If you haven’t yet stopped into Key West’s newest little upscale bar, the Roost, at 508 Fleming Street between Duval and Simonton, you should. Open for just a month now, it’s a hidden gem you might pass by once or twice before you realize that it’s been tucked away into the up and coming side street. Along with restaurants like Thirsty Mermaid and Sandy’s Café, a slow but purposeful local influence is taking over the block and the Roost is just one of the places that is calling it home.
The revamped business was last known as Baby Cheapee’s, a package liquor store, but is now the next popular Maria Sharpe incarnation with bar savvy entrepreneur Chris Shultz at the helm once again. The interior décor is a warm welcome of wood, bar stools with octopus legs, and tables in the front and back for cushy seating. It’s a craft-cocktail bar that offers a small, eclectic bar menu such as a smoked salmon plate, osteria caviar and a selection of gourmet chocolates, local celebrity bartenders, and best of all, package wine, liquor and beer.
Should you meander through the doors on Tuesdays from 6 p.m. until midnight or Wednesdays from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., one of the celebrity bartenders you might run across is the effervescent Robyn Whitehead, a creative mixologist and stylish songstress. She’s always upbeat and personable, especially when she’s explaining a cocktail she has just created like the bright pink Maria-rita. “It’s spicy/sweet,” she said. “I started with a habanero hibiscus tea syrup and Reposada tequila. Drizzled around the rim is a homemade candied habanero with the consistency of honey. Customers lick every drop off their glass.” The drink is garnished with fresh berries.
Other drinks on the menu include See You Next Tuesday made with local Key West gin, cucumber, lemon and amaro Montenegro, and Bless Your Heart made with bourbon, seasonal fruit and herbs, lemon and sugar. At the same time, Robyn is constantly coming up with next ideas and concoctions to showcase one of her creative talents.
Robyn was born in Royal Oak, Mich., but after two years the family took off for Tucson, Ariz., where she lived for the next 20 years. She studied acting and directing at the University of Arizona, but, “I didn’t sing in college. Not even a little bit.” Her mother was a voice teacher who later moved into teaching junior high school, and her father played professional football for the Cleveland Browns. “I grew up listening to oldies because of my parents. Classical music, oldies, and Huey Lewis and the News.”
She traveled to Europe as a teenager, and knew she wanted to travel more. “A friend that I bartended with in college who came to Key West on Spring Break came back and asked me if I wanted to just sell all my stuff and move to an island, and I said hell, yeah. So, we did. I figured it would be for a couple of years, but it’s been 15.”
That was in 2002. They both found work together at the Hard Rock Cafe. “We worked there for about a year-and-a-half, selling souvenir glasses and pens. Then we both got a job at the Conch Farm.”
In 2005, Robyn went to work at the Lazy Gecko, a bar that was on the 200 block of Duval that locals still think about forlornly. “I started singing with Matt Avery next door at Irish Kevin’s,” she said. “He said, ‘if you’re going to sing so loud, why don’t you just get up here and sing?’. So that got to be our regular routine.”
While at the Lazy Gecko Robyn went back and forth between bartending and singing with various artists including fellow female songstress Karri Daley. At one point she took a break to go back to her hometown in Arizona for a short period but returned within another year-and-a-half. She worked at Ocean Key Resort for a while and at the Other Side, another quality craft cocktail joint, before landing her current position at the Roost.
If you happen to walk by the wide-open doors of Duval Central on Thursdays and Fridays from 7 to 10 p.m., you’ll most likely hear Robyn’s powerful vocals blasting into the street like a superstar waiting to be noticed. She’s got that raw, go-getter thing going on, but with a confidence that keeps you wanting more. The band she plays with consists of Duval Central owner Chris Weaver, a saxophone player and a rapper.
“It’s a ton of fun. Somebody came up to me the other day and said ‘I’ve never heard anything like it before,’” she tells me.
When not working, “I enjoy spending time with my 9-year old Eisley Grace, and our two boxers, Maizy and Lily” and she also utilizes her creative talents by doing professional make-up with Studio Marie Pierre.
Swing by the Roost and try one of Robyn’s fiery, pink Maria-ritas and enjoy the vibe or drop by Duval Central to hear her sing. ¦
The Roost 508 Fleming St. The Roost on Facebook Duval Central 203 Duval St.