Monday, November 28, 2016

Key West 2016

Key West sign


This trip couldn’t have come at a better time. My tooth was still hurting from the root canal I had a few weeks ago, and all the ugliness dredged up by the election was really getting to me. I needed a few days of sunshine and mojitos in a city whose philosophy was “One Human Family”. If there is any place where people embrace each other’s differences, Key West is it!

We didn’t do much on Friday since our flight didn’t get in until mid-afternoon. By the time we’d settled into the house and made a run to the grocery store for beer and perishables, it was getting dark. We walked down to the waterfront and ate dinner at Schooner Wharf Bar, sitting on the upper deck where there was a nice breeze. I had my first mojito of the trip and my tooth was feeling better already. :-)

There was a street party that night on Duval but Ron and I didn’t stay long. We were both tired so we left Ronnie and Jamie to continue the party at Irish Kevin’s while we headed back to the house for bed.


Have you noticed that most Key West trip reviews go like this, “We ate here, then we drank here, then we ate here, then we drank here”? Well, this review won’t be much different, I’m afraid. :-)  Key West has fantastic restaurants and bars. Ron and I have a few favorite spots that we keep going back to but we also like to try new ones each trip. This time we decided to check out Harpoon Harry’s on Caroline Street for breakfast. Harpoon Harry’s was a bright pink diner-style restaurant with reasonable prices. The food was quite tasty too. Ron had a huge plate of biscuits and gravy and I ordered the French toast with bacon. We took a stroll around the waterfront afterwards to walk off some of our breakfast. The weather was spectacular – sunny and breezy and not too hot.

Mac's truck

conch shell cart

Key West Bight

By the time we got back to the house, Ronnie and Jamie were up and moving. Our plan for the morning was to take the house bikes to the race village on the Truman Waterfront to see the race boats. It was great having bikes to get around. We were all a bit rusty at first but I was more comfortable than last year, especially after we figured out that Southard and Fleming Streets have bike lanes. With the bikes, we got to the Truman complex in no time but the race village turned out to be a disappointment. They charged $10 just to get in and there wasn’t even a beer tent. The guys were irritated about being charged since the race village is free at the Clearwater and Sarasota races. Plus…no beer! Oh well, there was beer at Garbo’s Grill (now that they had moved their food truck next to Grunts Bar), so we headed that way. Ron and I shared a plate of the Yum Yum Shrimp Tacos, which were amazing as always.

Garbo's Grill

shrimp tacos

After lunch, the guys dropped us off at Kino Sandals while they went across the street to Captain Tony’s Saloon. Jamie was looking for some sandals for her daughter and sister. I was just along for the ride, not planning on buying anything, but then I saw a girl trying on an adorable pair and couldn’t resist getting them for myself. They were so cute! I’m really not much of a shopper, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little piece of vacation to take home with you. :-)

The shopping made us thirsty so after we’d paid for our shoes, we picked up the guys at Tony’s and walked down to the Grand Café on Duval Street for mojitos. Ronnie and Jamie introduced us to the Grand’s mojitos last year, and they have now taken the top spot in my Favorite Mojitos list. So good! As we were sitting at our table by the street, a group of Superheroes walked by, including Captain America, Thor, Superman, the Hulk and Wonder “Woman”. There was even a Ghostbuster in there, although I’m not quite sure how he fit in. We all thought it was pretty funny that Superman was wearing a fanny pack. Only in Key West!

Key West Grand Cafe

Grand Cafe mojito

conch fritters

Superheroes on Duval Street

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool at the house. Well, Jamie and I did anyway.  Jamie had gotten some kind of rash on her legs so the guys offered to take the bikes to the CVS on Truman to pick up some cortisone cream. I knew the CVS was less than a mile away so it should have taken the guys half an hour max to get back. But half an hour went by, then 45 minutes, then an hour. I was starting to get really worried! Finally I called Ron’s cell phone and when he answered, he said they’d just gotten to the CVS. Apparently, Ronnie has no sense of direction and had gotten them completely lost. It’s not that big an island! You could pretty much cover the whole thing in an hour on a bike! Jamie was sure they must have made a stop at a bar or two, but I could tell by the way that Ron was annoyed that they’d really been lost.

We had dinner that night at El Siboney, but then turned in early. No one wanted to stay out late since we had to be up for the Super Boat races in the morning.


Like last year, we’d booked spots on the Sebago catamaran to watch the races. We were supposed to be at Sebago’s office at the Key West Bight at 8:15 to check in for the 8:30 boarding. I figured we’d have plenty of time if we left the house by 8, but I forgot to take into account that Jamie walks realllllllly slow. About half way to the waterfront, Ron and I went on ahead so we wouldn’t be late. We checked in and kept an eye out for Ronnie and Jamie while we stood in line to board the boat. I thought I spotted Ronnie’s bright green shirt heading our way, but then they disappeared! We waited and waited and finally just before everyone started boarding, they came around the corner. Ronnie had taken a right instead of a left and had gotten lost again. I had no idea he had such a bad sense of direction. It’s funny what you learn about people when you travel with them. :-)

Sebago’s boat, Marquesa, was a 69-foot catamaran sailboat. We motored out of the harbor and set anchor right next to the Turn 2 marker on the race course. You couldn’t get much closer to the action than that! The first race started at 10, followed by three more races, with the boats getting larger and faster with each race. During a long break between race 1 and 2, I stretched out on deck and enjoyed the lovely sunshine and breeze. Then the crew put out a lunch spread of fried chicken, pasta salad and sandwich meats. It was a beautiful day to be on the water.

Sebago catamaran

Ron on Sebago boat

Race 3 turned out to be the most exciting. Seven boats took off, driving close together with no one giving way. As they came around the first turn, the boat in the fourth position, Pro Floors Racing from New Zealand, lost control and rolled over upside down. The WHM boat, immediately behind it, couldn’t get out of the way fast enough and launched right over the top of it. Incredibly, the WHM boat kept right on going and finished the race in third place. Most importantly, the drivers of the Pro Floors boat were able to get out of their overturned boat and no one was hurt.

The fourth race was kind of anti-climactic after that. It started an hour late because it took so long to tow the Pro Floors boat off of the race course. I think everyone was ready to get off the boat by the time the last race was finally over. We started joking that if they didn’t hurry up and finish, we’d end up getting a sunset cruise.

Superboat International Championship

5 Brothers race boat

Marker 17 Marine race boat

Key West Super Boat race

race boat and helicopter

WHM race boat

neck and neck

Super Boat race photography boat

watching the races

We made it back to the house around 4:30 and relaxed until time for dinner. After the long day out on the water, none of us wanted to go very far to eat, so we walked a couple of blocks to Mangia Mangia Pasta Café on Southard. We ate outside in the cute courtyard with white lights strung around the trees.  Ron and I shared a salad and a plate of spinach fettuccine alfredo with lump crabmeat. Yum! We’ll definitely have to eat there again another trip.


Last year we had to drive home the day after the boat races, which was harsh. I was glad that this time we had another day to unwind and enjoy Key West. Ron and I rode the bikes to breakfast at one of our favorite places, Blue Heaven, an outdoor restaurant with roosters crowing from the roof of the bar and a cat playing hostess. We got to Blue Heaven at 7:40 but then found out they didn’t open until 8. So we took a walk around the block past Hemingway’s house and the lighthouse. By the time we got back, it was 8 o’clock and there was already a line of people waiting to get in. I ordered the eggs Benedict with spinach and a cup of café con leche and Ron had a fruit bowl with homemade banana bread.

Blue Heaven Key West

Blue Heaven breakfast


After breakfast, we spent the morning at the Mel Fisher Museum. Mel Fisher’s story is one of true persistence and determination. Fisher and his family spent 16 years searching for the treasure of the Spanish galleon Atocha, which sank during a hurricane in 1622. Every day for 16 years Mel said, “Today’s the day!” When they finally found it 34 miles west of Key West in 1985, the treasure was worth almost half a billion dollars. Although the museum honors Mel Fisher, I was fascinated by his wife Deo. Originally from Montana, she moved with her family to California where she met Mel. The two of them opened the first dive shop on the west coast, where Deo was responsible for introducing the sport of scuba diving to thousands of women. In 1959, she broke the world’s underwater endurance record by spending 55 hours and 37 minutes in a porpoise tank. She was only 23 at the time. Deo was the one who kept Mel going all those years, even after their son and daughter-in-law were killed in a boating accident. She sounded like a really cool woman!

Mel Fisher Museum

When we were done at the museum, we met up with Ronnie and Jamie and walked down to Mallory Square for lunch and drinks at El Meson de Pepe. We ate at their Patio Bar and enjoyed the breeze while we watched a family of chickens pecking around on the ground. Jamie and I both ordered mojitos and agreed that while they were really good, the ones at the Grand were still the best. So of course, we had to go back to the Grand for another one. After two mojitos, my tooth was feeling just fine! :-)

El Meson de Pepe
El Meson de Pepe

chicken family

mother hen

Duval Street
Duval Street

Sloppy Joe's Bar

That night we watched the sunset from the pier in front of the Westin hotel. A Key West sunset is something everyone needs to experience. There are carts selling souvenirs and performers juggling or balancing on unicycles. While we waited for the sun to go down, we watched Dominique with his famous circus cats. What a character! I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I liked his cat socks. The sunset turned out to be one of the prettier ones we’ve seen in Key West, and it got prettier and prettier after the sun set and the clouds lit up in pink and gold. Sailboats on their sunset cruises crisscrossed the water. Beautiful!

For dinner, we picked up cheesesteaks from Mr. Z’s on Southard and took them back to the house to eat. On the ride to Mr. Z’s, Ronnie somehow missed a turn and got lost again! We decided we were going to have to put a tracking device on him. :-)

Dominique and his Circus Cats

sunset sailing

Key West sunset

Key West sunset

Key West sunset sailboat

Key West sunset



Since we didn’t have to leave for the airport until noon on Tuesday, we had just enough time to explore the Key West Cemetery. The sunny weather had given way to cloudy skies, but it was still pleasant walking along the quiet paths between the grave stones. The cemetery was established in 1847 and reflects Key West’s diverse and interesting history. Many of the grave stones have names that are familiar to visitors - Mallory, Greene and “Sloppy” Joe Russell (the famous bar owner and friend to Ernest Hemingway). There are sad stories, like the husband and wife who died in a murder-suicide and two brothers killed in an explosion. There are crumbling markers and beautiful Victorian statues of angels. There is even a funny headstone for a local hypochondriac which reads “I told you I was sick.” The 19-acre cemetery holds the graves of rich and poor, black and white, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant. Key West was and still is a place for everyone.

Key West Cemetery

Key West Cemetery

Mojito Review

One thing I love about Key West is that they know how to make a mojito! Here is my ranking for this trip, starting with the best:
  1. Grand Café – Fresh, minty and not too sweet. They use Flor de Cana rum and muddle with granulated sugar instead of simple syrup. The $6 happy hour price is a great value too. 
  2. El Meson de Pepe – Strong with a good balance of mint, lime and Bacardi rum.
  3. Schooner Wharf Bar – On the small side but very good.
  4. Westin Pier drink cart – The only mojito I didn't really enjoy. Too much lime.

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