Thursday, May 19, 2011
A stroll down Duval Street in Key West, Florida
One of the first things you notice when you arrive in Key West is the roosters and chickens that roam freely on the streets. While it’s perfectly legal to keep chickens here and they’ve become a legend over the years, the chicken population has stirred up quite a controversy among the locals. Read more about the chicken wars here. We photographed this handsome fellow near Duval Street, happy as a lark, walking right along with the tourists with not a care in the world. Come to think of it, maybe being a rooster in Key West isn’t all that bad after all. Nice work if you can get it.
Duval Street in Key West, Florida is often called the longest street in the world because it runs across the island from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. To say it’s a tourist attraction is an understatement. In addition to people such as ourselves that drove last month to the Keys to spend a couple of days soaking up the sun and relaxing in one of the many Victorian homes that now operate as lodges, hordes of day-trippers disembark from cruise ships that pull up to the dock in Key West daily and join the others that stroll Duval Street.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a favorite haunt of Key West’s legendary resident Ernest Hemingway, is one of the first places day-trippers stop on Duval Street. Hemingway once branded the offbeat ambiance of Key West “the St. Tropez of the poor.” Sloppy Joe’s opened the day prohibition ended in the US, December 5, 1933. However, the bar hasn’t always been called Sloppy Joes. As the story goes, it was originally a bar/club of shabby discomfort, good friends, gambling, fifteen-cent whiskey, and ten-cent shots of gin. The club also sold liquor and iced seafood and consequently the floor was always wet from the melted ice. Hemingway and his mob of cronies taunted owner Jose Garcia about running a sloppy joint and the name stuck. Sloppy Joe’s is now a Key West institution attracting the day crowd where the music gets louder as the day goes on and the word on the street is they serve a good “sloppy Joe.”
We opted to start the morning off down the street at Fogarty’s Flying Monkey Bar with a Bloody Mary. The white “cloud” coming from the roof is mist that’s sprayed in the air along the sidewalks up and down Duval Street. Supposedly it’s to help the tourists stay cool. Believe me, it definitely doesn’t make for a good hair day (you’ll see my hair later and agree). The bar specializes in frozen drinks, but we stuck with our first choice.
When we took a sip of the Flying Monkeys Bar’s very hot and spicy Bloody Mary, Meakin asked the bartender if there was a secret ingredient in them, dried thyme perhaps? The bartender shrugged his shoulders, then turned around, opened the cash register, took out a slip of paper from under the till, and casually handed it to us. Much to our surprise, it was the list of ingredients that he had added to the tomato juice just minutes earlier to make the Flying Monkeys Bar’s Bloody Mary. I asked if I could write them down and he said “sure,” so I did. You ask for a recipe and they hand it over. How often does that happen? Not often enough. As I scanned the list, it appears that Old Bay seasonings is their secret ingredient.
Flying Monkeys Bar’s Bloody Mary Mix
Here are the seasonings that were added to a gallon to tomato juice at Fogarty’s Flying Monkeys Bar: 2 ounces Worcestershire sauce, 5 tablespoons prepared horseradish, 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasonings, 1 tablespoon celery salt, 2 ounces lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, ¼ ounce Tabasco sauce, and 2 teaspoons blacking spice. Add vodka, gin or Cruzan gold rum (my personal favorite) to taste. It’s hot enough to bring tears to your eyes.
There are all sorts of ways of navigate your way around Key West.
Soon we were hungry and ready for some seafood for lunch. We decided on The Conch Republic Seafood Company, located on the historic harbor walk right around the corner from Duval Street. Meakin snapped this photo of a lovely lady sitting at the bar enjoying conch fritters with a key lime mustard sauce.
We started our meal with a tropical Rum Runner cocktail and no, unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to get the recipe this time. However, after living in the islands for years, we make a mean rum drink and here’s our recipe below, fashioned after the famous Guana Grabber drink in the Bahamas.
Bahamian Rum Runner Cocktail
Mix 1 ounce grapefruit juice, 3 ounces pineapple juice, 1 ounce orange juice with 1 ounce light rum, 1 ounce coconut rum, and 1 ounce Myer’s dark rum. Add a dash of grenadine, combine with ice and shake well. Strain and pour over fresh ice. Garnish as desired. Serves one.
The dozen oysters Meakin enjoyed for lunch were so briny and sweet he almost ordered a second round.
I had my heart set on a conch salad, but unfortunately it wasn’t on the menu, so I chose their Island Salad mixed with greens, avocado slices, mangos, oranges, tomatoes and cucumbers, tossed in a citrus vinaigrette and garnished with plantain chips. Very refreshing and healthy.
We chose the elegant, yet laid back Bagatelle’s restaurant on Duval Street for dinner and dined on the porch. The chef combines classical French cuisine with the indigenous tastes of the Keys and the Caribbean in his dishes. Again I was hoping to have a conch salad as an appetizer. The waitress informed me that conch wasn’t in season, so I enjoyed their rich yet delicate creamy fish chowder loaded with local seafood.
Meakin enjoyed another rich, decidedly French appetizer, mussels (or moules if you wish) in cream sauce while he sipped on a drink called An Old Cuban, which tasted similar to a margarita with mint.
The Florida Keys are not at all typical of the rest of the state. In the early 1800’s, they were founded on a seafaring, salvaging economy rather than agriculture or tourism.
Thousands of ships sailed between Cuba and Florida during this time, making it one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The ships were square-rigged and often overloaded, making them difficult to sail and they didn’t go into the wind very well. Among the hazards facing the captains of these ships were the currents, weather, and shallow waters over the coral of the Florida Reef. Many of them ran onto the rocks and the hull of their ships ripped open and sank, while others were left on the rocks. Almost no charts were available to show were the reefs were, no lighthouses guided the captains into safe waters, and they had no warnings about threatening weather. Worse still, legendary pirates such as Blackbeard roamed these waters.
This simple white frame cottage is now the Wrecker’s Museum and was built by one of the earliest Key West settlers who came north from Nassau in the Bahamas, hence the Bahamian flag flying alongside the American flag.
The term “wreckers” refers to the people who went out and salvaged the crew, ship, and cargo of ships that had run aground. Some of this happened out of heroism and some out of piracy.
Because of the location and climate, the residents built eclectic style cottages and were called “Conch Style” after its creators - islanders who ate the meat of the large seashells. From the Bahamian settlers came airy cottages with open porches, hinged and louvered shutters, and verandas. From New Orleans came filigreed trellises and balustrades. Greek and Gothic Revival style homes swept the nation during Key West’s heyday, which ended about the time of the American Civil War. Many of these cottages survived and are lovingly restored into lodging and private homes. Here are some examples, including a regal white church proudly occupying its corner.
We stayed in the heart of the Historic District at the Pilot House, so we could walk everywhere and not have to worry with parking. Our room was in the restored Victorian Otto Mansion, one block off of Duval Street.
You see it all on Duval Street. Here someone has turned a dog into a sophisticated beggar of sorts, asking you to “give the dog a bone.” What can I say? The dog seemed content and looked well fed.
This trip to Key West was a month ago. We drove from Fort Myers, which took us about six hours. Next time we might fly or take one of the four big catamaran boats operated by Sea Key West that operate between Fort Myers Beach and Key West daily. Why not arrive in style in less than four hours, rested, relaxed and ready to have fun.
Just like any other touristy area, things don’t come cheap on Duval Street. Perhaps in Key West money does grow among the palm trees.
This will be linked to Oh the Places I've Been at The Tablescaper.