What if you could go to a place where you were treated like a friend? A place where the locals go to unwind and the tourists go to pre-game. A place where everyone, no matter what they were looking for, could go to enjoy a nice meal and a good drink. From the line cook from next door needing a bite to eat after a 10-hour shift, to the bachelor party looking for a place to catch the big game while enjoying some esoteric beers, the Old Town Tavern is a stopping spot for all those looking for the in between. Whether it be chic or chill, then this might be your place.
Old Town Tavern is located at 900 Duval St., a revamped space that was once home to a series of unsuccessful Irish bars. Nick Dent, the managing owner, has lived in Key West for 10 years and has worked in a slew of notable establishments such as the infamous Blue Heaven, Mango’s and Hurricane Hole on Stock Island.
“It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s always been my dream and what I wanted to do,” Nick unabashedly admits while describing his vision. “We don’t have live music here. It’s just a place where people can come to relax, have a conversation and watch international sports.”
“International sports?” I ask, because it is not every day that someone puts a global prefix on televised athletics.
“Yes, like rugby and soccer,” Nick answers, which given his Australian heritage makes sense. In fact, Old Town Tavern will be showing most, if not all of the World Cup games that start on June 14. And if soccer isn’t your thing, there are lots of other reasons to stop into this new venue that just opened last month.
“We tick a lot of boxes. There are not many places with really excellent craft beers, nice wines and a full liquor license with great cocktails,” Nick says, but “they are ideas that I’ve been collecting for a little while. We are not trying to be a 10-minute cocktail kind of place, but we use fresh fruit and herbs.”
As for the kitchen, it is what you would expect of a modern tavern. They serve wholesome yet hearty, classic yet inventive, exotic yet familiar, comfort foods. As I’m talking to Nick, I overhear the bartender Jessica Bowman tell a set of customers that the pâté is “just as good as my Mum’s back in England.” The couple doesn’t hesitate on the order.
Another dish on the menu that is getting a lot of attention is the Scotch eggs.
“You have to get the timing and the temperature right,” Nick explains, showing the most emotion that I have seen from him yet. Clearly, he isn’t messing around when it comes to his Scotch eggs. “It took us a while to figure out the recipe so that the outside is firm but the egg is just soft enough and not overcooked on the inside. Then we wrap it in pork sausage, crumb it, fry it, and serve it over mixed greens with a side of mustard sauce.”
(For those of you who don’t know Nicks native lingo, crumbed in Australian means breaded in American.)
The food here is a mix of English, Irish, South African, Australian and…Haitian? Yes, indeed. The LBLT sandwich is a combination of slow-cooked lamb belly, which Nick says is just as flavorful, but leaner than pork belly, along with lettuce, tomato and pikliz, a Haitian,red pepper, green pepper, carrot and cabbage habanero spiked coleslaw. It all gets slathered in a spiced paprika mayo and served with shoestring fries.
One of the things that stands out about the Old Town Tavern menu is the healthy mix of conscious fare for the conscious eater. If you are vegan, vegetarian or gluten free, then you’ve got choices. If you’re like me and eat out all the time, then the two happy hours they offer could be even more beneficial for you. From 4 until 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. the upscale happy hours include half price glasses of wine, well drinks and some select liquors and 25 percent off all beer, but also half price off of all share plates and flatbreads.
“Being a hospitably worker, I’m used to night shifts and not having many food options late night,” Nick says of their after-hours presence. “We are hospitality friendly on a tourist street. I’m not somebody from out of town and I think that people appreciate someone local trying to do something for themselves. The support has been amazing. I’m genuinely surprised at how many people have come to check it out so far.”
Old Town Tavern is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m. with plans to expand to include breakfast. Find it on Facebook @oldtowntavern on its website www.oldtowntavernkw.com. ¦