The Offshore Mischief Dens of Miami's '60s Sinners

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Nov. 7 2013 9:46 AM

Beer, Bait, and Bikinis: The Colorful History of Miami's Off-Shore Stiltsville

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

In 1933, a Miami man famous for his chowder -- "Crawfish" Eddie, they called him -- constructed a wooden shack on stilts a mile offshore. Built during the last gasp of prohibition, the shack soon attracted drinkers and gamblers, who chased their beers and poker hands with a bowl of homemade chowder.

Crawfish Eddie's was the first shack in Stiltsville, a hodgepodge collection of offshore houses that became a playground for Miami's coolest sinners. After a few of Eddie's friends had built neighboring shacks, the Quarterdeck Club, an invite-only gentleman's establishment, appeared in 1941.

Advertisement

Fishing buddies would boat between buildings to drink, dine, and cast their lines into the shallow waters from the Quarterdeck's front dock. A LIFE magazine article from 1941 noted that club members fished with a flexible approach: "When fish spurn bait," it read, "a versatile sportsman can often kill them by well-aimed gunfire." 

The early 1960s was boom time for Stiltsville. Twenty-seven shacks crowded the sand flats, and the new Bikini Club offered free drinks for women in two-pieces and a secluded sun deck for naked lounging.

The boom, however, was swiftly followed by busts both legal and meteorological. The vice squad raided the Bikini Club and shuttered it for operating without a liquor license and possessing 40 unauthorized, undersized, out-of-season crawfish. Then came Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which swept away all but half-a-dozen shacks. 

Many were rebuilt, but by this time the state's patience for Stiltsville shenanigans was wearing thin. Florida issued formal leases to the shack owners with an expiry date of 1999, declaring that any remaining on that date would need to be removed. When the crucial year finally arrived -- after Hurricane Andrew had decimated all but seven of the stilt houses -- community support helped Stiltsville owners to negotiate a deal with the government. The shacks were saved.

The houses now lie within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park and are co-managed by the National Parks Service and the Stiltsville Trust. If you're looking for a unique place to host a party, you can rent one of the properties for a night.

Stilt villages around the world:


View Stiltsville in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.