There a many places to stay while in Key West. Hotels and resorts, cheap motels and also vacation rentals of every size. We chose to stay at the Alexander Palms Court on South street, just two blocks west of the Southernmost Point. My cousin had just stayed there over New Years and really enjoyed it. The rooms are clean and come with a kitchenette. The management is friendly, helpful and always available. It has a relaxed setting, complimentary breakfast each day and a nice pool. Highly recommended. They do however enjoy the fact that they are on the quite end of Duval St. and although everyone staying there was enjoying their beverages and vacations we enjoyed and respected the fact that we could get a good nights sleep. And as I am writing this I have just been ousted as Mayor on Foursquare, dang.
Walking up Duval St. there are plenty of comparisons that can be drawn from other cities and beach communities. We immediately noticed a mix of Rehobeth Beach, DE and Cape May, NJ. However at times you might also feel like you’re walking down Bourbon St. in New Orleans. In fact, the first bar we chose to visit had a close feel to the Big Easy, in particular on the second and third floors. The Bull and Whistle, on the corner of Duval and Caroline, has a nice open air atmosphere, great bartenders and of course, the only clothing optional bar in Key West, the Garden of Eden bar located on the roof. This being our first trip to the Conch Republic we naturally had no clue what we were walking into, or that photography was not allowed. Here’s a tip if you plan to go to the top of the Bull: dress light, leave the camera at home and be cool, security is all business up there.
After the Bull, we stopped across the street at the Flying Monkeys Saloon to say hi to a friend of a friend. The second lesson learned in Key West, and possibly the most important: make friends, lots of them. There is a Key West reserved for the tourists and then there is the locals version of Key West, and once you’re in, you’re in. Over several rounds, our bartender indulged us with stories of our buddy while he lived and worked in Key West, culminating in an epic appearance at a favorite local celebration called Fantasy Fest.
Another important thing to keep in mind while in Key West, and specifically while doing the Duval Crawl, that when you stop in somewhere for a beer it can very easily and most likely turn into several more. Yet another reason why my flip flops quickly became my preferred mode of transportation. In fact, we had one turn into five or so on us while visiting Sloppy Joe’s for the first time. Initially I wanted to make sure we saw this legendary establishment for strictly historical purposes. After all, Hemingway found some inspiration among friends, the atmosphere and the bottom of a bottle or two of rum, so why couldn’t I, right? We were even more excited to get directed there by another good friend to see local musician Matt Quinton, who plays Sloppy Joe’s 12-4 on Thursday and Saturday. He has a great mix of new and old and even an original if you’re lucky enough. That’s another great thing about Key West; at virtually any time during the day or night there is live music pouring through the doors of the bars on Duval. If it is your first time, or maybe your second, and you are unsure of which bar to experience, we got some sound, even if it is obvious, advice from one of the bartenders at Sloppy Joe’s: “just walk around until you hear something you like, then stop in and buy a drink.”
Now, Kelly and I, for better or worse, have a penchant for cheesy, overdone, corporate establishments. Anytime we happen to be around one we stop in, even if it is just for a drink. So naturally we found it unusually important to drop by both the Hard Rock Cafe and Margaritaville. As far as the Hard Rock goes, if you’ve been to one then, for the most part, you’ve been to them all. One observation I challenge anyone visiting a Hard Rock Cafe to make is that the picture of the artist on display next to either their instrument or article of clothing never shows them with that particular artifact. That makes me chuckle every time. Margaritaville, on the other hand, means a bit more in Key West than in other locales. This is the original location, started by Jimmy Buffett, who incidently put the wind in the sails of the now ever-present music scene in Key West. The stage in the back still hosts not only Buffett himself but a wide variety of top billing artists whenever they get the bug to play the southernmost city. It is probably the smallest Margaritaville not located in an airport that we’ve been to, but still full of the island atmosphere that Kelly and I always make time to stop in for.
Our last night in town was reserved for a couple of things. One, we were able to get together with Matty Q for a nice send off and a stop or two and a couple other bars that we normally probably wouldn’t have found. The other was to visit Captain Tony’s for an attempt to toss a quarter into the mouth of the big fish hanging from the front of the bar. First stop was Sloppy Joe’s to catch the end of Matt’s set. We then walked a couple of blocks east down Greene St. toward the Marina to the Conch Republic Seafood Company for a 2 for 1 happy hour and live music. There are always great drink specials in Key West. After, yet again, several rounds, we met a local who is among other things a host at the Conch Republic. She was from North Miami and has the same story as so many that we met down there. Came down for a vacation, or to visit a friend for a while and decided to hang out a while longer. Seven years later, she was excited to receive the title of Freshwater Conch. Those from the island originally are Conchs. If you aren’t from Key West but have put in your seven years, you become a Freshwater Conch. Saltwater Conchs are also natives of Key West but not necessarily of Bahamian decent, but there is some argument over that still. After we started getting hungry we all shared a Cracked Conch appetizer along with the non-menu item, the Royal Red Shrimp. Regardless of the beer, the Red Shrimp has to be some of the best I have ever had, highly recommended. Captain Tony’s is the original site of Sloppy Joe’s and there is a comical story about the relocation of the bar that I’ll get into in the next post. It has a markedly different atmosphere than it’s counterpart and sits back down Greene St., just past Duval and can’t be missed, if for no other reason than there is a huge fish used to hang it’s sign from. Supposedly good luck comes to those who can toss a quarter into the fish’s mouth, backwards over your head and, of course, drunk. Well, the 2 for 1 happy hour got us where we needed to be mentally, so off we went to test our luck. On my third try the quarter i released into the night never again found pavement. Woohoo! And that’s about that. It’s pretty anticlimactic when you think about it, but a fun experience to have with some drinking buddies, especially when celebratory rounds are a necessity after spending a quarter in a huge fish filled with others pocket change.
Our few day, and nights, on Duval were awesome and now I sit here with the knowledge that we barely scratched the surface. There are so many opportunities to meet great people and experience so many things that it can realistically take seven years to find everything you might be looking for in Key West. Maybe that’s what starts the stories of those who “never went back.” Next stop on this Key West train, a little of the history and culture that hides behind the haze of beer on Duval. Until then, may the wind be at your back and the sun shine warm upon your face.