Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Weekend in Key West - Part 1

Chris and I celebrated the end of 2011 with a weekend trip to Key West, dogs and all. It was the first time since my early childhood living in Miami, decades ago. It was Chris' first time ever.

We drove the four hours south on a cozy, sunny Saturday morning - our gullets satiated with breakfast bagel sandwiches and hot coffee. The dogs cruised in the back of the car, panting open-mouthed, sprawled on their beds. Bear, the seasoned traveler, easily adapted to the moving car. Kaya, unseasoned at best, sloppy at worst, paced around, unable to comfortably settle down for the majority of the trip.

At noon we arrived at our charming Bed and Breakfast, Courtney's Place, located in the historic district of the key, happy to find that our room had it's own private porch, perfect for the dogs. Once they were corralled we set out on foot in order to find the essentials: food, beer, and wine. We walked a few blocks to the famous Duval street in search of a Key West staple, Jimmy Buffet's cheesy, tourist-trap of a restaurant, Margaritaville. It met our expectations and we enjoyed lunch and margaritas while watching endless Jimmy Buffet videos, brimming over with "parrot heads", on the various big screen televisions. Afterwards we bought a sixer of Key West Sunset Ale and a large bottle of cheap, red wine from the local grocery store. We slowly strolled back to our room, taking in the colorful, quaint, old homes and quirky street scene - chickens and roosters roaming freely, cohabitating with a large population of cats.

Once back at our room we each enjoyed a cold beer on the porch with the dogs. Bear busied himself with marking the single tree that shot out through the white wooden porch floor and towered above us while Kaya nestled against our laps. We had  no schedule to follow, and although we were given many recommendations by friends and family of places to go, we decided to follow our own whims. 

We clipped the leashes onto the dogs and walked down Whitehead Street to the continental United State's southernmost point, ninety miles north of Cuba. It was packed with tourists taking pictures so we loitered around, hoping the area would clear slightly before taking the requisite southernmost point pictures. Call me shy but I'm not a fan of having my picture taken while a line of people stare at you, waiting their turn to take the same type of picture. The opportunity never did arise so we settled on taking the pictures off to the side, away from the crowd. People still stared and I heard someone declare, "Those are the southernmost dogs."

A very drunk couple from New Jersey were smitten with Kaya and told us, with liquor-infused certainty, that she is a Russian Hound. Then we walked back to home base, passing Ernest Hemingway's house along way, and made a mental note to visit it the following day. We were eager to drop the dogs off and walk the mile from our room to Mallory Square in time to watch the sunset. 

It was breathtaking and beautiful, as sunsets always are, and we were content to regard it's awesomeness in reverent silence. 

When the sun had made it's plunge (or, when the sun stayed exactly in the same place it's always been and we danced around it) Chris and I loitered in the square for some time, watching the Key West locals do their infamous street shows: juggling fire, eating fire, and extricating themselves from a tangled mess of locked chains and a strait jacket by writhing like epileptics and loudly (and purposefully) dislocating shoulders. I vaguely remember  the details of these freak shows when I was younger, but I clearly remember feeling terrified by them. Now I know why. Once the darkness of night made the shows harder to witness we meandered back to Duval Street and sloooooowly made our way home to our rented room.

We took a slight detour from the main street and found ourselves in front of Captain Tony's Saloon. It was practically empty but there was live music, a long, oval bar in the center of the dim saloon, and a tree growing right through the roof, inviting us in without fear of pretense - we knew exactly what we were getting. There were dollar bills and business cards saturated with scribbles stapled to every available inch of the establishment, along with discarded bras from seemingly large chested, and possibly fat, intoxicated women of time's past; no Victoria's Secret leopard print hanging there. We each had a beverage, or two, and then continued on our leisure stroll home. 

We later discovered that Captain Tony's Saloon used to be called Sloppy Joe's and that it was one of Hemingway's most frequented haunts when he lived in Key West during the 1930s. The saloon claims that many of the bar's regulars during Hemingway's time as a patron would later become characters in his books. In fact, he loved Sloppy Joe's (aka Captain Tony's Saloon) so much that when the owner decided to move it to another location with cheaper rent down the street, Hemingway paid to have the men's urinal taken from the bar's bathroom and resurrected into his own home, where his wife tried to camouflage it as a decorative fountain.

Now knowing the history of the old bar makes me eager to go back and sit awhile longer, in an attempt to channel Hemingway's energy (which shouldn't be too hard - just a few scotch and sodas aught to do it).

Before making it back to our room we stopped at Vino's on Duval, whose cozy front porch, slightly elevated above busy Duval Street, looked perfect for people watching with a glass of red wine. Half an hour later we were back on the road, this time searching for dinner. We walked straight past our turn off and finally settled into Banana Cafe for French food and more wine. We sat by a huge, open window where we continued enjoying each other's company, along with the sights and sounds of Saturday night in Key West. Full bellies later we floated home and into sleep.


Anonymous said...

Oh the simple things... Key West seemed to be a time machine to those Hemingway times where the options were few but not inferior nor to be discounted. Good times indeed.

Can't wait for part II.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, as always. You got the inability to wait in line for your turn among the tourists from me. That is why I never have good photos from tourist traps.

Ana Lucia said...

Sounds like you had fun, good! you both deserved it.
As I read it many memories came back with a good dose of nostalgia.
Thanks for sharing

Krista said...

I love the foodie in you two! What a fun, relaxing and romantic trip.