All About Key West
Key West is the
poster town for the laid-back lifestyle.
Prior to soaking in its sun, here's what
to expect regarding attitudes (very important here), customs, transportation,
weather and more in Key West.
Artificial Reef Now Open to Divers
The 523-foot Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg artificial reef is now open to the public. It is situated about seven miles south of Key West.
The bottom of the ship's hull rests on sand at depths between 140 and 150 feet. But the ship is so massive, the superstructure extends to about 45 feet below the surface. It is already attracting divers from all over the world.
Myths and Legends of Key West
It can't be true, some say, that Key West is as laid-back as people
claim it to be.
Let's just put it this way: no one will ever confuse it with New York
If Key West seems part fiction and part reality, well, just remember
that Ernest Hemmingway once lived here. And just about everything or
everybody here has some type of story to tell, be it myth, fact or just
good 'ol legend.
The pace here is slow. So slow, in fact, it sometimes makes a place
like Jamaica seem as it's moving at the speed of a bobsled by comparison.
Warning: It's a pretty contagious lifestyle. That's why some people
contact "Keys Disease" and never leave.
West is a never-ending carnival. Its sunsets are daily rituals that
bring out all the town's colors. As well as its colorful characters
clowns to high-wire artists to a human statue. This is, after
all, a town that features a weekly column by a dog in one of its newspapers
(Reggie, in Paradise This Week).
This makes Key West very much like Amsterdam in that
it has a very liberal attitude toward the people who visit and live
here. Any lifestyle be it gay, straight, eclectic, private or
public and any person be they celebrities or ordinary
folk, has-beens or never-want-to-be's are all accepted on equal
Orientation and Lodging Basics
T-shirt shops outnumber bars and every other business on Duval Street.
Key West is part of the chain of tiny islands south of Miami called
the Florida Keys. It was first settled in the 1820s and quickly became
a home for mariners, a hangout for artists and a hideaway for people
looking to escape their past. Some things haven't changed to this day.
The first thing a visitor should do upon arriving in Key West is to
take off one's watch.
The second thing a visitor should do upon arriving in Key West is to
take off one's shoes.
There are two most unnecessary items in Key West for residents and
travelers: It doesn't really matter what time it is and sandals are
the widely accepted footwear. There is hardly a dress code for Key West;
even the finest restaurants welcome people with shorts and t-shirts.
Many of the t-shirts sold on Duval Street are typically touristy tacky.
One that isn't is the classy and classic Last Flight Out (adjacent
to Sloppy Joe's), named in honor of adventurous souls who enjoy a destination
so much they stay until the "last flight out" of town. In
other words, just like many of the people who visit Key West.
Last Flight Out
has the right attitude at precisely the proper altitude.
Once the wardrobe issue is settled, it's time to take the car back
to the rental car agency or, for those who arrive in their own wheels,
for finding a shady place to park for the duration of the visit. The
entire town can be walked in a mere half-hour, and that's from one end
to the other. Most of the activity occurs on the North end of Duval
Street making it the most convenient location to stay. Not surprisingly,
it's also the most expensive.
Duval Street is the main and to some the only
street in Key West. It is on this primary path that Key West's heart
beats the loudest. Most of the tourists gather from the 200-block to
the end, lured off the street by stores, art galleries, the town's most
popular bars and enough t-shirt shops to outfit the entire Eastern Seaboard.
Front Street, Greene Street and Caroline Street all bump
into Duval at it's lower end. Mallory Square, scene of the world's
most entertaining sunset ritual, is next to the Cruise Ship Port just
past Duval and Front streets.
There are a number of accommodations options in Key West ranging from
chain hotels to small family-run motels. As mentioned above, the prices
increase the farther north one strays on Duval Street, from around $80
a night to more than $300.
Speaking of prices, except for the t-shirts, this is not a cheap town.
In addition to rooms going on average for $150 per night, beers are
$4-5 and mixed drinks top out at around $7. With day, sunset and evening
visits to the various bartenders around town, fully enjoying Key West
can be a pricey, though fun, adventure.
Getting Around Town
Mopeds offer a good
relief from walking; Uncle Albert will watch it for a buck.
The easiest way to move about Key West is on foot. The town is tiny
enough to walk with ease.
As saving human energy is one of the prime activities on Key West,
many use mopeds to scoot about town. Bicycles are also
available for rent.
Taxis are also available.
They may be legends
or just plain folks, but all the locals in Key West are smiling.
Go for a weekend and experience what the tourists see. Stay a little
longer and learn about the unique characters
that call Key West home.
There is Captain Tony Tarasel, owner of a saloon who was once voted
mayor when his patrons got fed up with the town's politicians. Uncle
Albert, a former black-belt who claims to have once fought Chuck Norris,
will watch your illegally-parked moped for a buck to be sure it isn't
ticketed. His trusty sidekick is Little Joe, an underwater construction
There is the guitar-playing Fritz, who performs at various bars about
town. And singer Robert, part of the cleaning crew at Sloppy Joe's who
one afternoon a few years ago got on stage with Fritz and was so good,
locals demanded he join the band (he did, yet he still cleans up at
Band leader Michael McCloud is as content as they come. He is what
Jimmy Buffett would have become had Buffett not got tired of swimming
in this roped-off sea and headed for bigger waters.
Gabby is a human statute, one of the many creative characters that
come out at sunset on Mallory Square.
There is a lovely waitress in her mid-20s who has been working here
since after high school who is content to keep serving conch fritters
and beer well into her golden years and and a pair of French girls who
run a smoothy stand on Duval Street and Captain Nick of the Key West
Police Department. Suffice to say that if we include the name of a police
captain in PubClub.com, then he must be one cool dude.
Countless bartenders, waitresses, vendors, shop-owners and street performers
all have made Key West their home Visitors who stay for longer than
a three-day weekend are encouraged to do the same.
Pubs and ClubsCustoms
Bar action is continuous
at many establishments around town.
Life in Key West revolves around its many bars. Often, it's so hot
and lazy that people head for the bars in the afternoon just to escape
bars have an old-time nautical feel about them. Dark wood walls, bamboo
ceiling fans and large windows that can open up to the outside giving
one a sense of Key West's maritime history.
Every place in town features live music. Generally speaking, the music
quality increases with the passing hours, reaching a peak in the evening.
Most places have Happy Hours from 4-7 p.m., with special drink prices.
Margaritas are king and rum drinks are as plentiful as the pubs themselves.
There are no cover charges and crowds are largely comprised of weekend
warriors from South Florida who come down by the car loads for two days
of escapism and revelry. They mix in with visitors from other Southern
and Eastern states in the U.S., and a sprinkling of European tourists.
Most of the latter are vacationing in South Florida and simply make
Key West a stop on their itinerary.
This is no South Beach and it's hardly crawling with single people
on the love prowl (two of the exceptions being Spring Break and Halloween).
What you will find instead is a very friendly party crowd that gives
Key West honest hospitality.
It's legal to have a drink on the streets, but in plastic cups only.
Captain Nick and his staff frown on bottles.
Drink 'em if you got 'em is 3 a.m.; clubs stay open until 4 a.m.
He first arrived nearly cashless in 1971 with a friend named Jerry
Jeff Walker. It is here that he developed his style of songwriting based
on living the fantasy beach life. He played and drank in the small bars
around town and it was here that he created the mythical tropical paradise
that became Margaritaville.
Buffett has a store
and cafe, where he makes the very occasionally appearance.
"I lived in Key West for three years and mostly all I did was
hang out in bars," he once wrote, and although his days in the
Keys are largely behind him, he has left behind a huge legacy. He's
got a restaurant/bar/store here, Jimmy
Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe, and unless he himself is playing
it's not much more than a novelty stop for most people. The margaritas
aren't even the best in town. But Parrotheads do love the giftshop.
Give Buffett credit for bringing Key West much of its tourism
more than other famous occupants Hemmingway, Harry Truman and Tennessee
Williams but his popularity is largely lost on those who live
here. Locals musicians, often swamped for requests from tourists, often
refuse to play Buffett covers on their own.
Still, it's hard to come to Key West and not feel the spirit of Buffett.
It's even easier, however, to understand how Key West provided the inspiration
for his music and tales from Margaritaville.
The Internet Isle Cafe (118 Duval Street, in front of Hog's
Breath Saloon), offers access to PubClub.com, other web sites and e-mail.
It is run by the friendly Nicole. It has T-1 lines and special tourist
On a related note, ProPhoto (1020 Duval) develops prints in
an hour or CD-ROMS in a "Key West" hour.
instant access to PubClub.com at the Internet Isle Cafe.
Key West is GMT -5.
When To Go
gets a big crowd; the goal of many is to look the same.
October thru March is Key West's high season. The town hosts some type
of festival about once month. The Fantasy Fest (late October),
a 10-day celebration featuring wild costumes and wilder participants,
is the largest of them all; finding a hotel room during this time is
virtually impossible. The Hemmingway Festival (early July) is
also wildly popular. Spring Break (March) fills Key West with
college students from all over the South.
Summers are extremely hot and humid, providing for good inspiration
to visit the many air-conditions bars in the afternoon.
stop on the Party Bus: The Bartender