Ocala Farm Girl Turned Beach Bum
Beautiful and friendly Courtney Poole has the best job in the world, and she knows it. The weekday daytime bartender at Sunset Beach Tropical Grille, she does the 9-5 track like most people, only instead of a cubicle her office is the sun-kissed waters of the Gulf of Mexico – a space she shared with us on Tuesday afternoon when she agreed to be interviewed for our Bartenders of the Beach series – designed to introduce our readers to some of the island’s most creative cocktail creators who work long hours wearing many hats – therapists, matchmakers, taxi-dispatchers and occasionally marriage counselors.
“I was born in Ocala, and that’s where I started tending bar – at a place called Hops – in 2001,” Poole told us, as she handed beers to her regulars without missing a beat. “That was a real happening place at the time, and when I moved to Orlando I transferred with them.”
Courtney would spend the next eleven years in Orlando, with an interesting career tending bar at the Rain Forest Café in Downtown Disney when Hops closed, and a fun stint opening the T-Rex store. Orlando is also the place where she met her life partner, and ended up moving from the balmy climes of the Sunshine State to Philadelphia.
“Her family all live up there, and we wanted to be closer to all the nieces and nephews,” Poole told us. “Plus I got to work for the Cheesecake Factory, which was super cool because we handcrafted all our drinks – that’s where I learned to be really creative as a bartender.”
Courtney told us that she missed her family and missed the sun of her native state, so after awhile she persuaded her love to return south and the pair moved to Cape Coral.
“It was a family thing – whose family do we want to live closest to,” she said, laughing. “Mine won because we are closer to the beach!”
Poole says she was helping her partner with her professional pool job and thinking about returning to nursing school when she landed the gig at Sunset Beach shortly before they opened last November.
“I started here, I’ve got the best schedule – Monday through Friday days – and look at what I get to see every day,” she said, spreading her arms to encompass Sunset Beach’s breathtaking vista of the beach, water and pier. “I love it here! What I love most about bartending is meeting people and getting to know them, and working here I get to do that in such a beautiful setting.”
Courtney told us that while she still likes to get creative with her drinks, the most popular ones at Sunset Beach are tropical in variety – rum runners, pina coladas, strawberry daiquiris and margaritas being the most popular.
“At home, however, I mix my favorites – a simple spiced rum and orange juice, and pineapple margaritas with fresh pineapple,” she said.
So what does a girl from Ocala do during her free time? Considering that she grew up on a farm, it’s not surprising that she loves riding horses.
“We also love to fish – that’s our absolute favorite thing to do,” Courtney said. “We usually go to the Sanibel causeway because it’s like going to Sanibel but cheating since you don’t have to drive so far. The bay side is the best – it’s calmer and you can float while you fish.”
Another hobby that Courtney and her partner have is one that few people even know exists – they raise hermit crabs as pets.
“My partner went online and it said hermit crabs are friendly and like to have fun,” she told us, now laughing hysterically. “So now we have, like, six of them? And the little terrarium that they live in – seriously – is called a ‘Crabitat’. People like us who raise them are called ‘Crabbies’! I love it.”
Catch Courtney and her infectious smile weekdays at Sunset Beach’s wide, airy and cool new deck bar. Enjoy a cocktail and become utterly relaxed as the tropical breezes cool your face. And be sure to ask her about those hermit crabs!
Keri Hendry Weeg