Tacky Jack Hodges will be back on Sept. 19 to help celebrate what he started 40 years ago
By Fran Thompson
Jack Hodges remembers it was a Friday because Friday was delivery day at the Cotton Bayou Marina & Lounge and Jack drove over from Mobile that morning to deal with a delivery problem.
He was in the middle of admonishing an employee about separating upstairs (the bar) and downstairs (everything else) invoices when a lifelong friend named Bettie Shinault came up with the name.
“Bettie would come down and have a couple martinis in the afternoon. We had a lot of deliveries for the weekend and the tickets were all screwed up,’’ Hodges said.
“A friend of mine’s son was running the dock and Bettie walked up to me and said not to be fussing with that kid. She said I should call the place Tacky Jacks Tackle Store. I said that sounded good to me.
“It ended up being Tacky Jacks, and all of a sudden I became Tacky Jack, which probably suited me a little bit. Anyway, that’s how it all started.’’
Hodges (pictured) said he thinks this all happened in 1980.
Bettie passed away earlier this year, but Camille Warren agrees on the year and the fact that her sister thought Hodges sometimes did not use the manners his parents taught him.
Camille’s late husband John was Hodges’ best friend even before they enrolled at Murphy High School in Mobile.
Bettie, whose husband Charlie was a highly decorated WWII fighter pilot, was always proudly outspoken, according to her sister.
“We were more like cousins than friends. And that was certainly not the first time she told him he was being tacky,’’ Camille Warren said.
Hodges said he does not remember the exact date he bought the Cotton Bayou Marina. But it was definitely post Frederic (Sept. 12, 1979), the storm that started Pleasure Island’s building boom.
“I always fished out of Dauphin Island, but after Frederic blew the bridge down, the only way to fish would be to go to Dog River in Mobile,’’ Hodges said. “So I said to (friend) Jerry Phillips, ‘let’s ride over to Orange Beach and see if we can find a spot.’’’
Hodges and four other boat owning friends ended up at Cotton Bayou Marina. They kept their boats there even after the owners defaulted and the SBA took over operations.
Hodges said he and his friends turned the electricity and water back on and kept boats at the marina for about five months when a representative from an auction company showed up for a property assessment.
Hodges called the SBA “to find out what was going on,’’ and the next thing he knew, he was in the marina business.
He was already running successful body shops in Foley and Mobile (Hodges Auto Collision) when he decided to buy what he originally named the Cotton Bayou Marina & Lounge.
“I didn’t know how to spell marina, restaurant or lounge, but they quoted me a price and I bought the thing,’’ he said.
Just the process of securing a county license was a difficult affair, according to Hodges.
“The day I went up to Bay Minette, the lady asked if we were going to sell cokes. I said yes, and she said ‘you are going to need a soda fountain license.’ She asked if anybody was going to dance, and I said probably. She said, ‘well, you need a dance hall license.’ I ended up buying 21 licenses before I could open the place up. And I knew nothing about the business. The whole thing was fly by wire.’’
Still, Hodges knew he made a good purchase when a real estate agent almost immediately offered him $50K more than he paid. Hodges said he asked for $100K more, and that ended the conversation.
“We didn’t do mechanical, but we were a full service marina and sold bait and tackle downstairs,’’ he said.
Camille and John Warren, living in Birmingham at the time, helped their lifelong friend get open, with John working outside and Camille inside.
“There was so much work to do. It was awful. We took vacation time and came for two weeks,’’ Camille Warren said.
The only reason she knew there had even been a restaurant on the second floor was because of the large number of dirty chairs spread around.
She eventually came up with a plan to pay her children a quarter a chair to clean them up.
“That was the only way we were able to finish,’’ she said. “It looked like it had been vacant for years, but it could have been Frederic that shut it down.’’
Hodges said at capacity, his marina could accommodate 60 boats, including a couple of 60 ft. cruisers and a charter boat that docked directly in front of what is now the Tacky Jacks souvenir shop. Most of his outside seating was downstairs.
He said the channel out to the pass from Cotton Bayou ran right in front of the marina. It has shifted way south since then.
“We sold quite a bit of gas to charter captains, but after Labor Day you could roll it up,’’ he said. “We had 120 days to make it. I had good local business in the bar, but we would close the fuel dock Octoberish.’’
Hodges gave keys to his friends who kept fishing boats there all year and put them on the honor system.
Camille Warren, whose house sits on a West First Ave. lot in Gulf Shores that her family purchased in 1946, said Hodges was a very good cook and good hearted. And he never met a stranger.
“Jack had a good personality for that job,’’ she said. “Even now, you can’t go anywhere with him without him running into a few people he
Tacky Jack Hodges….
At her bequest, Hodges sponsored and hosted a hugely successful shrimp boil to raise money for the Child & Youth Division of the Alabama Rehabilitation Assn. during the group’s convention on Pleasure Island.
“There are some stories I could tell you about that place that were unreal,’’ Hodges said. “We didn’t have but one sheriff and you wouldn’t see him but about every two or three months. Everybody settled their own stuff.’’
Hodges said that although he was asked to do so, he did not run for mayor when Orange Beach was chartered in 1985. He does remember the day the late Ronnie Callaway was elected as the city’s first mayor.
Hodges’ three daughters all grew up playing and working around Tacky Jacks. One of them, Sandy, began bartending and managing there as soon as she turned 18, eventually marrying Dwayne Yassick, a musician in Pleasure Island’s most popular band at the time, Coop Deville. Sandy and Dwayne married on Phillips’ boat, The Glass Cutter, at the marina.
“It was more of a family place than a bar. But after 8 p.m., I would tell people they had to get a baby sitter. The kids needed to go home,’’ Hodges said. “Then it became a jumping joint. We always had pretty good bands.’’
Hodges said Tacky Jacks did not open for breakfast until after he sold the business to Marc and Elle Schorman in (he thinks) 1990.
“Elle was the one who wanted to try doing breakfast,’’ he said.
He threw a big shabang to celebrate his last night as the official owner.
“We were supposed to close the next day and I told the new owners that whatever was left, you can have in the way of inventory. But we are going to have one helluva party before we leave. It was an affair to try to drink the bar dry. Everything was on the house,’’ he said.
“Marc and Elle had it until Ellie passed away with brain cancer and then Buddy (Skipper) wound up with it. He has had it ever since and has done a really good job with it.’’
Hodges ended up living in Orange Beach for more than 25 years split between two houses on Martinique and another on Corondolet.
He said personal circumstances led him to sell when he did.
“I had a good time and I met a lot of nice people that lived around there. It is a beautiful place. I probably could have sold it a dozen times to people who wanted to put condos there,’’ he said. “But my body shops were may main business. Tacky Jacks was a playhouse for me, and I had a good time with it. My mom says I was a rounder. But I tried to do what was right. My mom and dad taught me that.’’
Hodges still drops into the original Tacky Jacks when he is in Orange Beach. Sometimes he asks the servers about the restaurant’s history.
“Most of them think Tacky Jack was a parrot,’’ he said.
Hodges has downsized significantly since his days living in Orange Beach. He sold a 6000 sq. ft. house on Martinique Dr. and built a similar home with a barn and pool on three acres in Fairhope (The Hodges Hilton), where he lived and entertained his family for four years before deciding to completely downsize.
He currently lives in what he describes as an “assisted living RV park’’ in Fairhope in a tricked out 5th wheel.
“The rent is reasonable. There are nice people living here and there is no grass to cut,’’ he said.
The 5th wheel includes a wine cooler, a fire place, a center aisle, and a full sized refrigerator. He can control everything from the temperature inside to the awnings and slides outside with a few taps on his phone.
He was sitting on a recliner sharing a chicken salad sandwich with his dog Cocoa when the Mullet Wrapper caught up with him.
He said if he had not passed up on deals such as buying Sportsman Marina for $350K in the early 1980’s, he could be living in a condo penthouse. But he has no regrets, as even bypass and hip surgeries have not slowed him down or diminished his curiosity and zest for life.
“I can’t complain at all,’’ he said. “I’ve been damn lucky. And I am going to keep on having fun until they put me underneath that tarp. And when everybody leaves the cemetery, I want them to play Sinatra: ‘I did it my way.’’’
Pictured: (Page 10) TJ’s three waterfront locations; (Below) Jack’s daughter Sandy (a TJ’s manager) & husband Dwayne, (a TJ’s entertainer); Bettie Shinault, the woman who gave Tacky Jacks its name.