Monday, May 28, 2012

Notes on Key West: Part Three

My last post was about a pair of outstanding restaurants on Key West…but drinking is the first thing on the minds of most visitors, so here are some observations about places where you can find the best libations the island has to offer.

The margarita seems to be the national drink down here, and for my money, the best ones are those at the Half Shell Raw Bar and Southernmost Beach Café.

The Half Shell sits on the docks along the key’s northwest shore and is an ideal place to eat lunch while sipping your ’rita. The burgers are big and juicy, the tuna salad among the best you will ever find, and the fish hooks a perfect appetizer. Offering all this tastiness in a weathered, far-from-fancy building makes for the quintessential beach bar:

As for the Southernmost Beach Café, its hand-mixed rum runners are just as quenching as its margaritas. And if you are looking for something unique you should try the Southern Medicine, which is concocted from sweet tea, vodka, and pink lemonade.

On a side note, it is worth pointing out that the Southernmost Beach Café really is the southernmost in the continental United States. Plus, do you know those maps on which travelers insert pins to show where they came from? I doubt you will ever see one as covered as the one here:

Regardless of what you consider to be your beverage of choice, however, it is hard to beat The Bull and Whistle Bar when it comes to pure fun and people-watching. The old-timey, open-air pub occupies this two-story building on the corner of Duval and Caroline Streets:

The first floor is called The Bull and the second floor is called The Whistle. The Bull’s focal point is a corner stage where you are likely to find local musicians performing at almost any hour of the day. The Whistle’s  best feature, as far as I am concerned, is the narrow wraparound balcony that allows you to sit outside and observe the pedestrians below:

Because Key West is so flat and small, the balcony catches the full benefit of ocean breezes blowing across the island. Although it was a hot May afternoon when we recently parked ourselves there, it did not feel like it because the steady breeze made it multiple degrees cooler than on the sidewalk. Check out our vantage point:

After day turned to night, we decided to sacrifice those primo balcony seats and mosey up to the roof, which is called The Garden of Eden and is Key West’s only clothing-optional bar. We remained fully clothed, as did the vast majority of rooftop patrons, but there were a few people in their birthday suits and a few others in lesser states of undress.

I do not know how The Bull and Whistle pulls it off, especially in such an old building, but there is no “bleed over” in the varying atmospheres from one floor to the next. The music on the roof consisted of loud, pulsing dance tunes, but you could not hear them on the second-floor’s balcony, even though they are separated by no walls and less than twenty vertical feet of open air. Meanwhile, the live music on the first floor tends to be acoustic and folksy, and some people who never leave that floor would be stunned to learn that hedonism and voyeurism are occurring in the same building where they sit drinking cold beer while listening to covers of Simon and Garfunkel.

Obviously, I highly recommend each of these places if you ever get a chance to come to the key, and I believe they can not be bested. You might notice that there are a couple better-known drinkeries not mentioned in this post, but rest assured I will write about them soon, when I publish a “chasing Hemingway” kind of piece. For an adavnce taste, here is a picture of Erika and me in one of them seven Novembers ago:


  1. Nice post.. Key West should pay you for advertising and reviews.

  2. I should bookmark this for the next time we come to Key West...the first winter we spent here we took the speed ferry from here (Ft Myers) and stayed a couple nights at a B& was great fun, but obviously we missed a lot. (Some of it I'd probably choose to miss again...wouldn't want to scare everybody away from the Garden of Eden ;>)