Travel magazine

The Bradenton Beach Moose Lodge is the largest in the world

Becoming a member of the Loyal Order of the Moose is quite simple. You must pay a lump sum of $60 a year, you cannot be a criminal or terrorist, and you must “profess a belief in a supreme being”, however you define it. Accept these terms and you’ll get discounts on travel, insurance and health, links to charities that care for children and retirees, and access to more than 1,600 lodges across North America. North, including a private members-only beach bar right on the sands of Anna Maria Island.

Moose Lodge 2188, as it’s known, occupies a bright blue two-story building on Bradenton Beach, decorated with murals of octopus, manatee, coral reefs, and a surfing moose. By membership, it is the largest Moose Lodge in the world, with approximately 14,500 dues-paying members. The second largest lodge claims 8,000.

JoAnn Thompson Quinn became Moose in 2002. She had just moved to Bradenton Beach, where Bridge Street’s famous bar scene could get pretty rough. Quinn says when she first started hanging out at the lodge it was a men’s club drinking beer and smoking cigars, “somewhat chauvinistic”, she says. Still, Quinn loved it. “You were treated like family from the start,” she says.

The first Moose fraternity was established in 1888 in Kentucky. Intended as a men’s social club, it eventually grew to serve charitable purposes as well. Contributions would be used to support Mooseheart Child City & School, an Illinois residential day care center that cares for children who have lost parents or been removed from their homes, as well as Moosehaven, a retirement community in Jacksonville.

Over the years, the mood of the Moose Pavilion has changed, says Byron Dalton Sr., the pavilion 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, faced with declining membership, Moose leaders voted to merge the men’s and women’s groups.

“It made all the difference,” says Dalton, who credits the rule change with helping the lodge grow its membership. Dalton estimates that about 50% of the members are locals and 50% are snowbirds or tourists. Members of other lodges can also come when they are 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 is a more basic appeal to joining. In an area with surprisingly few beachfront bars, Lodge 2188 serves as a private, affordable watering hole with its own beachfront parking lot, a rarity on Anna Maria.

Dalton grew up in an Illinois group home similar to Mooseheart named Maryville Academy and was drawn to the organization because of his nonprofit work, but he had another good reason for joining his first lodge, near from Chicago. “Drinks were a lot cheaper at Moose Lodge too,” he laughs.

A sign near the door warns people that they must show a Moose card to enter, and although members’ guests 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 up images of elaborate behind-the-scenes rituals and secret handshakes, on a typical afternoon at Lodge 2188 you’ll find a scene like any what another bar, with couples and friends grabbing a bite to eat and sipping a beer while watching a game or gazing out of the large windows that look right out onto the beach.

Dalton calls the lodge a “family-oriented” meeting place where people can be themselves. “You don’t have to come here and drink,” he said. In fact, he says, “you’re not expected to do anything.”

Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes