The Thirsty Mermaid, just a half block off Duval Street, recently celebrated its first year in business. When it first opened, it was full to capacity for several days from open till close, and it’s still a top destination for seafood and raw bar lovers.
Evan Mehuys has been there since day one, behind the bar and out on the floor waiting tables. He knows the menu and specials forward and backward and can efficiently pair your meal with a good beer or wine. “I’ve been in the service industry since I was 14,” he said. “Busing tables, washing dishes, cooking on the line … Then I went from back of the house to front of the house, and I’ve been out front ever since.”
Evan was born in Columbia, Mo., where he lived until he was 20. He did a couple of years at Mizzou (University of Missouri) before heading off to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he studied hotel and restaurant management, marine biology and oceanography.
“My professor got me interested in moving to the Virgin Islands, so some friends and I started going on trips to St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John during season to work. We would do eco-tours and coral reef restorations. Then, while I was longboarding down a mountain, I shattered my collarbone. They put in twelve screws and a ten-inch plate. They said it was one of the worst collarbone fractures they’d ever seen. The bad part was that I couldn’t do any lifting or put on an air tank. I couldn’t scuba. So, I went back to Missouri and into the restaurant business again while I recovered.”
Eventually, he found his way back to the islands, and his collarbone is as good as new. For the next few seasons, he fell back into the routine of working in the Ozarks through the summer, and winters working in the Caribbean during peak vacation season. And then, five years ago, Evan visited Key West for the first time.
“One of my friends said that I’d fall in love with it and never want to leave. I went to Colorado that winter for five months, but I missed Key West. A week after I got back I met my girlfriend, Lisa. I do miss my nomadic days, but I’ve been here for four years straight now, so that’s saying something.”
Evan’s first job in Key West was at Fin, where Onlywood Pizza is now located. He worked at Blackfin Bistro for more than four years and at the Tower Bar at Turtle Kraals for more than two. A year ago, he joined the staff at Thirsty Mermaid. He also tends bar at the Conch Republic Seafood Company several days a week.
Besides incredible seafood and a raw bar, Thirsty Mermaid offers a variety of fresh salads, sandwiches, burgers, gnocchi, and an Angus skirt steak, as well as caviar service. The specials change daily, and usually includes a ceviche of the day.
“I work hard because I like to travel a lot. Wine country, Colorado, backpacking, hunting. We usually try to orient our trips around good food and wine. Portland, Asheville. I like to get shit-faced as often as possible,” he said. “It’s important to keep up with product knowledge in this business, like, is that a new vodka? I’d better try it.”
This next summer he’s planning to take a four-month crosscountry backpacking excursion. “I’m buying a car. I’ve got a tent. I plan on doing a lot of mountain biking.”
You can catch Evan at the Thirsty Mermaid on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights, and soon on Monday Mornings. Or at the Conch Republic Seafood Company on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and on Sunday mornings.
Last week, the owners of Thirsty Mermaid opened another grand slam seafood restaurant in Key West with two partners. Little Pearl is located where Seven Fish once was, at the corner of Olivia and Elizabeth Streets in a residential neighborhood, just a block or two from Duval Street and Truman Avenue.
“I believe we’re reflected in the people we surround ourselves with,” Evan said. “And I’m surrounded by the very best people, hands down. People who love me and who I love back. We just kind of seem to get that kind of people on this island.” ¦