If you were out and about on Fort Myers Beach on the evening of Thursday, September 19, you may have felt a sense of Deja vu all over again, as seven of the island’s most popular bars and restaurants experienced a trip through the “Way Back Machine” from 1960s and 1970s, with a cast of characters from iconic television shows, “M*A*S*H,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Laugh-In,” and “Hawaii Five-0!” What you actually saw, however, were roughly 100 residents and visitors reveling on the 17th annual Tapa Hop, sponsored by the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Each year, the Chamber selects unique themes for its trolleys, and strongly encourages Tapa Hop attendees to dress in appropriate costumes. That meant that various versions of Hawkeye and Hot Lips, Ginger and Mary Anne, Rowan & Martin, and Steve and Dan-O assembled at the Fish-Tale Waterfront Restaurant at Santini Marina Plaza to begin the Hop, savoring the first of what would ultimately become a plethora of “tapas” – a Spanish word for a snack or appetizer, usually served with beer or wine – and our assemblage absolutely added mixed drinks to that definition!
After congregating at Fish-Tale as a group, we split off into our four individually-decorated theme trolleys to go in smaller numbers to Bayfront Bistro & Bar, Junkanoo on The Beach, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Pete’s Time Out and Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery, for roughly 45 minute intervals at each, to enjoy a drink and plate of tapas at every one. All of us would not converge again until the end when, back at Santini, we met at the South Beach Grille for raffles and prizes, along with additional food, drink and music.
Along the way, Tapa Hoppers sampled more delicious eats than at Grandma’s house on Christmas Day, including heavy doses of sandwiches and wraps, chicken wings, meatballs, lasagna, fried rice, shrimp, fish, pate, chicken fingers, breaded mushrooms, queso & chips and more. If you went home hungry – and that seemed an impossibility – you had no one to blame but yourself! On the liquid side, each person was responsible for their own libations, as well any raffle tickets they purchased. In addition to the outstanding food was terrific comradery aboard the trolleys. While almost everyone knew at least a few folks on each vehicle, by the end of the night, helped by generous portions of “Conversation Lubrication,” the entire group became fast friends.
On top of the food, friends and frivolity, the weather was simply gorgeous – partly sunny, with a fantastic sea breeze that made it feel at least 10 degrees cooler than the low 90s at the start of the Tapa Hop, and by its conclusion, there was not a cloud in the mid-evening sky. To pass the time between restaurants, there were raffles and Jell-O shots aboard each trolley and – at least in the case of the “Hawaii Five-0” caravan – plenty of singing!
Amy, Amy, Amy & Emily
Amy was part of the “Team Amy & Emily,” composed of Amy, Amy, Amy and Emily, who were all from Indiana and vacationing on Fort Myers Beach for the week. “I found out about the Tapa Hop the morning of the event, while reading ‘The Island Sand Paper’ by the swimming pool,” said Amy, not to be confused with Amy or Amy! “I thought it sounded like a great time, so I called the Fort Myers Beach Chamber and they still had a few openings, so we registered and they assigned us to the ‘Hawaii Five-0’ trolley. I am so happy we learned about the Tapa Hop because we are visiting some great places we never knew were here, like Doc Ford’s on the other side of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, as well as discovering the other bars and restaurants that are right next to it. Right this minute, even though our families are all back home, we aren’t missing anything in Indiana!”
One of the highlights on the “Hawaii Five-0” trolley was when the music system suddenly blared out the song, “Amie,” by Pure Prairie League and everyone joined in with the Amies and Emily in singing it out so loud that people all along Estero Boulevard must have been “fallin’ in and out of love” with our voices.
Council member Rexann Hosafros attended her first Tapa Hop with her husband, Carmine Pacchino, and friends Kathleen and Jim Sinderson. “I am a foodie so I like to try new dishes,” she explained. “We had never gone on a Tapa Hop before, but it was a whole lot of fun, so I encourage all other Islanders to go on a future one. We had a lot of laughs singing on our trolley the entire time, with the ‘Amie’ song especially terrific!”
Looking Forward to #18
“I have received four ‘Thank You’ notes so far from people who were on the Tapa Hop,” stated Jacki Liszak, Executive Director of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, on the Monday after the event. “These folks wrote about what a great time they had, and just wanted to thank the FMB Chamber for hosting the Tapa Hop, and that has never happened before.”
While appreciative of all 7 participating restaurants, Jacki especially thanked the proprietors of Nervous Nellie’s. “Originally, the plan was for the Tapa Hop to go to The Salty Crab, but they were not quite done yet with their renovations, so at literally the last minute, we reached out to Nervous Nellie’s and yelled, ‘Help!’ They jumped right in, filled our void, provided fantastic food, and everyone on all the trolleys raved about that stop. In my personal opinion, all the venues were fun, the food delicious, the trolley drivers and captains outgoing, the weather outstanding, and the costumes creative, so we already are looking forward to the 18th annual Tapa Hop in 2020!”
By Gary Mooney