Florida Keys, Mallory Square sunset and a fabulous Key West restaurant
KEY WEST - Pretty cool town.
Had a bit of a hike from Miami, of course. And the signs on the road don't always make it easy, at least not Thursday as I came south from Miami and got turned onto a strange toll road in the midst of nowhere. But ultimately I found Key Largo and kinda figured I was going in the right direction.
I was surprised at the size of Key Largo and taken aback by all the touristy-looking stuff. But I guess I was looking for something from the 1950s or 60s. Anyway, found a great little spot for lunch called Snook's, where they serve a spicy grouper sandwich out by the water and nice wraps. Not to mention cold Corona's. They were just getting ready for the weekly pig roast, which sounds like a blast.
I was expecting miles and miles of bridges over open water but I don't think there was more 20 minutes of that sort of thing the whole way. Most of the road goes along the keys, themselves, which are a lot more developed than one would like. Still, there are lovely keys and some stunning stretches of green and blue water and plenty of enormous pelicans swooping down over your car; seemingly getting ready to drop a fish - or something else - onto your head.
Of course, I had to have a convertible (sorry, boss). I mean, it's FLORIDA, right? When I picked up the car at the Thrifty counter in Miami, I asked the girl for an upgrade to the convertible and she looked right at me and said, "Driving to the Keys?"
Anyway, it worked out fine and I rolled into town just in time for a quick dip in the ocean and a really fast swim at the Casa Marina, an old-style hotel that underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and is now part of the Waldorf-Astoria group, and yes it's pretty la-de-da.
Then comes the fun part. Yes, Duval Street is tacky and unrefined and filled with young people who buy beers at t-shirt shops or from stands right on the road and head to Hard Rock Cafe's and other bars you might find anywhere in the world. But it's a great time and fabulous for people-watching. And near the end of Duval and down a bit you'll find Mallory Square, where folks gather to cheer the sunset every night.
It's not everyone's cup of Joe, but I enjoyed it. Grabbed a terrific margarita (to go, of course) from a great bartender at the jam-packed Sunset Pier (absolutely NO sign of a recession down here, folks) and chatted with a guy from Pennsylvania about the merits of driving an SUV. The sunset was wonderfully colourful and smoky and, yes, folks clapped and cheered when it finally sunk below a thick layer of cloud on the horizon. There were the usual singers and magicians and astrologers gathered along the square and folks mingled and had a great time.
After that it was time for a great dinner at Blue Heaven, which used to house a boxing rink where Ernest Hemingway practiced, not to mention an upstairs brothel that he may or may not have taken advantage of.
There's some great outside seating under the stars and the giant ficus trees and palms, with either a patio underfoot or sand or mulch. Cats whisk by under your feet and wild chickens bark in the distance and, last night, anyway, a wild parrot cawed continously in a tree high overhead. They do a really nice snapper in beurre blanc and last night had yellowfin tuna on a bed of chorizo sausage, corn and asparagus pudding. Very Caribbean/Mexican and very, very, tasty. They're also famous for their key lime pie, which comes with a meringue mountain that's probably four inches high.
More sightseeing today, so I'll let you know on Monday how it comes out. Key West isn't everybody's thing, I'm sure, but I'm loving it. 26 degrees and sunny doesn't hurt, of course, and sorry about that.