Please allow me to explain how I ended up in a bar in Key West at high noon with a needle stuck in my arm. And how my fellow girl-get-awayers and I got drawn into a competition between a naked man and one wearing boxer shorts regarding who had the nicer butt. And … well, skip that; there’s just no explaining some things.
Actually, the words “Key West” alone should explain everything. The quirky island town known for its partying and counter-culture just has that way about it. Without even trying, you end up in a situation that’s either going to make a great story or one you’ll never share with another person for the rest of your life.
Take our quartet of empty-nester women, for instance. Everything started out civilly with a four-hour crossing from Fort Myers Beach aboard the Key West Express. The combination of choppy water and an onboard bar did seem like permission to morning-drink, but we kept it contained. Straight off the boat, we headed to arguably the most civil restaurant in Key West aboard a ferryboat bound for Sunset Key.
The 10-minute crossing from Old Town leaves that raucous island world for the refined flipside on the small cottage resort key originally formed from dredged bottom by the Navy in the 1960s. With a lunch or dinner reservation at its Latitudes restaurant, non-resort guests can board the free ferry and dig into fine island cuisine beachside.
Its list of amusing craft cocktails gave us another excuse to imbibe. We feasted on such pleasures as burrata cheese atop fried green tomato with a balsamic reduction and arugula; lobster and crab cake with mango habanero-pineapple sauce; duck confit angus burger with brie and onion jam; and a charming quartet of crème brulée.
That called for a nap poolside once we checked into our two-bedroom suite at Margaritaville, a newly transitioned hotel in the Jimmy Buffett brand at the ferry landing’s harbor. Besides being convenient to Sunset Key, it rises above Mallory Square, sunset’s most celebrated address. So, after pool lounging, we stepped up to the bar overlooking the square for cocktails and a view above the crowds and fray. (We’ve all been down there, done that a time or 10.)
With every good intention to dine before we started on the requisite Duval Crawl through the pubs and lounges along Key West’s legendary main drag, we headed out for the evening. Veterans of this sort of routine, we hit all of our favorite and a few untried watering holes.
One of the first stops, Garden of Eden, was the scene of the best-butt competition. A clothing-optional bar above The Bull and Whistle Bar, it didn’t require a long stay, just enough to satisfy curiosity.
One and done, we next headed to a bar I had discovered recently. The Green Room touts its eco-conscious cocktails, environmental support and recycled everything, including cigarette butts. We rose to the rooftop to gauge the scene on the other side of the street at needs-no-introduction Sloppy Joe’s.
From there, we hit Sloppy and a continuum of classic Key West establishments — Irish Kevin’s Bar, Capt. Tony’s Saloon, the Green Parrot Bar. When we arrived at Rick’s Bar, the music held us and we actually found a table for four, so we stayed for a couple of rounds and turns on the dance floor before deciding it was time for that establish-a-base dinner we had neglected.
We picked Caroline’s for its near proximity and outdoor seating, but truthfully, anywhere along Duval serves similar seafood and bar fare, usually with tables inside and out. Not to say Key West doesn’t have its stand-out dining, as Latitudes proves. But, like it, most of the creative cuisine holds out in small restaurants and cafes off Duval.
The night continued with more dancing, some tarot card readings and the incessant chatter of four women made increasingly brilliant with wine, vodka and the occasional margarita.
We did not discover our favorite bar of the snap trip, however, until the next day as we made our way down Duval once again, this time with shopping as our mission. We had done breakfast at the hotel’s Bistro 245, which was excellent. We eschewed the too-hot, too-bright (in the wake of our Duval Crawl) waterfront deck for the relief of AC inside and tucked into medicinal mimosas, lobster bennies and pancakes.
We packed up our overnight bags to leave at the front desk once we checked out and started shopping Old Town — a mix of campy souvenir stores, galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques. We stopped at Mel Fisher Maritime Museum for a look at doubloon jewelry, picked up a gift at a cute little shop called The Peace Store for our “hippie friend” who couldn’t make the trip, and completed a half-hearted attempt at serious shopping before discovering Burgundy Bar at The Saint Hotel on an Old Town side street.
We were planning on a onesie pick-me-up, but were so impressed by its unusual collection of spirits, craft cocktails named for deadly sins and heavenly virtues and Jason the bartender, that we stayed for a couple. The hotel’s tagline easily swayed us: Where we play naughty and sleep saintly.
After indulging in a little Lust (champagne, rose water, wild hibiscus syrup and mint) and one of its four house-mixed bloody marys, I did indeed find myself with a needle in my arm. And I will explain.
Noticing that a couple in our group (no naming, no shaming on girls’ getaways) were not feeling up to par, Jason handed out flyers for the Hangover Hospital, which we had noticed earlier. But little did we realize it makes house (or rather bar) calls, and before we knew it, we were giving our medical history for a vitamin B12 injection.
As was promised, we all felt somewhat euphoric after that and proceeded to Turtle Kraals restaurant in the Historic Seaport, near to where we would catch Key West Express, for our last supper in Key West.
Seas were obligingly calm on the return trip to Fort Myers Beach, and we filled the four hours with card games and laughing fits remembering what all we had stuffed into a one-night getaway. Thirty hours in Key West, we once again agreed, is just right. ¦