VALENTINE’S DAY IS…tricky. Anthropological research indicates that the day we now associate with the sting of Cupid’s arrow actually derives from Lupercalia, a pagan festival during which ancient Romans sacrificed animals, got drunk and naked and beat women with the hides of the slain animals in an effort to increase female fertility. (If you replace Rome with Duval Street and animal hides with street meat, this is actually not too different from your typical Friday night in Key West.) As the years went on, civilization traded sacrificial slaughter and well-meaning battery for the romantic notions of Chaucer and Shakespeare, substituting matchmaking lotteries and dead goats for love letters and conversation hearts (which narrowly evaded the candy graveyard thanks to Brach’s swooping in and saving the day after Necco’s demise earlier this year). The industrial revolution gave us factory-made cards in the 19th century and in 1913, Hallmark Cards began mass-producing valentines, cementing Feb. 14 as the day of all things heart-shaped and sickly sentimental. Considering Valentine’s Day sales approximate $20 billion annually (and CVS starts stocking Valentine’s Day cards right around Christmas), the whole phenomenon is kind of hard to ignore.
But what evolved into a holiday intended to commemorate the beauty of love has now developed a bad rap. It seems almost everyone today is quick to bemoan the devolution of Valentine’s Day into nothing more than another “Hallmark Holiday,” no more special than Secretary’s Day or Grandparents’ Day. Here at Florida Weekly, we love love. We say it’s time to reclaim Valentine’s Day from the clutches of the jaded and return to the days when we joyfully doled out affection in the form of cheap, punny cards to every kid in the class and rode the bus home queasy with a stomach ache from all that low-quality drugstore chocolate. So whether you’re spending the day a deux with your #bae, celebrating Single Awareness Day (otherwise known as SAD, which just seems like a terrible, ironic acronym) or rocking Galentine’s Day like Leslie Knope; whether you’re practicing #frugalFebruary (which is apparently a thing now?) or fully embracing the #treatyoself philosophy, Key West has something to fit your style and your budget this Valentine’s weekend.
It may be clichéd, but I believe that no gift says “I love you” better than a bursting bouquet of flowers. And talk about versatility — it can be Valentine’s Day or any given Tuesday, for a loved one or just for yourself, big and beautiful or as simple as a single white orchid. For your botanic needs, you can’t do better than Love in Bloom (134 Simonton St.). The shop’s able florists can arrange a stunning work of art at any price point and in any style for any occasion. And lately they’ve stocked a whimsical collection of animal-themed planters perfect for housing low-maintenance succulents. Nothing says love like a porcelain sloth stuffed with flowing air plants (especially if I don’t have to remember to water them).
If you want to gaze upon beautiful flora and fauna but your inner commitmentphobe keeps you from making any big purchases, you might feel more at home at The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (1316 Duval St.). Inside the indoor, climate-controlled garden, you’ll find dozens of species of butterflies flitting among an impressive collection of flowering plants, cascading waterfalls and trees. The Butterfly Conservatory is awfully romantic, but equally pleasant for solo exploration. Who could possibly feel alone surrounded by so many Lepidoptera? And at $12 ($10 for locals), admission is a steal and you can even arrange a private kibitz with Rhett and Scarlett, the Conservatory’s resident pair of flamingoes.
This weekend love is in the air, so why shouldn’t you be? Fury Water Adventures has put together a combination activity package for your inner adventurer so you can experience the beauty of Key West from the air and the sea. Fury’s Love is in the Air package combines its breathtaking parasail adventure with a relaxing sunset sail at a discounted rate for both solo riders and pairs (or even trios — we won’t ask). If you’d rather have your feet on solid ground (or boat deck, as the case may be), Fury has three sunset sails running on Feb. 14. The choice is yours between a classic sunset sail, a live music sunset sail with the Cory Heydon Band or an adventure to the reef aboard their glass bottom boat. And whether you’re coupled up or flying solo, Fury will provide all the champagne and strawberries for your toasting (or just drinking) needs. For more information, visit www.furycat.com/ key-west/valentines-day.
All of that adventure got you feeling like you need a break? Treat. Your. Self (or selves, where applicable). We at Florida Weekly are partial to Amri (1204 Simonton St.), where the day spa is a tucked away, outdoor garden oasis. The RELAX package combines a 60-minute facial with a 60-minute massage, which equates to two full hours of solitude and bliss (a blessing no matter your relationship status). Anahara Spa (1128 Duval St.) is also high on our relaxation hitlist. The rainforest steam shower, hydraulic massage tables, organic Shankara products and highly experienced staff are the perfect recipe for indulgence. Couples massages are an option, but don’t forget — self-love is still love, too. And if it’s variety you’re after, Ocean Wellness (829 Simonton St.) has a selection of massage services, body wraps, scrubs and facials that can keep you occupied all V-day long.
Once you’ve found your Zen and had a nice long catchup session, grab a drink at the Afterdeck at Louie’s Backyard (700 Waddell Ave.) and watch the sunset with whomever you choose (or don’t choose). Then head over to the Tropic Cinema (416 Eaton St.) for the Little Shop of Horrors sing-along at 8 p.m. Whether you’re a Seymour, an Audrey or just really into dentistry, grab your best costume (green is universally flattering) and join the fun. We apologize in advance if you find yourself humming “Suddenly Seymour” in the shower for days.
If you’d rather hear other people make music (or if carnivorous plants don’t exactly scream romance to you), First Flight Restaurant & Brewery (301 Whitehead St.) and The Big Stage Productions are hosting “Songs in the Key of Love,” an evening of acoustic love songs with Les Greene, Kristen McNamara, Nick Norman, Joal Rush, Marjory Lee, Chris Toler and more talented performers. Tickets include a glass of champagne and a threecourse meal, with a VIP option available if you’d prefer your champagne bottomless (there are too many jokes in there, so we’ll just leave that one alone). Purchase tickets at www.firstflight.com.
For more informal entertainment, there are too many options to list no matter what day of the week, but a few deserve special mention. Caffeine Carl & The Buzz are playing at Smokin’ Tuna (4 Charles St.) at 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and you’d be hard pressed to find a more talented, more fun group of musicians anywhere on the island. And for something a little different, the New Orleans-based sextet Flow Tribe will be bringing “two pelvis-grinding nights of psychedelic/blues and funk/ rock” (their words, not ours) to the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead St.) on Thursday and Friday, if pelvis grinding is your thing (it takes all kinds, folks). And we guarantee the dude careening on the barstool next to you at either venue won’t care if you’re alone or engaging in some serious PDA (to be honest, chances are he doesn’t even know what day it is).
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a more conventional Valentine’s Day. We would never fault you for spending the day soaking up the sun at Ft. Zachary Taylor and getting a couples massage on the beach at the Southernmost Hotel or the Casa Marina. Feel free to watch the sunset with a thousand of your best friends at Mallory Square, have a pre-dinner drink somewhere swanky like The Roost or General Horseplay (their Red Light Negroni, featuring Bols Genever and served in a diamond cut light bulb decanter, is being hailed as “Key West’s sexiest cocktail”), make a reservation at a romantic restaurant (we hear Martin’s, Café Marquesa, White Tarpon, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen at The Perry Hotel, Tavern ‘n Town, The Saint and pretty much every other restaurant in town will have prix fixe menus and Firefly is bringing back their beef heart tartare special, which will be incredible because everything they do is delicious) and cap it all off with dessert at Better than Sex (which is something you should do when you’re in town regardless of the holiday). Why not catch a concert? Los Lobos is playing at the Key West Theater (512 Eaton St.) and the jazzily romantic Ben Rosenblum Trio will be across the street at the Studios of Key West (533 Eaton St.).
With so many options and events, it will be really difficult to have a bad time in Key West on Valentine’s Day. Skip the meaningless tchotchkes (which, according to Marie Kondo, you’ll be throwing away next time you go all KonMari on your belongings) and do something interesting. Grab a date or a friend or a nobody and try something you’ve never tried before — if nothing else, at least it’ll be an interesting story. And while my Valentine and I will be snuggled up somewhere avoiding the treacly trappings of the season, I do hope you find a reason to embrace the love that is all around us, no matter how you spend your day. ¦ BY LAURA RICHARDSON