The Loading Dock in Grafton mourns loss of Jimmy Buffett, the bar’s unofficial mascot

No business in southwestern Illinois embodies the Jimmy Buffett vibe more than The Loading Dock in Grafton.

The restaurant and bar is housed in a former boat factory along the Illinois River. Its tiered deck is full of tables with yellow umbrellas. The owners frequently play Jimmy Buffett music on Pandora and hire Jimmy Buffett tribute bands to entertain their sun-and-water-loving crowds.

That made Saturday a very sad day. It was announced that Buffett died Friday at age 76.

“I was driving to work this morning (from Alton), and I heard it on the radio,” said Peter Allen, co-owner of The Loading Dock. “I couldn’t believe how emotional I was getting. I was really moved.”

When Allen arrived at the restaurant and bar, he promptly lowered its flag to half-mast, instructed staff to play nothing but Jimmy Buffet music all day and started selling margaritas for $2.

“We were just looking at the numbers, and we’ve already sold 250,” Allen said about 2 p.m. “It’s a little more than I was expecting. It’s going to be a loss, but that’s OK. We’ve got to make sure we have enough tequila.”

Coincidentally, the owners already had hired The Yacht Rockers, a band that plays ‘70s and ‘80s music with a healthy dose of Jimmy Buffett, to perform from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

The Loading Dock is a family business. Allen, 59, first got exposed to Jimmy Buffett music as a child. The family went on vacation to Key West, Florida, where Buffett lived until the 1970s.

“In the past 30 years, I’ve probably driven my staff crazy playing so much Jimmy Buffett music,” Allen said. “Some of the younger ones don’t get it. They’ll roll their eyes. But I’m like, ‘It’s not about you. That’s what people want to hear up here. That’s what they want to feel up here.’”

Buffett popularized beach-bum soft rock with the escapist Caribbean-flavored song “Margaritaville” and turned the celebration of loafing into a billion-dollar empire of restaurants, resorts and “frozen concoctions.”

“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” according to a statement posted to Buffett’s official website and social-media pages.

“He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”

Jimmy Buffett, who died Friday at age 76, is shown performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was known for his island-themed music.