After months of pandemic purgatory I am pleased to welcome the return of “the Singing Bartender” to Redd’s Fueling Station, located around the back of Sally’s By The Sea Store on 30A in Blue Mountain Beach. We recently had a chat with the bartender-server-hostess-cashier-entertainer and owner of the establishment, Helen “Redd” Vizard.
“That’s Redd with two D’s, one here and one here,” she says, slapping her chest – twice.
I asked her how she came to be the Singing Bartender. She started at the beginning. “I have been singing since I could talk. In fifth grade we did the Wizard of Oz. I wanted to play Dorothy, but when I auditioned they said I sang like a city girl. I’ve always been a belter. [She demonstrates her powerful voice]. In high school I did girls’ choir, concert choir, pop ensemble, like Glee. I did a little community theater in Tucson. Gilbert and Sullivan theater. So I have some theater background.”
Originally from New Jersey, Redd came to Florida for the first time in 1991, landing a job as ship’s purser on a floating casino boat in Key West. When her shift ended at the end of the day, she would gravitate to the microphone.
“They had a band upstairs and they had karaoke at the end of the night downstairs. I would go sing with the band for a couple songs, and then I would go sing karaoke for a couple of songs. This was when karaoke was getting really big.”
After a few years in the Keys she headed back to New Jersey. “I left in search of a nice straight man. Because there aren’t any down there. You know, with jobs and teeth and stuff like that.”
In the casinos of Atlantic City she learned how to multi-task, a skill that comes in handy when you’re trying to serve sweet potato fries, count change, and remember the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody all at once.
“I dealt craps, blackjack and roulette. I still have nightmares about it. You couldn’t put me back on a craps table. But what I did gain from that was another level of customer service because when you work for tips, and you really do have to be able to multi-task. When you learn to deal craps in New Jersey you have to take 150 hours of certification to learn the game. You only have to take 35 hours of certification to fly a Cessna.”
The cold drove her back to Florida in the mid-1990s, where she met her future husband, Paul. “He heard me sing one night at a karaoke place in Fort Lauderdale. I sang Rocket Man. And he said ‘Why are you a bartender? Why aren’t you a singer?’ ‘Well, because I need to make a living.’ From then on, whenever we went anywhere, he would put me in for songs under the name of Redd with two Ds.”
The couple moved permanently to South Walton about twelve years ago. Redd got a gig tending bar in the back of Sally’s store. Business was slow. “It was just a couple of local yocals sitting at the bar every night. I said, ‘Sally, I used to do this thing down in Key West where I would sing and bartend at the same time. I stole the idea from a couple of drag queens.’
Sally liked the idea and leased Redd the space in the back of the store. Fortuitously, the walls were already painted red. “It was Karma. It was meant to be. We started adding to the silliness and the tin signs and the gas station theme and the movie theme … it just took on a life of its own.”
I asked Redd for her top five sing-a longs. She struggled with that. “I can’t just do five. My go-tos on my Pandora playlist right now are Sting, Billy Joel, Elton John, David Bowie, Little Big Town (that just sort of happened recently). Then I mix in like the Talking Heads. Occasionally I throw in K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Harry Connick Jr., Frank Sinatra. My current favorite is Mack the Knife by Bobby Darren.”
Redd’s is open for dinner Tues-Sat. Redd sings on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Live entertainment on Fridays. She will be hosting a seven-year anniversary bash on June 20th. For more information and to listen to Redd’s rendition of Mack the Knife, visit www.reddsfuel.com.