Mathers Bridge Restaurant Merritt Island Florida
by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
Mathers Bridge Restaurant
The painting above is by Joyce Warner and it's titled "Mathers Bridge Remembered".
The Mathers Bridge Restaurant was near the south end of Merritt Island at the west end of the Mathers Bridge that connects the island to Indian Harbour Beach.
It was destroyed for economic reasons in 1992.
Nothing remains now except for a vacant lot; it is owned by Brevard County and may become a park in the future. The lot is too small for there to ever be another restaurant on the property; it would not be able to meet code for the required number of parking spaces.
The restaurant was a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and operated for 52 years before it finally had to close. The restaurant was Old Florida, with most of its dining taking place out on a wooden deck overlooking the Banana River. The deck was usually shared with raccoons and cats, permanent residents who liked the easy food gathering of the food scraps that fell through the gaps in the deck.
There were only 17 parking spaces in front of the Mathers Bridge Restaurant, so people quite often parked along the road in Indian Harbour Beach and walked across the bridge to reach the place. A lot of other people, including me, used to come by boat and try to grab a berth alongside the rickety dock.
Food was simple but enhanced by the atmosphere. Fish and chips, shrimp baskets, hamburgers, hot dogs, cold beer. It was hard to beat sitting in the sun and enjoying your food and beer and watching the parade of boats churning by
and the frequent openings of the Mathers Bridge swing span letting the bigger boats go through.
It wasn't a trendy place like Shooters, where the beautiful people gather to show off their abs and bikinis; it was a family place and attracted an eclectic mix of people: young and old, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly.
The outside walls were decorated in colorful painted murals of fish; the fish were labeled with their biological names as well as the name the fish went by locally. In the early days of the restaurant, the outside of the place was also enhanced with a beat up old waterwheel near the bridge that had no historical significance but looked like it belonged there. The photo above is from a rendering by Malabar artist Lloyd Behrendt.
The residents of south Merritt Island hastened the demise of this restaurant. They did not like the traffic congestion caused by the shortage of parking, and they did not like the sound of music on the deck and the laughter of people having fun. I really don't blame them, but their complaints had political power. The government began doing what it does best; making it harder and harder for the restaurant to survive until it finally had to close.
I first visited Mathers Bridge Restaurant in 1966, and last visited it just before it closed in 1992. So I should stop whining and be thankful for the 26 years I was able to enjoy it. But I can't help wishing it still stood there and was serving those simple meals.
And what happened to the raccoons and cats?