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.

57 comments:

  1. The thing I love about KW is the restaurant next door is better than the one you just left! Such good food and "people watching". Hope you didn't miss Blue Heaven. Enjoy!

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  2. Wonderful and informative post Sam. Key West is a "must do", everyone needs to visit at least once...just not in the summer.

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  3. I've never been ..but one day would like to.. I love Fl..

    Thanks for the tour..it started off well..I see you were checking the Real Estate:) You look great.I like picking up those magazines and looking at the homes..values etc..

    The restos etc look so relaxing and holidayish..

    Fun times..

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  4. What a lovely place! Those houses are gorgeous. Thanks for the virtual tour.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  5. Sam, I LOVE this post... although I have been to Florida many times, we have never ventured down to Key West, and I am so looking forward to a trip there. Thank you for sharing... the food, the streets, the houses, the eclectic mix is awesome!....

    Would you recommend a stay at the place you had a room in?....

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  6. Nice little tour Sam. We stayed in Key West one night before we hopped on a boat to head over to the Tortugas for 4 days. We were with a group of about 8 people and the person in charge insisted we eat at the local Burger King. As you can imagine I was fit to be tied over that.

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  7. Never been there, but really would love to go. Thank you for sharing this little piece of paradise. Your photos bring it right here in my mind. Those oysters are a sight to behold. Thank you; much enjoyed this little trip.
    Rita

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  8. What fun! I need a vacation!

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  9. Oh my Sam! you live such an exciting lfe I love reading your posts.
    That chook in the top pic is ever so haughty - strutting his stuff along the avenue! love all your pics! xx

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  10. Magical photos and the weather looks fantastic. It was the oysters and the mussels that really got my attention though :-) Diane

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  11. What a wonderful post...you made me back in Key West...it was a fantastic trip!!! Hugs, Flavia

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  12. We stayed in the Keys for a week about 10 years ago in a home rented by our niece & nephew. We took one day trip to Key West that I was unable to fully enjoy because of a seriously bad headache. I know everyone loves the Keys, but I'll never return. The no-seeums ate me alive and I had welts all over my body. I could go on and on. I do wish I had been able to better enjoy our short time at Key West though. It's such an interesting place.

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  13. Thank you so much, Sam, for taking me to Key West with you. I've never been to southern Florida and it is high on my list of places I want to visit. It may be touristy at times but I know I would love it! Your photos are great.

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  14. Wonderful trip, Sam... allowed me to conjure up some memories. We haven't been there for many years, but I still remember Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's home and all the cats...
    Love the chicken photo and please tell Meakin I could have shared in those beautiful oysters. ;)

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  15. I now must add Key West to my list of "must see" places. The wandering chicken enchants - the mist is a hoot - I suppose it cools off people. Blackened spice in the Blood Marys? Those oysters! And the ability to roam without pirates all entice! Trying to picture ships navigating it to safe harbor without a lighthouse. Speaks volumes about the sailors' abilities!

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  16. Your photos are beautiful. Key West is a very special place. We make a similar Bloody Mary here. We use everything in your recipe except for the Old Bay and I will have to try that. We grow and can our own tomato juice adding a large homegrown garlic clove to each jar before canning. It is out of this world good!

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  17. I love Key West, and the drive over the 7 mile bridge was just wonderful. We stayed on the corner of Duval St. also! We parked the car and never got in it again for four days, it was glorious. Your description brought me right back and I'd go again in a heart beat! I had so much fun reading this post. Thanks for the cocktail recipes too!

    Mary

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  18. Key West is such fun, Sam. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. We haven't been for a while...now you're making me want to make the trip again.
    I remember cats, not roosters. (I do remember roosters had practically taken over on Harbour Island though.)

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  19. Thanks for the very interesting history lesson of the Key West. I think I would like to go there someday. The bloody mary sounds delicious!

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  20. What a wonderful post! I was just thinking the other day that my sweetie and I should head to Key West for a break ~ it's been several years since I've been there. Your post makes me long to go back even more. I loved touring Hemingway's home. Have you been there? I'm a Hemingway fan, so I really enjoyed it. And raising a glass in Sloppy Joe's was fun, too.

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  21. Sam, I am so jealous you are in Key West!! I am glad you are having fun! That Rhode Island Red Rooster is a beauty!!

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  22. I don't know where to begin with commenting, but it looks like you had a great trip and we'll talk more in June as we want to try to make it down there this year while in Marco. Thanks for the Bloody Mary recipe and while it has similar ingredients to mine, I generally start with a mix - I'll try this. I guess they fiqure if you told the recipe to everyone you could, it still wouldn't affect their business and I suspect they are right.

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  23. Great photos! They really capture the unseedy side of Key West. It certainly is picturesque. One of my favorite places is Blue Heaven -- have you been?

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  24. This is a wonderful post, you've posted some great photos that are enticing me to visit Key West for myself;-) The food looks amazing too!

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  25. Great post! I would love to have a chance to tour the area!

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  26. I loved this post, Sam! Key West is one of my favorite places! It really is a world unto itself and so bohemian. One of our favorite memories was a sunset sail on clipper ship.
    The food and drinks are all absolutely wonderful as is the key lime pie! You've made me want to go back!

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  27. A terrific tour of Key West! I've never been so it's neat to learn about everything here!

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  28. Lovely post. So nice to know there are some people willing to share their secret ingredient like the Bloody Mary.

    Great pictures and really good looking food and drinks.

    Mely

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  29. When we lived in Naples, we took a ferry from Marco Island to Key West and spent the night. It was fun. Did you get a chance to go to the butterfly gardens?
    Hugs,
    Penny

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  30. What a fun place Key West must be. Look at all of those people! The food and drink look delicious and I love that handsome rooster. His bright colors seem to fit perfectly in this locale. Thanks for the beautiful tour of Key West!

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  31. Thank you for taking us along on your trip! I can not believe I have never visited Key West!? I ahve always thought it would be my kind of place and with this beautiful and informative post - you have just confimed it!

    I love the Old Bay in the drinks and each meal looks better than the last! Beautiful pictures as always!!!

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  32. Hi Sam, We have relatives in Fl and we have talked about a trip to KW, love all your photos makes me want to go, I would get that spicy bloody mary and those mussels for sure!! Great post!

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  33. Oh, those conch fritters! And those oysters! I'm drooling!

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  34. It has been many years since I've been to Key West. My brother once lived in Florida, and we drove down for a "quick" visit. We spent more time in the car than at Key West! Thanks for this wonderful glimpse of the architecture, the food and the "wildlife!"

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  35. That was a wonderful tour through Key West. Loved the food and drinks when we were there many years ago. I think we need to plan another trip there come winter. Have a wonderful day.

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  36. Wonderful informative post Sam. We loved our three day stay there last year. Great pictures and great dialogue. You and Meakin work well together.

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  37. lovely pictures!! thank you for sharing them with us:)

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  38. Thanks for all the great info! I'm going to Key West with a few of my girlfriends for our 39 and holding trip.
    I can't wait to try your recommendations!

    btw...I really enjoy your blog

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  39. We love, love Key West and you did it proud with this post! We've visited there for several weeks many winters and love the food, good weather and atmosphere. It's never boring! Thanks for the great post!

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  40. Thanks for sharing all your fun pics and foods of Key West! When we were there, we were just starting out in life and barely had enough $$ to get there and back from Miami, so our trips was quite "organic". Regardless, you brought back great memories of the amazing architecture (New Orleans is my fav city) and the yummy seafood! I'm definitely trying your yummy drink recipe ;)

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  41. Great post, Sam. We love Key West, but we haven't been back since we moved.

    You have made me long for a return visit.

    I hope to see you at our Pink Birthday celebration this weekend.

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  42. I've always wanted to go to Key West, but never made it, even though I've been to Florida many times. From your post I can see I must make more effort to get there; it looks so wonderful in every way.

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  43. Sam, I'm late visiting from my post last week (still recuperating from an old injury which has kicked up again), but despite my tardiness, I still wanted to thank you for your sweet comments. I appreciate them and you more than you know.

    Key West is one of my favorite cities. There used to be a little man who was near the Seaquarium in a little kiosk of sorts or maybe a trailer, and he sold the world's BEST conch fritters. That's all he did. He fried them and put them in brown paper bags. I could have eaten my weight in them and practically did each time I visited. Loved reading your post as I haven't been in quite some time...

    XO,

    Sheila

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  44. Your blogs so awesome I had to follow! I must make my way down to Key West! Thanks for this post.

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  45. Sam, Thanks for these wonderful pictures. In another lifetime, so long ago it is like a dream, I lived as a bride in Key West and watched the sun set in the Atlantic every evening. You've given me a gift.

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  46. We went to Key West last November and it was not too crowded. We loved it and would like to return. It certainly looks different to me than other US towns – it is quaint and alive with a genuine atmosphere. I enjoyed your post.

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  47. What beautiful images Sam! I don't know Florida and I loved seeing and reading a little about it here. I have a friend living in Naples..I hope to visit and then drop by all these spots too. and of course that first pic of the beautiful rooster steals my heart!
    bisous
    Ronelle

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  48. Re: the word verification
    I read on some informational blog that it's a waste of time and annoys people. It made me change the same day. So much simpler, isn't it? (And besides, I am always getting it wrong because I don't look down when I type!)

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  49. love Key West. went there for the first time a few years back and can't wait to make a return trip. your rum drink and a plate of those raw oysters sound pretty perfect right now!

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  50. Sam, Sorry I've been absent for 3 weeks from your blog (and everyone else's) since being on vacay and recovering from it as well! LOL! I'm catching up with my blog reading over this long weekend before I get loaded down with summer school this coming week.

    Just wanted to say what a great photo-tour post of Key West! I've only been there once and it was as a child and I remember very little of the family trip.

    The photos of the various eateries and your selections are excellent, and wow, wow, wow are you so lucky for getting your hands on that Blood Mary recipe and so special and dear to me for sharing it. When I was in Hawaii, I asked the pool bar servers for their recipe and they always told me it was made on the premises and couldn't give the recipe to me. I'll bet yours is better anyway!

    Don't you just love those cute little tropical drink embellishments? Love the photos of the charming homes. If I ever have the pleasure of returning to K.W., I'll refer to your advice!

    Travel posts are so wonderful; I enjoyed yours so much!!

    Roz

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  51. Absolutely love Key West. I haven't been since my sons were born. Really loved the food and atmosphere at Blue Heaven :-)

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  52. I've been to Key West but seeing it through your eyes was like taking a whole new trip. And a delicious one!
    Love the rooster!

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  53. Thank you for these beautiful images of Key West!
    They evoke such fond memories. We once rented a house at the end of Duval Street, with a small swimming pool. We had some of the most delightful vacations ever, mornings at the beach, afternoons by the poolside under palmtrees.

    (I loved Ft. Myers too, btw!)

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  54. These photos are interesting and make me want to take a trip.

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  55. Key West is a fun place, but somehow I missed the chickens walking around. It has been quite a few years, since I visited - maybe, they are worse now. I do remember the six-toed Hemingway cats, though!! Your photos are wonderful and the drinks sound terrific! Thanks for the tour!

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  56. I think I took a photo of the same chicken on our trip to Key West --- but I also got the feral cat in the same photo. Somehow they all seem to coexist.
    http://www.boomeresque.com/key-west-florida-the-literal-end-of-the-road-or-maybe-the-beginning/

    (I don't know your policy on including links in comments, so obviously, feel free to delete it. I found you on the Tablescrapers blog party.)

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  57. Oh, I love this post. It looks like a ton of fun! I love the rooster and all of its feathered friends - that being great restaurants and all of the fun!

    Happy to have you at "Oh, the PLACES you've been!"

    - The Tablescaper

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I enjoy reading each and every comment. I appreciate your taking the time to visit my blog and I hope you'll return again soon.
Sam