When you first meet him, he’ll probably introduce himself as Justin, but to his friends and locals he is known as Durty, a nickname that he got as a teenager for a reason that he says is “top secret.”
“I’ll never tell,” he says when asked how he got the nickname in the first place. “Otherwise it will lose its nostalgia.”
I nod in agreement. I’ve only ever known him as Durty.
I suppose it’s part of his mystery, which also includes the fact that Justin Cline is one of the few people who have never, had a Facebook account. Ever. Occasionally his loyal girlfriend will post on her own wall to feature one of his signature cocktails or promote a shift appearance, but that’s about it. In this day and age, that makes him a pretty rare breed of human being. Plenty of people have canceled their Facebook accounts, but not many have never had one.
Justin considers bartending to be a marathon and not a sprint, challenging the occasional misconception that a good drink is a quick drink. Instead he believes that a carefully measured out recipe is worth the bit of wait it takes to create it.
“Sometimes I take a little longer to make a cocktail because I want it to taste better,” he says.
“I like drinks that make people say, That’s freaking good!’ I also like that people can come here, sit down for breakfast and next thing they know they are still here for happy hour.
“For me, being a bartender is 80 percent being a people person and 20 percent knowing what you’re doing. In the end, if you can’t talk to people, it doesn’t matter what your drinks taste like.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the scenery at Blue Macaw Island Eats & Bar looks like it’s straight out of a travel brochure.
At the family-friendly joint on the corner of Whitehead and Petronia streets, where Justin spends up to six days a week, the allure of Caribbean kitsch underneath the iconic Bahama Village sign has all the elements of being on a tropical vacation. It’s bright and colorful, but with character. It’s busy and lively, but feels secluded. Complete with waterfalls and a build your own Bloody Mary bar, it’s very charming, to say the least.
And to top it off, it’s right in the heart of a historical district.
The day of our interview, a three-piece reggae band was playing from the pocket of a palm-lined corner on the buzzing patio, and the entire wraparound bar was filled with enthusiastic, happy-go-lucky patrons. Along with the worry-free covers of Bob Marley, genuine laughter blended harmoniously into the atmosphere. In this end of town, which Justin describes as “up and coming” (and what I describe as a popular secret that’s been happening for a while on the down low), this place is truly an escapist’s dream; your quintessential itinerary entry.
“It’s tourist-friendly, with a growing local crowd, great food, great drinks and an owner who is one of the hardest working people in this town,” Justin says. “He’s here more than anybody. You’ve got to respect that.”
Justin moved to Key West when he was still in high school, between his sophomore and junior years, and although he was born in Hollywood, Fla., he grew up in the middle of the state in Okeechobee. He has only left once, to live in Colorado for a few months, but quickly returned to the community that has been home to him ever since.
Almost everyone in town knows who he is, even if it’s just by his nickname.
Along with having been a 12-year crew member for one of the town’s major boat excursion companies, Justin has worked at the late Oak Beach Inn and the Lazy Gecko, which closed last year and is where his persistence to bartend led from a security position to barbacking and finally, after many years of hard work (and begging his boss), to bartending.
These days, he truly loves what he does — even if it didn’t start out that way.
“I was awful at first,” He says with an admirable honestly. “I even got suspended for a week. After that I decided it was time to get my act together and pay more attention. I became a really good bar-back, and eventually people started pushing me to bartend.
“I love bartending because it’s always evolving and you are always learning. I always want to be learning something new.”
You can catch Justin picking up new tricks at Blue Macaw from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the odd Sunday (when he’s not at 22&Co. from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.).
So what does he do when he actually gets time off?
“I love to go to Fort Zachary with my girlfriend, Jessica, and as we like to say, cook some proteins on the grill,” he said. “Or I go out on the boat with friends. Sometimes I just like a day of going bar-hopping with the boys.”
And what about that nickname? I try again.
To which I get no answer.
You just have to go and ask him yourself. ¦