Thanks to the iconic restaurant Blue Heaven, it is a highly pursued destination on the tourist map. The main attraction in the village is a three-block section of Petronia Street, from the corner of Whitehead to the tapas bar Santiago’s Bodega, just past Firefly’s Southern kitchen. Between the diverse mix of eateries, you could spend a whole evening bouncing from one local favorite to the next. In the middle of the scene, a small French wine bar has recently become all the buzz for its eclectic wine selection and artistically curated cheese charcuterie plates. It is the perfect before dinner, after dinner, anytime place to unwind and has become the hush hush secret among in-the-know connoisseurs.
“Shhh, don’t say that so loud,” another couple answers. “We don’t want anyone else to know about it. It’s our secret.”
Upon entering VIV Wine & Cheese Bar, you are greeted by the likes of something Key West has never seen before: an adorably tiny room with a proud wall of wines toward the back, another collection to the left of wines delicately kept in a temperature controlled fridge cellar, an amusing bunch of imported craft beers, some specialty items like pastas and jams, and a smooth length of bar next to a brightly lit deli display exhibiting cheeses and charcuterie. It’s the essence of European, which would make sense because it is, after all, a French wine bar. So, it should come with no surprise that VIV bartender and manager Julie Le Sergent kind of fits into the charming stereotype.
Every sentence Julie says turns into a song at the end. It is the quintessential Oui-Oui-Pair-eee accent that gives her away, authentically thick with exclamation. It also shows in her cordial manners and how she diligently prepares the cheese and charcuterie plates. Instead of rushing to execute, she takes her time to cut each piece of mimolette or wedge of brie de meaux to exact measurements. The meats are sliced uniformly in thin sheets and perfect rounds. The plates are always accompanied by a complement of accoutrements and some hearty artisanal bread. It’s all done with careful poise and precision, as if she is putting together a work of art. Some would say that the plates are absolutely stunning.
It gets better. Julie can even recommend a wine that you might not be able to pronounce based on your own personal palete. Just a couple questions and she knows “just the thing.” Following protocol, she’ll let you taste first just to make sure that you like it, but chances are you probably will. The wines, which Julie will enthusiastically tell you about in detail, are chosen by owners Laurent and Julie de Cock. This happens to be their second wine bar with a focus on natural and biodynamic wines. The first was in France. The sommelier duo also owns Le Creperie Café next door, where Ms. De Cock works as well. If you find her there, she’ll be serving you croque madames and buckwheat galettes with the same international flair and always smiling.
Ms. Le Sergent came to Key West on a journey of self-discovery. She wasn’t happy. So, she decided that the best thing to do would be to go somewhere warm and sunny, like hot as an oven Key West.
“People need more sun in Brittany” she says of her hometown, “They are always waiting for sun and warmth.”
Hopeful, grateful, and genuinely happy describe Ms. Le Sergent.
“People tell me I am the lady I was before. They say, you are Julie again,” Ms. Le Sergent said.
She grew up with a wild imagination about the future. She describes herself as the most independent of six siblings, already knowing at a young age that she wasn’t going to follow the so-called grown-up regime of getting married, having kids, buying a house and never leaving the neighborhood. That was never the plan. There was always this fascination with a world waiting to be discovered that she still cherishes like a child peering into a snow globe. She wishes to visit Cambodia to meet the people and learn their culture because their history speaks to her. Perhaps she will find a connection. Perhaps that place will one day be another chapter in her moment of self-discovery.
In the meantime, Ms. Le Sergent will be behind the VIV bar Wednesdays through Mondays, from 3 until 10 p.m., or until midnight if the crowd just can’t stop enjoying itself. On her days off, you can find her at the beach or rollerblading and embracing a life that’s carefree.
Here, where the sun always shines, she makes every effort to design a life the same way she does a meat and cheese plate. Bit by bit, and with patience. She is just living the dream. It’s perfect then, that VIV is short for the French word vivez-joyeaux, which means live joyfully. ¦
VIV Wine and Cheese Bar 300 Petronia Street 305- 517- 6799 www.vivez- joyeaux.com