Tom Luna. Biker. Bartender. Ballet dancer. Actor. Director. Emcee. Entrepreneur. Activist. Icon. It’s virtually impossible to live in Key West and not know him. Or at least know of him. Because he’s out there, always involved, always engaging, always up to something interesting. With Tom, to know him truly is to love him, because he’s genuine and gregarious from the moment you engage him, whether you’re a longtime friend, or a stranger who has just walked in off the street and is bellying up to the bar.
Tom grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he developed both a passion for the ballet and for motorcycles, a seeming paradox that is the quintessential Tom Luna. Although he says he’ll probably never again don a pair of tights, you still may see him riding around town on his 2003 purple Yamaha Roadster.
“I studied at Tidewater Ballet in Virginia, and then at the American Ballet Theater in New York City,” Tom has been quoted. “I danced ballet for years, but I couldn’t be funny or sing, and I wanted to entertain and make people laugh and that doesn’t often happen on the ballet stage.” Hence, his acting and bartending careers.
As a boy, during visits to his grandparents’ little tobacco farm in the Appalachian Mountains, Tom helped in the fields, harvesting the crop, hanging the leaves to dry. “I’d walk through the tobacco, pulling the tobacco worms off the plants. I was supposed to pop their heads to kill them, but I’d just throw them onto the ground and step on them. The earth was so soft they wouldn’t die. They’d crawl away. They were always so mad at me.” Just goes to show the gentle nature of the boy, as is that of the man.
Tom has made Key West his home for nearly 30 years now. On New Year’s Day in 1989, he and his partner Gary Adkins packed their belongings and headed south together. “I arrived Jan. 2, 1989, and I never left.”
Since then, he has bartended everywhere: Foley Square, Virgilios, Cowboy Bill’s, Rooftop Cafe, the Whistle, at the top of the La Concha, and for the past three or four years at the main bar at Aqua Night Club on Duval Street, where you can find him six days a week from 3-8 p.m., except on Tuesdays during Aqua Idol, when he’s there from 6-8. He’s off on Wednesdays.
“On most Monday afternoons at 5:30 Rick Dery and I do ‘Dueling Bartenders,’” he said. “I do lots of show tunes.” That’s during happy hour, too, where, besides the show, you can get 2-for-1 drinks.
In 1995, Tom and some business partners opened Peppers of Key West, offering a plethora of tasty and exotic hot sauces and spicy condiments, all made locally. Many come in gift packs, and you may sample before you buy at the large tasting bar. He sold his part of the business a few years back, but you can still partake of a taste of the island at the quaint shop located at 602 Greene St.
Luna has performed
on stages throughout Key West in “Lend Me a Tenor,” “I Hate Hamlet,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Forum,” “Lips Together Teeth Apart” and “Talley’s
Folly.” With his acting-partner-in-crime Danny Weathers, he played in “The Big Bang,” “The Mystery of Irma Vep” and “The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare,” abridged. He directed “Sordid Lives” for the Red Barn Theater, directed and acted in “When Pigs Fly,” and Howard Crabtree’s “Whoop-Dee-Doo.” He has sung with the Key West Pops, emcees for various organizations, does concert appearances and was an original member of the Flamingo Follies. He has participated on the boards of nearly every theater in town.
Last year, Tom appeared as the lead character Max Bialystock in the Waterfront Theater production of the Broadway smash “The Producers,” alongside David Perlman as Leo Bloom, to sellout shows and critical raves. He is currently working on a one-man show, an autobiographical piece entitled “About Me,” to be performed soon at the Red Barn. He will be forefront at the always popular Headdress Ball during Fantasy Fest this year once again, as well as emceeing the Mayor’s Ball each January. He’ll host the annual Christmas Tree Auction for the MARC House, the Key West Musicians Festival for the Sister Season Fund, plus events for AIDS Help and the Children’s Shelter.
Of all his performances, “My favorite was ‘Match,’” he said, referring to a play he did at the Red Barn Theater. It revolved around a retired ballet dancer. “It was hard because of the similarities between the character’s life and things that had happened in my own. Sometimes I almost used the real names of the people in the play because it was all so real to me.”
The years have had their share of ups and downs for this talented soul, from being Fantasy Fest King in 1992 with Queen Vicki Roush, to the devastating, untimely and unexpected loss of his partner of 25 years, Gary Adkins, in 2008.
As once said in The Key West Citizen about Tom Luna, “He sings, he dances, he acts, and he makes a mean Key lime martini — often all at the same time.” You might want to take a stroll down to Aqua some afternoon and see all this for yourself.
What does Tom think about working and living here in paradise? “If I didn’t live here, I couldn’t afford to come down and visit.” Not many of us could. ¦