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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.


Earl Bernhardt & Pam Fortner

Tropical Isle

Business partners Earl Bernhardt and Pam Fortner met in 1984 during the World’s Fair in New Orleans. Pam had found her way to to the city from Nashville ten years earlier (where she worked for the Corps of Engineers) after experiencing her first Mardi Gras. Earl left his radio job in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to operate a daiquiri concession. Together they opened their French Quarter bar, Tropical Isle, in December 1984 on Toulouse near Bourbon Street.

A year later, Earl and Pam were looking to invent a drink to rival the ever-popular Hurricane of Pat O’Brien’s. The Tropical Isle wasn’t doing the business they hoped. While shopping in a Mardi Gras emporium brimming with tchotckies, Pam spotted a barrel full of plastic hand grenades. A drink was born. The Hand Grenade is a potent concoction involving melon liqueur, served in a plastic hand grenade-shaped collins glass. It is arguably the French Quarter’s most popular cocktail, sold from a handful of Tropical Isles along Bourbon Street. Pam and Earl market the Hand Grenade as New Orleans’s “most powerful drink.” Because they own the trademark on “Hand Grenade” and “Grenade,” (as it applies to alcoholic beverages) it has also become the city’s most litigated beverage. Neon green, gaudy, and boozy: the Hand Grenade is the perfect pop cocktail.

For more on Pam, Earl, and the invention of the Hand Grenade, listen to our Gravy episode.

Date of interview:

Rien Fertel

Denny Culbert

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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