Twenty-some years ago, Erin Odom was watching the house band at a small dive bar in Key West called Boston Billy’s where she worked as a waitress, when she met the young aspiring guitarist playing that night, Carl Wagoner. Today, that bar is called the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, and they both work there to this day, she as the assistant manager and Carl onstage most nights with the various incarnations of bands he helps front. This October, they will have been married 13 years, and will have been together for 23.
Unlike Carl, Erin was not born here on the island, but in Corpus Christi, Texas. At around 10 years old, she moved to Key West, where she has remained ever since. Well, except for once, at age 17, when she ran away from home to Fort Lauderdale, working at a little joint called Bernie’s BBQ, but it was short-lived. “I ran out of sugar for my coffee and went next door to see if I could put some on my tab. That was it. I called my mom and told her to please come get me.”
A graduate of Key West High School, she has been a fixture in the hospitality industry here for most of her life. Her first gig waiting tables was at the Hukilau Lounge at the top of the island, where starting at age 15 she waited tables throughout high school. From there, she worked at Cap’n Bob’s, the Galleon (where she began bartending), Casa Marina for seven years (where we worked together incidentally), La Trattoria on Duval Street for 15 years, and at the Smokin’ Tuna for six years now, coming full circle.
The Smokin’ Tuna Saloon touts itself as Key West’s Premier Music Venue. Besides great local seafood, you can watch world-class musicians from 5:30 p.m. till closing daily on the courtyard stage. This month they are featuring performers such as her husband Caffeine Carl, Andy Wescott, Marjory Lee, Chris Toler and Marshall Morlock, among many others. And if you’re unable to be there in person, you can watch the band playing, any night, on the Tuna Cam at smokintunasaloon.com/tunacam.html.
Finding the Tuna can be a little tricky. It’s located a short jaunt down the alley across the street from Irish Kevin’s, at 4-6 Charles Street. There’s generally a guy out front directing pedestrian traffic back toward the venue. Once inside, you will be amazed how big it is, complete with a large band stage, two full bars, a mercantile shop full of great gifts and T-shirts, and an inside air-conditioned section for those who would like to take a moment to cool off or get out of the weather for a bit. They have recently opened a back bar for locals where they feature a community rotation of guest bartenders.
“I love the family-knit closeness of the people here,” Erin said, explaining what she enjoys about living and working in Key West. “I meet people from all over the world. I love making that money, and a lot of friends.”
You can meet Erin at the Smokin’ Tuna working alongside “team” manager Carolyn Gaurini and her husband Carl whom “she loves more and more everyday” Mondays through Saturdays. ¦