INTIMATE DINNERS À DEUX, HEART-shaped boxes of chocolates, red roses by the dozen, bottles of champagne. It’s hard to think of a time when Valentine’s Day wasn’t just an excuse to indulge in clichéd displays of romance, but 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-intentioned battery for the romantic notions of Chaucer and Shakespeare, substituting matchmaking lotteries and 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). 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 a the day of all things heart-shaped and sickly sentimental. Considering Valentine’s Day sales are projected to reach $27.4 billion this year (and CVS starts stocking Valentine’s Day cards and tchotchkes right after 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 the 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 went home with a stomach ache from all that low-quality drugstore chocolate. So whether you’re spending the day with your #bae, celebrating Single Awareness Day (otherwise known as SAD, which just seems like an intentional dig) or rocking Galentine’s Day like Leslie Knope’s squad, whether you’re practicing #frugalFebruary (which is apparently a thing now?) or fully embracing the #treatyourself philosophy, Key West has something to fit your style and your budget.
It may be clichéd, but I believe that nothing 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 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 its indoor, climate-controlled garden, you’ll find dozens of species of butterfly 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’ll probably get to 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? Sunset Watersports has put together a combination package for your inner adventurer. Experience the beauty of Key West from the air and the sea with the Do It All package, which combines a 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). Visit www.sunsetwatersportskeywest.com for details.
If you’d rather have your feet on solid ground (or boat deck, as the case may be), consider one of Fury Watersports’ three sunset sails. The choice is yours between a classic sunset sail, the Commotion on the Ocean live music sunset sail or an adventure to the reef aboard Fury’s 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 the 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 hit list. 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.
Once you’ve found your Zen, 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 hop an Uber over to the Tennessee Williams Theatre (5901 College Road, Stock Island) for “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” at 8 p.m. This one night only production presents the acclaimed actor/singer/storyteller in his most electrifying role: concert performer. At the very least, you can use his role as Inigo Montoya to channel your inner Wesley or Buttercup and go all “Princess Bride” on the rest of your evening.
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. from 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, Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan will be bringing “organ-driven, hard-hittin’, boogaloo rooted power funk with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit” to the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead St.) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if boogaloo is your thing. 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 Fort 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 recommend Antonia’s, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen at The Perry Hotel, Martin’s, Café Marquesa, Firefly, Santiago’s … OK, we recommend a lot of places) 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). Or get playful and hit The Retro Room (126 Simonton St.) for some old school fun and games (but keep the competition friendly, lest your night go straight to single-player mode).
With so many options and events, it will be really difficult to have a bad time 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 secluded avoiding the treacly trappings of the day, I hope you have a Valentine’s Day full of love, however (and with whomever) you spend it. ¦