The Bradenton Beach Moose Lodge Is the Largest in the World
Becoming a member of the Loyal Order of the Moose is pretty simple. You must pay a flat fee of $60 per year, you can’t be a felon or a terrorist, and you have to “profess a belief in a Supreme Being,” however you define that. Accept those terms, and you’ll receive travel, insurance and health discounts, connections to charitable organizations that care for children and retirees, plus access to more than 1,600 lodges across North America—including a private, members-only beach bar right on the sands of Anna Maria Island.
Moose Lodge 2188, as it is known, occupies a bright-blue, two-story building in Bradenton Beach that’s decorated with murals of octopi, manatees, coral reefs and a surfing moose. By membership numbers, it is the largest Moose lodge in the world, with roughly 14,500 dues-paying members. The next largest lodge claims 8,000.
JoAnn Thompson Quinn became a Moose in 2002. She had just moved to Bradenton Beach, where the notorious bar scene on Bridge Street could get pretty rough. Quinn says that when she started hanging out at the lodge, it was a beer-swilling, cigar-smoking men’s club, “somewhat chauvinistic,” she says. Still, Quinn loved it. “You were treated like family right at the get-go,” she says.
The first Moose fraternity was established in 1888 in Kentucky. Conceived as a men’s social club, it eventually grew to serve a charitable purpose as well. Dues would go to support Mooseheart Child City & School, a residential child care facility in Illinois that takes care of children who have lost their parents or been removed from their homes, as well as Moosehaven, a retirement community in Jacksonville.
Over the years, the Moose lodge vibe has changed, says Byron Dalton Sr., the lodge’s administrator. It’s more family-oriented and more egalitarian. For decades, women could join a Moose auxiliary group, but were not considered full voting members. In 2020, facing declining membership numbers, Moose leaders voted to merge the men’s and women’s groups.
“That has made a world of difference,” says Dalton, who credits the rule change for helping the lodge grow its membership rolls. Dalton estimates that about 50 percent of members are locals, and 50 percent are snowbirds or tourists. Members of other lodges can also pop in when they’re in town.
While the heart of the lodge might be its charitable mission ($38 of your $60 dues goes to Mooseheart and Moosehaven), for members, there’s a more basic appeal to joining. In an area with surprisingly few beachside bars, Lodge 2188 serves as a private, affordable watering hole with its own dedicated beachfront parking lot, a rarity on Anna Maria.
Dalton grew up in an Illinois group home similar to Mooseheart named Maryville Academy and was attracted to the organization because of its nonprofit work, but he had another good reason to join his first lodge, near Chicago. “The drinks were much cheaper in the Moose lodge, too,” he says with a laugh.
A sign by the door warns people they must show a Moose card to enter, and while guests of members are welcome, because the organization is registered as a 501(c)(8) fraternal society, a member must be present and pick up the tab. While the idea of a Moose lodge might conjure images of elaborate backroom rituals and secret handshakes, on a typical afternoon at Lodge 2188, you’ll find a scene not unlike that at any other bar, with couples and friends grabbing a bite to eat and sipping a beer while watching a game or gazing out the big windows that look out directly onto the beach.
Dalton calls the lodge a “family-oriented” hangout where people can be themselves. “You don’t have to come in here and drink,” he says. In fact, he says, “you’re not expected to do anything.”