Key West homegirl Jessica Castro mixes bartending, nursing



Built in 1884, Bagatelle was a private home for over 100 years before it became one of the most popular restaurants in Key West. Located near Mallory Square and the cruise ship port on the 100 block of Duval Street, Bagatelle is a secluded oasis from the hustle and bustle of the nearby 200-block bar district, serving brunch, dinner and late-night meals on two floors of grand Victorian porches or inside in intimate air-conditioned comfort. Bagatelle boasts three bars, and a rooftop Moon Lounge for dining, drinking, partying or gazing romantically at the tropical stars.

Bartender Jessica Castro is a thirdgeneration Conch. For those uninitiated to common Key West terminology, a conch (pronounced “konk,” like a “konk on the head”), among other things, is someone who was born in Key West. Jessica’s grandparents still live on the island.

“I’ve lived here my entire life,” she said. “I moved to Jacksonville around 2001 for three years because my ex was in the military. I was married for eight years.” Although she looks too young, she has two boys, ages 14 and 20.

From the age of 27, Jessica worked at Key West’s Ambrosia Sushi Restaurant, and was there from the time of its transition from Packer Street, where the Flaming Buoy Filet Company is now, to its current location near the Santa Maria Hotel at 1401 Simonton Street, over a decade ago. Four years ago, she started bartending at Bagatelle, and that’s where you can find her behind the bar today.

“We do a breakfast happy hour from 9 till 11:30 a.m. daily.” she told me. “It’s small plates and selected drinks for $5.”

Bagatelle offers great brunch fare for those who may have missed breakfast at early morning spots around town: various tasty omelets, Benedicts and French toasts, along with fruit, granola and yogurt plates or a smoked salmon platter. Should you decide to stop in for dinner, you may find tuna tartare, mussels and lamb lollipops on the appetizer menu, along with five delicious salads. For your entree selection, choose from hogfish, swordfish, snapper, two lobster dishes, linguini, pork tenderloin or a choice of steaks, filet mignon or ribeye. It was awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence last year as well as being an Open Table Diner’s Choice Winner in 2016.

Jessica keeps busy as a registered nurse. She received her master’s in healthcare administration from Ashford University, but she still has no plans to leave the hospitality business anytime soon even though she is nursing full time. “I love it here,” she said. “It’s my home.”

Although, like many Key Westers, she doesn’t get out on the water as much as she used to anymore, she does find herself at the gym five days a week. “Growing up here I was out on the water all the time,” she said. Then she smiles and admits playfully, “I thought about being a personal trainer, but I drink too much.” More accurately, she already has a lot on her plate. “I also work too much.

“I’m really a pretty simple person. I enjoy work. I work a lot.”

Stop into Bagatelle to meet Jessica. ¦

Bagatelle 115 Duval St.

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