PUNTA GORDA — Biehl’s Slip Not Lounge has been in business for 60 years, first operated by Danny Biehl’s parents before he and his wife, Barbara, took over in 1997.
The bar and restaurant in the little building on U.S. 41 in Punta Gorda has a large and devoted clientele, drawn there by its laid-back atmosphere, low-priced drinks, live entertainment, and an outside patio featuring the Shipwreck Bar, a lighthouse and neon palm trees, among other oddities.
Hundreds of loyal customers showed up on Labor Day to celebrate the Slip Not’s 60th anniversary, held the day before the Biehls signed final sale documents turning the place over to new owner Scott Cook. They came for the usual good time to be had there, this day in the form of cheap drinks, free food and live music, but most of all they came to honor Danny and Barbara, whose community spirit and constant presence at the Slip Not makes the “Cheers” bar of TV fame seem like an anonymous airport bar.
Son Kevin, who was tending bar in the Shipwreck, said of the frequent fundraisers the Biehls hosted at the Slip Not, “Nobody in town has done more for people and charities than they have.”
Neither Biehl could walk more than two or three steps without being embraced by longtime customers with tears in their eyes. Everyone had a camera, and everyone wanted a photo of the Biehls as a keepsake.
Marcia Lee, who was tearing up and snapping away before the cake-cutting, explained why. She said, “I’ve been coming here since 1960. I went to high school with Danny, and my mother and father used to work for Danny’s mother and father.”
The tears were flowing both ways. Even the stoic Danny could be seen doing a little sniffling on occasion, and Barbara has been crying for days.
Twenty-year employee Sharon Fultz, said, “When she’s not crying like a baby, she’s jumping up and down with excitement.”
Barbara said of her tears, “I’ve been here 44 years on this property, and it’s just a part of me. I’m ready — we’re both ready — but it’s so bittersweet. This has been like a marriage to the Slip Not. It’s been 24/7, 365 days a year. In 17 years, we haven’t had a holiday off.”
Danny plans to start air-boat fishing again, and typically was more worried about how someone else would handle the move out of the Slip Not.
“I’m afraid it’s going to be hard on our dog, Sheena,” he said.
Barbara wants to make up for all those years of constant work with some trips. She’s taking Danny, who doesn’t travel well and claims to have seen more of Vietnam during his military service than he has of the United States, on a month-long visit to their home in North Carolina.
She also has designs on seeing the mountains and desert out west, even though she once swore she would never take Danny on a vacation trip again.
“I took him on a cruise,” she said. “He asked the crew if he could help them paint the ship, and he couldn’t understand why they said no. He’s such a workaholic.”
Kevin, who has worked at the bar all his adult life, is as qualified as anybody to predict how his mother and father will fare without the Slip Not to worry about.
“Everything will work out,” he said. “It will be different for them; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them idle, but it’s definitely well-earned and well-deserved.”