I drove by the old green Colony Beach and Tennis Resort sign on Longboat Key recently. The resort has been closed for years, but that sign still stands. In the summer of 1978, it was my landmark as I turned into the driveway, headed to work as a cocktail waitress.
I was a 20-year-old New College student living in the nearby Neptune Apartment, paying $225 a month in rent. My roommate, another New College student, was working as a cocktail waitress at the Colony, making $50 to $100 a night in tips, a fortune to us back then. I didn’t have any idea what a Manhattan or a vodka martini was, but when she said she could get me a job at the Colony, I didn’t hesitate.
I also knew nothing about the Colony’s glamorous reputation as a hangout for writers and artists in the ’50s and ’60s. By 1978—about nine years after Murf Klauber bought the resort, which was developed in the 1950s—it attracted the town’s power crowd as well as visitors. It had a beachy elegance all its own. The roads were sand, not asphalt, and trees and flowers spilled out from around the villas. The Gulf of Mexico glittered in the distance, and the courts were packed with middle-aged people brimming with vitality, hitting balls with gorgeous young pros.
We worked in the building closest to the Gulf, overlooking a pool filled with screaming, splashing children. The bar was to the left as you walked in and curved around a piano that someone was always playing. The bartender had 1970s sideburns and tolerated our ignorance when we mispronounced Grand Marnier or had to ask a customer to spell sambuca. “And you want that with a fly?” I’d ask, clueless about the espresso bean often added to the drink back then.
I wore my hair long and straight and my dresses tight and never needed make-up after a day in the sun. I eventually learned my drinks and the regulars. Realtor Michael Saunders would breeze in around sunset for a margarita with Murf, whom she was dating at the time. Tennis guru Nick Bollettieri had a coterie of followers, most often beautiful women. After a day on the courts, the guests would come in their Fila outfits for a cocktail.
The bar got busy once the dinner crowd began to file in. The men wore jackets and wide-collar printed shirts and the women’s sleeveless dresses showed off their tans. My roommate and I took drink orders and flirted with the customers and came home with enough cash to feel wealthy. We were young, happy and heedless, and it felt as if that slow, beautiful summer—and the Colony bar—would last forever.