Ask almost anybody — including PlanetOut, Out and About Magazine, The Travel Channel UK, QX Magazine and at least a dozen other publications and associations — Island House, the award-winning, gay male resort at the upper edge of Old Town Key West, is simply out of this world. The clothing-optional, 34-room complex (offering eight suites with kitchenettes plus three longer-term full apartments) has been named “The best gay men’s resort in the world” by BOYZ and by OUT Traveler magazines and has received TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” every year since 2010.
As Passport Magazine enthused, “Gay travel has its first five-star resort.”
Of course, it wasn’t always thus.
Back in 1999, when owner Jon Allen and his late husband, Martin Kay, bought the property, it had been “a gay men’s guest house since 1974, an assortment of buildings, in dismal condition. It was being held in the estate of one of the owners, whose parents lived in a little village in Alberta, Canada,” said Mr. Allen in a telephone interview. “It was very rundown and the business was poor. Our goal was to bring it up to the other gay male guest houses.”
That conversation led to a stroll down memory lane, trying to recall the more than a dozen exclusively gay male or lesbian lodgings in town back then. All that remain besides Island House are New Orleans House and the Equator; others, like Alexander’s, is or was always gay/lesbian/all welcome. In about 2000, however, 15 percent of the hotel rooms in Key West were gay or lesbian or both, Mr. Allen said.
Initial, basic repairs were soon done to the outside, then the inside. In late 2000 “we did some construction, replaced a building that was falling apart, installed asbestos siding and window insulation and reconfigured the pool,” he continued. “We renewed the buildings but didn’t bring the level of furnishings and amenities” up to the luxury level. Ultimately, however, they “flipped the inside up to being on par with any five-star property in town,” winning “Grand Prize, Guesthouse Renovation” from the Key West Chamber of Commerce.
That high standard has been scrupulously maintained.
Island House is set in a completely secure private compound where the choice to wear something, or nothing at all, is yours. The large heated pool and Jacuzzis are open 24 hours a day and the health club, which includes a gym and spa area with sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi, is the most complete in Key West. The cafe, which has been rated one of the best in Key West, serves American favorites with Caribbean touches for breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus an overnight menu poolside. The bar is open all day and all night.
“The resort offers a free happy hour every evening which is quite festive, and provides an opportunity to get to know other guests. The erotic video lounge is open 24 hours a day, showing adult male videos exclusively. The rooms are decorated in a masculine and tropical motif inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s home in Havana.
The amenities are almost endless and guests enjoy many amenities for free that are costly additions at other hotels. In addition to the open-bar, premium-brand happy hour, with craft beer and champagne, the video lounge and the basic health club there are both steam room and dry sauna, a heated lap pool, indoor/outdoor hot tubs, brand name coffee and tea, branded Island House reusable water bottles, Wi-Fi service throughout the entire property, and off-street parking.
Island House is gay-owned and managed and the friendly all-male staff enjoys working together to ensure that your stay is both fun and memorable.
Happily, it looks as if that will continue for the foreseeable future. While the resort was briefly on the market some months after Mr. Kay’s death in December 2013, Mr. Allen soon decided not to sell, according to Jeffrey Smead, director of marketing. “That’s a dead issue,” said Mr. Snead. “He made it crystal clear” and has arranged to remain primary partner in the business as long as he lives. Despite moving from Key West to the wine country of Northern California, Mr. Allen also remains “very interested” in “day-to-day” operations, visiting regularly and consulting by phone several times a week, Mr. Snead said.
Yep, no contest. Island House is a totally remarkable resort. Makes me wish I were a gay or bi man (and about 40 years younger, but that’s another story). If you’re fortunate enough to qualify, check it out.
As for me, I’ll just sit here sipping my scotch waiting for the resort’s annual all-welcome Pride Open House next Wednesday, June 8, from 5 till 8 p.m. Be prepared for a very festive mob. The open house is sponsored by Stoli, Mr. Snead noted. Island House is located at the corner of Fleming and White streets. ¦
Islandhousekeywest.com (800) 890- 6284 (305) 294- 6284