SEPTEMBER. JUST THE MERE mention of the month sends shivers down every hot-blooded American’s spine. The advent of September means back-to-work, back-to-school, sharp-ened pencils and brand-new backpacks and briefcases — that is to say, summer vacation is over and it’s back to the daily grind. And somehow, despite all of our best efforts to make the most of every summer day, there are still untak-en boat trips and squandered three-day weekends that will be haunting our dreams until winter break. But there’s still time! So how does a tropical island like Key West celebrate the chang-ing of the seasons when the seasons don’t actually change all that much? The ultimate end-of-summer girls’ weekend: Key West WomenFest, which runs from Sep. 5 – 9.
For decades, Key West’s WomenFest weekend has drawn thousands of lesbians and their friends to what is arguably the premier gay vacation destination in the country (sorry, Provincetown, but the weather up north is already a little too nippy for our taste). WomenFest weekend has a simple goal: to serve as a gathering for women who want to mix, mingle, feel comfortable being themselves, soak up some rays and then party their faces off.
Since its debut more than 20 years ago, Key West WomenFest has grown to become a worldwide standard for lesbian gatherings. Couples, singles and families arrive in the southernmost town each year to enjoy the famously gay-friendly atmosphere that the Key West Business Guild — the nation’s first ever gay-oriented chamber of commerce — works tirelessly to maintain. With Lilith Fair a mere memory (I’m still grieving the lack of Alanis in my life) and Palm Springs’ Dinah Shore Weekend already come and gone, the streets of Key West (complete with LGBTQ-themed rainbow sidewalks) are guaranteed to be overrun with women looking to celebrate in all their Sapphic glory against the lushly tropical backdrop of our remarkable island paradise.
While this year’s schedule of events ranges from raucous pool parties to intimate art openings, much of the draw of WomenFest is the simple promise of lazy days spent poolside, or else strolling through the sun-dappled historic neighborhoods of Key West with the comfort of knowing you can hold your girlfriend’s hand without some psychopath yelling hateful slurs from across the street. Key West is a city where gay couples don’t just vacation; they settle down, procreate and then send their children to the local Montessori school.
While many arriving for WomenFest will invariably take advantage of Key West’s picturesque state park, its wideranging culinary scene, unique museums and world-famous watering holes, it’s the official WomenFest events that keep the ladies coming back year after year. This year’s schedule has been curated to appeal to a wide audience, with both family-friendly events and those decidedly adult in nature. We’ve got the full schedule, so read on to learn what’s happening when and plan your ideal itinerary for the weekend.
This year’s WomenFest party headquarters is Key West’s quintessential drag bar, Aqua Nightclub (711 Duval St.), whose “Reality is a Drag” shows and open-air Back Bar make it the perfect spot to take in a show or enjoy cocktails under the stars. WomenFest kicked off on Wednesday Sept. 5 with a Welcome Party at Sidebar (504 Angela St.), Aqua Nightclub’s adjunct little sister, at 7 p.m.
If you didn’t party hard enough Wednesday night, fear not. Thursday, Sept. 6, starts with the Get Lei’d Party from noon until 3 p.m. at The Green Room (501 Greene St.) and Tiki House (430 Greene St.). For three whole hours, you can get totally “lei’d” at the Green Room and Tiki House while winning additional prizes just for drinking. A mere $20 allows you entry into this fantastic event that starts at The Green Room, where you will receive a free drinking cup, two free drinks, two raffle tickets and some party swag. After that, it is your mission to bounce between The Green Room and Tiki House and collect an equal number of leis from each bar — one lei for every alternating drink. Each drink you buy at a discounted price will get you another lei and a raffle ticket for some truly epic prizes. At the end of the party, the lady that got lei’d the most (i.e. the chica with the most faux flower garlands around her neck) wins. Bonus: your first drink at both The Green Room and Tiki House are on the house. After you’ve nabbed your tropical trophy, hitch a ride out to Havana Cabana Hotel (3420 N. Roosevelt Blvd.) for the Girls Just Wanna Have Rum Pool Party. From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., listen to the allfemale Latin band Las Divas with an ice-cold mojito by the gorgeous pool (which honestly looks more like a Balinese oasis than a hotel watering hole). When you’ve had your fill of pool time (is that even a thing?), grab a solid meal because Sidebar’s Glow Party kicks off at 9 p.m. and you’ll want all the energy you can muster to dance and glow all night long. After the last of your glow sticks have died, hop down the street to Pandora’s Party at Viva Saloon (903 Duval St.) where DJ Rude Girl will be spinning tunes from 10 p.m. until you just can’t dance anymore.
We suggest you spend the next morning recharging your batteries, because Friday, Sept. 7 is chock full of great events and is going to require some stamina. If you’re feeling bright-eyed and bushy tailed (and miraculously unhungover from Thursday’s late-night antics), hit one of the IWFFA Flag Football Clinics held from 10 a.m. to noon at Bayview Park and get in some practice for Saturday morning’s “friendly” game. After you sweat a little, soak your tired muscles in the pool at Alexander’s Guesthouse (1118 Fleming St.) during BAMandKAT’sRUWetPoolParty with DJ Rude Girl from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Later that evening, enjoy a sunset dinner cruise hosted on one of Sunset Watersports’ deluxe catamarans, with hors d’oeuvres, top-shelf drinks and a pulse-pounding dance party to round out the trip. At night, flit back and forth between a mix of ladies’ night lounge specials and a “Stop Light” dance party at Sidebar. The party starts at 9 p.m., when legendary drag queen Spikey Van Dykey and DJ Citizen Jane step on stage and behind the decks to deliver their patented brands of hilarious drag and impossible-to-resist beat-murdering music. Your feet (and laugh muscles) have been warned.
You can party all the way into the next morning, then sweat out the toxins with a friendly game of IWFFA Flag Football in Bayview Park at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 8. If you’ve overslept, you can still hit the WomenFest Pool Party at noon at the typically male-only Bourbon St. Pub (724 Duval St.). There will be games and prizes, and in true Key West spirit, clothing is completely optional. If you haven’t gotten enough sun, join Spikey Van Dykey at 1 p.m. for Fury Water Adventures’ three-hour Reef & Ritas tour. No, this is not the S.S. Minnow redux; $47.95 plus tax gets you three uninterrupted hours of sun, surf and all the margaritas your tequilaloving tummy can handle. Once you’ve snorkeled yourself silly, nap off that tequila buzz and head back downtown to the White Party at Aqua Nightclub. DJ Citizen Jane starts spinning at 11 p.m. Are you one of those ladies who wakes up early on vacation all brighteyed and bushy-tailed (you lucky duck)? Roll out of bed and head to Jazz Brunch on Sunday Sept. 9 at the Hard Rock Café (313 Duval St.) from 10 a.m. until noon. If you’re like the rest of us (which means you need a long nap, a heavy meal and a bloody Mary to make you feel whole again), the BackBar at Aqua is hosting Hot Dog Church, a weekly ladies’ tradition here in Key West. Hot dogs and hamburgers will be in ample supply starting at 1 p.m. A hot dog with a little hair of the dog? Sounds like a marriage made in hangover heaven.
If sausage isn’t exactly your cup of pre-Tea Dance tea (see what we did there?), hit the Tatas & Tequila Pre-Tea Mixer from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Rumbar/ Speakeasy Inn (1115 Duval St.). From there, it’s a short skip to the traditional Sunday Tea Dance at Key West’s gay mainstay, La Te Da (1125 Duval St.), in the heart of Duval St. And if you’ve made it to the end of the day and you’re still looking for more (we seriously envy your stamina), cap off your weekend with the “Victoria’s Dirty Little Secret” Lingerie Tea Dance After Party at Mangoes beginning at 7 p.m.
With such a wide variety of activities all weekend long, you’ll be forgiven if you return home on Monday a little worse for the wear. But the exhaustion is well worth the price of admission to Key West WomenFest.
For more information, ticket prices and contacts, visit.www.womenfest.com. ¦