He just wanted to play a little music. That’s all.
He walked into the brewery, so nonchalant and friendly, that there was no immediate reason to sense any real danger. He didn’t appear to be insane, but in retrospect, the recognition should have been absolutely instantaneous. With so many critically unbalanced people walking around, you’d think a better identification and tagging system would already be in place. Then, he wanted to play music all night. That should have been another sign. Two hours before sunrise, he suggested we strap the canoe to the top of his truck and get out on the water before the sun came up. All of this without the use of serious narcotics. These are all obvious markers. On the way to the mudflats, the easterly wind sheared and undid the half-ass strap job on the canoe, sailing it past us on its way down the middle of the road, and as if that broken strap had been the last thing holding together any semblance of coherent structure and form, my new friend looked over and said, “I’ve never been to Key West. Can we go there now?”
Well, of course.
He’d just made the trek from from Oregon to Fort Myers so there wasn’t any reason he should mind hauling the two of us (and two dogs) another five hours to the end of the overseas highway. I was already in a bad mood and in a world of tricks and uncertainties, this seemed like a great idea and a f’sho possibility. We crackers get to visit the Conch Republic from the time we’re little and this guy was looking for a partner and a guide? And he’s volunteering to drive? You’ve found your man. Sign me up.
Whether you’re chasing a Dead Cat through the rain or enjoying a strawberry daiquiri under the Florida sun, bars and restaurants come and go and everyone has their favorites, but some choices just cannot be left up to chance. If it’s a cold draft beer for which you’re searching, a rum and tonic or a pile of conch fritters, Key West has a few special treats for everyone. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, this short list will help you check off some of the more prestigious and historically relevant localities on the Isle of Bones.
Key West First-Time Non-negotiables:
- Capt. Tony’s Saloon: Touted as the “original” Sloppy Joe’s Bar and the oldest spot on the island, this is the standard for all dark Key West bars. The sun barely makes it’s way through the windows to find you lurking under the dollar bills, business cards and underwear hanging from the ceiling. With some of the most historically fun pool tables anywhere, we are reminded to consider the potential truth when a new friend is suggesting they are an experienced pool shark and predicting wild victories. It might all just be bologna.
- The Bull and Whistle Bar: These are two bars that occupy the first and second floors of the same building. Live music can heard dripping from its stages all day and night. The large open windows of The Bull make it the perfect stop for people watching as well as solving the problems of the universe. The Whistle Bar has great balcony seating that allow for a bird’s eye view of Duval St. and downtown Key West. As long as you aren’t beaming football players in the face with flying coasters, everything should be fine.
- Hog’s Breath Saloon: Peligro! Avoid this establishment if you get a kick out of silly, sorry degenerates and old style saloon piano music. Great times can be found, sitting at one of it’s bar stools and exchanging ideas with the cross-section of interesting folks who’ve found their way to the end of the road. There are always crazy people gathered at the end of the road.
- The Green Parrot: One of the finest bars in the known universe. Just a few blocks off Duval St., this Key West original is the perfect place to play some darts, enjoy great music, and sit back and watch the world peddle by. Welcome to the birthplace of the Rhythm Taco. This cool refreshment is liquid decadence and perfect for the buccaneer inside each on of us. Enjoy the tall Star Trek glass of white rum, served with tonic and lime and remember, “Yes Virginia, you can get a DUI while riding a bicycle.”
— Jason Nail (@NailTravels) January 30, 2017
- Pepe’s Cafe and Steak House: Since 1909, this place has always been on a thirty-five minute wait. No worries. You can enjoy a Bloody Mary or screwdriver while you chill in the shade of the oak trees. You don’t need to be in any kind of rush anyway, because now you’re on island time. Things happen at a slower pace down here and your omelet of the day with cream cheese isn’t going anywhere.
With high levels of fun and low levels of stress, a trip south is always just what the doctor ordered. An ill-prepared road trip to Key West is a fine way to confirm and solidify a new friendship. Not everyone functions well when directly under center and, while not the cutest copilot ever, being funny and flexible certainly helps along the way. Flexibility is important, especially when you’re playing hard to want.
Stay tuned to Nail Travels as we head north to celebrate the inaugural Suwannee Spring Reunion. The camping and music season is about to unfold right in the middle of your face. I’m no gypsy seer, but I figure something serious is about to happen.
Ed. note: Historical records will show that I completely shirked any and all navigational responsibilities by passing out for most of the trip down. I was an utter failure and disgrace in every sense of the mandates that accompany snack preparation and service, dog maintenance, music selection contribution, general companionship, and navigation assistance. I do understand that, as navigator, my job is multi-faceted with many compliments, and I nonetheless, disregarded them completely. Waking from an amazing dream sequence somewhere in South Miami, I found us all turned around, on the army base near Key Biscayne. I should have a question mark there because I really don’t have a clue where we were. We were so lost that by the time he broke the Stella Artois bottle over my head to wake me up, for all I knew, we could have been roving across the lunar surface.
Shortly, we regained directional poise and headed straight south down A-1-A. I was now conscious, perky and monitoring my responsibilities with greater attention, while my new friend drove us on, into the tropical sunset, singing Grateful Dead songs and occasionally misting the entire interior of the Ford with a fine spray of wind-blown vomit.