939, Flying Magazine writes, there were some 34,000 pilots in the U.S. By 1946, a year after WWII, there were more than 400,000. Like-minded pilots wanted to be surrounded by people who understood them. So in the late 1940s, the Civil Aeronautics Administration proposed the construction of 6,000 residential airparks, with the majority of them based in the Southeast.

While only a tenth of that number was hit, the idea lives on. The airparks can have thousands of residents, or just a few in an isolated, tight-knit community. The largest, like Spruce Creek, have an 18-hole gold course and community doctors alongside 14 miles of taxiways and 30 miles of airplane-friendly roadways.

“We’re very popular because we’re close to a town,” Lenny Ohlsson, the owner of Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty, told Flying Magazine. “You can go outside our front gate and bank, go to the supermarket. You can do down another mile and get your heart replaced. There’s everything you need within five miles.”

Everything — including an airport bar right there next to the runway.

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