Bahama Village is like the Brooklyn of Key West. It was once considered to be the sketchy and dangerous part of town (for the record, I have never felt anything but safe in Bahama Village) but has now matured into hip and trendy without comprising its cultural heritage and the small-town sense of community that is at the heart of it. Thanks to iconic restaurant Blue Heaven it is a highly pursued destination on the tourist map. The main attraction is a three-block section of Petronia Street, from the corner of Whitehead to the beloved 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 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 spot among in-the-know connoisseurs.
“I’m so surprised that there are so many people who have never even been here,” the couple next to me says.
“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 something Key West has never seen before: an adorably tiny room with a proud wall of wines toward the back, another collection of wines to the left 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 right next to a brightly lit deli display exhibiting cheeses. It’s the essence of European, which would make sense because it is, after all, a French wine bar. So, it should come as no surprise that VIV bartender and manager Julie Le Sergent fits in.
Every sentence Julie says turns into a song. 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 measurement. The meats are all sliced uniformly in thin sheets and perfect rounds. The plates are accompanied by a complement of accoutrements and some hearty artisanal bread. It’s all done with careful poise and precision, like she is putting together a work of art. Some would say that the plates are absolutely stunning.
It gets better. Julie can recommend a wine that you might not be able to pronounce based on your own personal palate. 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 if it’s drinkable you probably will. The wines, which Julie will enthusiastically tell you about in detail, are chosen by owners Laurent and Julie de Cock. This is 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 Julie works as well. If you find her there, she’ll be serving you croque madams and buckwheat galettes, but still with the same international flair and always smiling.
Julie 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. Those are some words that would tdescribe Julie.
“People tell me I am the lady I was before,” Julie says very peacefully. “They say, you are Julie again.”
The younger version grew up with a wild imagination about the future. She describes herself as the most independent of six siblings, 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 one day to meet the people and learn the 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, Julie will be behind the bar at VIV Wednesdays through Mondays from 3 to 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 in a place where the sun always shines, she has designed a life in the same way she designs a meat and cheese plate. Bit by bit and with patience. Here on an island called Key West, pouring organic wines, preparing edible masterpieces, she is just living the dream. It’s perfect then that VIV is short for the French word vivezjoyeaux, which means live joyfully. ¦
VIV Wine and Cheese Bar 300 Petronia Street 305- 517- 6799 www.vivez- joyeaux.com