A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend in the narrow courtyard of Grunts Bar , listening to her memories of growing up in Key West. She told me that she had been coming to this location for as long as she could remember, as a child with her parents, when she finally turned 21, and now years later with me,. Grunts has consistently been her favorite bar in Key West. This conversation piqued my interest and I decided to learn more about this establishment.
“Hello, I’m looking for my next bartender of the week. Is there someone you might recommend from your establishment?” I wrote to Grunts via Messenger.
“Hi, I’m Kimberly, and I’ve been managing Facebook and other duties for Grunts for almost five years,” came the almost immediate reply. Well of course I should interview the person who is so involved and dare I say eager, I thought and typed, “perfect, when should we meet?”
Hailing from Tampa, Kimberly has been in Key West long enough that she is now Grunts’ longest standing employee. After answering an ad on Craigslist, she was quickly offered the job and it definitely didn’t hurt that her new co-workers thought she was cute. These days, though, she has become much more than just an adorable face to them. When we eventually do meet up I can tell by the way she admiringly talks about the patrons so much that she has easily become a part of the family.
“There’s a community here and it’s really nice to be a part of it,” she says.
According to Kimberly, Grunts is a meeting place for old Key West and “just really good people.” She talks with respect of the regulars who tell the kind of stories that you can’t even find in the history books, the ones that no one else knows.
“I like that I get to hear the old Conch stories and be around people whether they are from here or on vacation and are just having a good time,” she explains. “We just get really good customers.”
The actual Grunts Conch-style building hangs just off Caroline Street one block from Duval with a big front yard and a quaint back yard, where the famous food truck Garbo’s Grill sits cooking up fusion-style street-food like Korean BBQ tacos and hot dogs wrapped in mango every Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. There are patio tables up and down the side of the building underneath a wall of palms, and a vintage jukebox matches an old school Coca-Cola machine (that still works) inside, where it’s small and cozy, yet comfortable.
Even though space is limited, Grunts sometimes brings in bands to perform for an intimate crowd. For example, the Bubba System is a Key-West-born-and-bred assembly of musicians who usually perform during Kimberly’s 5 p.m. to midnight shifts on the weekend.
“We just hang out and joke a lot,” she smiles. “I love the vibe of it here so much.”
I could tell you how long Kimberly has actually been living on the island, which is as long as she has been working at Grunts, but I’ll let you ask her that yourself when you go to see her and order a glass of the famous sangria. However, I will tell you that before moving here she got her start as a professionally trained barista while traveling around the country from Tampa to Key West to Tampa to New Orleans to Austin before returning to Key West. At one-point Kimberley helped open Oxford Exchange, a popular restaurant, bookstore, lifestyle gift store, co-working space and event venue in Tampa that gets consistently high ratings and is described as taking a step into London. She claims to have acquired her skills there, including developing a “well-informed palate” and discovering her passion for the industry.
So naturally, after learning about her high-end past, I have to ask about the beer and wine list at Grunts and how it is curated.
“We want it to be easy drinking, but interesting and we always have Oberon on draft. We keep a lot of standards, but we also like to try new wines together,” she replies, referring to the rest of the team at Grunts as well as owner Chris Trevette, whom Kimberly speaks of with admiration. “It is what it is because of him.”
Kimberly keeps herself busy by not only running this off-the-beaten-path hideaway, but she is also the manager of the café in the Green Pineapple Wellness Center at 1130 Duval St., where she bakes its gluten-free and organic pastries, cookies and muffins.
However, Kimberly seems to be genuinely happy here at Grunts Bar, which was purchased by its current owner in 1986 and was originally in another location in Key West before it was put on logs and pulled by donkeys to its current location at 409 Caroline St.
“It’s your hometown local bar,” she says. ¦