Bartender of the Month: Derek McCray

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Across the street from the rolling Atlantic surf is Fernandina Beach’s Hammerhead Beach Bar, sister establishment to Florida’s oldest bar, the Palace Saloon, and a classic family-owned and operated dive ringing in its 35th year. The bar boasts a novel sense of warmth and impressive multi-story patio deck with ocean views. The real draw of the haunt, however, is that it’s host to Folio’s March Bartender of the Month, Derek McCray. 

For almost 20 years, McCray has been shaking and serving drinks with gregarious and welcoming energy. Now as the GM of Hammerhead, he takes pride in his work behind the bar. “The best part of running a dive is that every day is something new,” he said with a grin. 

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, the Florida transplant graduated from FSU with a teaching degree—which he said he’s “never used but [has] no regrets”—and got his start in the hospitality industry working at a variety of restaurants and watering holes from Bennigan’s to Club Paris. After running bars in Jacksonville for several years, McCray moved to Fernandina to take over Hammerhead and has been there ever since.

McCray’s story in and outside of Hammerhead is pretty captivating: The 38-year old won the final season of MTV’s reality-competition show Road Rules in 2007. While he’s teased the idea of making a return to reality TV, McCray’s heart rests in Fernandina with his loyal bar regulars and daughter Savannah. As for the heart of the bar, there’s a specific elixir that keeps it beating: Rumple Minze. While not a typical staple for most bars, the 100-proof peppermint schnapps is Hammerhead’s best seller, according to McCray, who is happy to serve up a glass to anyone who steps their foot in the door.

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