Key West where the fun begins at the end of the line
The roosters leave the street headed for night perches and look like so many animated signs as they skittle and bob across low roofs on their way to sleep. Their twilight cock-a-doodle-do is not so strident as it could be, more insistent than intrusive as they urge residents to stop wandering Duval and go to bed. At sunrise, it’s repeated — get up, get going, get up, get going.
Blue Heaven with it’s shady past was formerly part brothel, part cockfighting, part boxing ring with Papa Hemingway standing in as referee, cigar clamped in his teeth. Now its courtyard holds a bevy of four-tops filled with sun-kissed visitors looking for the perfect pina colada and perfect piece of sautéed yellowtail cradled atop angel hair pasta with a drizzle of buerre blanc. Someday, this dish may be as legendary as Papa standing by the ring.
Lest we forget the roosters, the area above the patio has swaths of cloth hanging like huge hammocks in the trees to protect from the nightly love offerings of the birds roosting high above.
Legend is something Key West has learned to market. Every street has a story, every house a tale of intrigue, excess or just plain folly. Presidents have chosen it as a place to get away and one whole section of Old Town is the Truman Annex — named after Harry Truman’s winter White House (now a museum) and the adjacent Navy base. There is even a “sand” sculpture of Truman on the grounds, forever at ease smiling toward the horizon.
Now the annex area is 7 blocks of planned housing, two-story, metal-roofed KW cottages standing cheek to jowl with walkways weaving between them like secret passageways in a pirate camp.
Jimmy Buffett. Everyone knows him or has a personal story. He is to KW what George Washington is to New England. I’m sure he slept everywhere at least once. His pal Kenny Chesney spawned a new legend when he decided to buy a house but word leaked out and before he ever arrived, fans were camped out on the sidewalk. He took one look and put the house back on the market never spending a single night there. True, who cares, it's a great story.
Duval creates legends almost daily as visitors and residents vie for titles of most outrageous, most fascinating, most entertaining or just most bizarre. The blues guy rides his neon-decorated bike, playing of course, the blues on his boom box nightly to waves and soft applause from the street. Sunset is an event with jugglers, musicians, street vendors and tightrope walkers. Pirate booty is on display at Mel Fisher’s museum and everyone knows there are pirate ships out there in the shifting sands just waiting to give up more treasure.
Grab a ferry from the marina over to Sunset Key for lunch or dinner at Latitude’s. Tuck up under the veranda or settle in among the palms for some white linen service and very good food. The beach begins at the edge of the dining room and the smooth ring of turquoise water is broken by boats heading out to fish and parasailers headed for the sky.
PS the chickens in Key West are protected by local ordinance so don’t get any locavore ideas about coq au vin.
© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.