By the time this article is published, I will have already left the place that I’ve called home for the past 11 years in search for the continued pursuit of happiness in Miami. Despite its controversial likability, I happen to be on the spectrum of people who find Miami exciting. Yet no matter how much I might grow to love it one day (depending on whether or not I move back), it will never be anything as close to me as my admiration for Key West.
Key West is where I spent my 20s. It’s where I fell in love, where I met my best friends. This is where I discovered who I was. So quite naturally, I have a bond with this island that could never compare to anything else and as I get ready to pack the U-Haul, I am overwhelmed with the need to go and do my favorite things one more time. Procrastination is all a part of the process after all and if I could pick the top things with which to delay my moving, then this list would be it.
CHAMPAGNE & OYSTERS AT THIRSTY MERMAID
The taste of sweet brine and crisp champagne is one of life’s simple pleasures, in my opinion, and nobody on the island does it better than the Thirsty Mermaid (521 Fleming St.). It is the perfect Key West raw bar, tucked into a trendy little side street with a corner door that, at the right time of year, lets in the most incredible breeze. The chef is also a local fisherman and, more often than not, takes responsibility for bringing in the restaurant’s fresh catch right from the docks. It is the kind of hands-on fish house that this town has been lacking for years. Think of it as Key West’s very own version of New England, with exactly the same kind of pride and tradition. You can go and spoil yourself fancy if you want, the way I like to do, or you can also just have a lobster roll. Either way, it is the perfect distraction.
MOVIE NIGHT AT THE TROPIC CINEMA
My husband and I used to be annual members, but even if we haven’t been in a while, we still walk into the Tropic Cinema (416 Eaton St.) like it’s our living room. We stop to talk with a few friends, catch a laugh with whomever is working the ticket booth, grab a sweater out of the closet of leftover clothing in case it gets a bit cold and make our usual chocolate, popcorn and wine purchase at the snack counter. We have our favorite theater and our least favorite theater. We always know where to sit to get perfectly comfortable and we always look forward to seeing what the Key West High School previews are this time around. They always make us laugh right before our movie is about to start. It’s usually an intellectual indie or a moving blockbuster of some sort, but no matter what their movie selection is usually always on point. If anything, I would go just to catch a good flick. All the rest is just an added perk.
CAFE CON LECHE AT CUBAN COFFEE QUEEN
Tucked into a little courtyard where wild chickens cluck to and fro, a small walkup hut behind a few rows of bench tables underneath a black and yellow tent serves the kind of coffee I wish I knew about when I was in college studying for my finals. “Where has this been my whole life” is the kind of thought that pops into your head the moment you take a daring sip from the brimming cup of steamy hot liquid the color of smooth chocolate milk. I order my café con leche with no sugar, but traditionally it’s meant to be both strong and sweet and the best thing to get you off your feet and get things done. It’s all summed up in their slogan, “Drink more Cuban coffee and do stupid things faster.” I suppose that could be my excuse for putting down the boxes and filling up on some delicious energy.
A NUCLEAR DAIQUIRI AT TIKI HOUSE
I consider myself an introverted extrovert. That means that sometimes I want to go out, but sometimes I don’t really want to talk to anyone. On the not-so-rare occasion when this happens, it is dark social corners that I’m after — like the Polynesian themed Tiki House (430 Greene St.). Walk too fast on your way to Captain Tony’s or Sloppy Joe’s and you’ll walk right by it, and that is just fine with me. I like to drink my Nuclear Daiquiri without a chorus of Jimmy Buffett songs in the background or someone’s Mom’s latest dance moves. It’s an attractive bar, but it’s not lit up like a Christmas tree. If paradise was a dive bar, then this would be it. As for the drink, you’ll need a little more grit to handle the Nuclear Daiquiri. Not for the faint of heart, it is a potent mix of lime, overproof rum and sugar. If I didn’t get so buzzed, I would drink one of these every day.
MEAT AND CHEESE AT VIV
Oui, I’m afraid it’s true. I am in love with cheese and nothing satisfies my cheese cravings more than a make your own cheese plate at VIV Wine Bistro (300 Petronia St.) after a walk through my favorite neighborhood in Key West, Bahama Village. I might not know much about the exotic French cheeses that they offer, but I’ve never met a cheese I don’t like. Here, you can either pick your own or go with dealer’s choice and let an expert choose. They then cut the handpicked fromage to order and turn it into the prettiest work of art complete with bread, jams, pickles and whatever accoutrements they are working with that day. Pair that up with one of their organic wines and it is almost like a romantic day in the countryside of Burgundy. Take it from me, you’ll be falling in love all over again and never want to leave.
LIVE MUSIC AT THE PARROT
I cannot begin to describe how I feel when my inhibitions lose themselves to the amateur art of dance at the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead St.). My head starts bobbing, my hips aren’t lying and next thing you know I’m cosmically bound to the rhythm of guitar and the timely beat of an emotional drum. Perhaps there’s a burst of trumpet or saxophone in the mix and voices full of soul that give lyric to melody. On any given night when one of the many jam bands are gracing the intimate yet famous stage, a crowd of hippies congregate to the floor to forget about life for a while and just dance and I, feeling the love, will join without care. It’s the ultimate release. There’s no pressure when you bust a move at the Parrot. No one is trying to get all up in your space or push you out of the way. It’s just good clean fun with One Human Family. I know that no matter where I go in the world, there will never be another place quite like it.
And the same goes for Key West itself. No matter where I am, there is nowhere else that can come close to the magic of this little island. Behind all these places is an island full of amazing people, who are the real reason why it is so hard to leave, even if I am just going up the street. Even if I’m pretty sure I’ll be back at least once a month to get my champagne and oysters at the Thirsty Mermaid, hit movie night at Tropic Cinema, grab a coffee at Cuban Coffee Queen, sip a nuclear daiquiri at Tiki House, indulge in meat and cheese at ViV and lost my inhibitions dancing to live music at the Parrot.
Remember when I said I left three times already? Over the last decade I lived her for 11 years but I also happened to chase wanderlust once to London, then to Germany and on the third time to San Francisco for eight months. All those times I may have left, but I never settled. When someone asks me where I am from I never say Canada where I grew up. I always say Key West, because deep down no matter where I go, home is where the heart is. ¦