Key West is a free-wheeling, hard-partying kind of place that never seems to sleep. It’s the kind of place you come to people-watch. A place where anything goes, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else. Where else can you see a man drive by on a Harley with an African Green Parrot perched calmly on his shoulder? Where tourists ride bicycles down the main street wearing only swimsuits? Where the taxis have bike racks mounted on their rear bumpers for those who get too drunk to ride their bikes back to their cruse ship or hotel?
Where groups of male cross-dressers, tottering on four inch spike heels, stand in dark, smoky bar doorways, trying to lure tourists inside for a “World Famous Drag Show?” And where people parade around nude, covered from head to toe in nothing more than body paint during the week-long Fantasy Fest?
Words simply can’t do justice to the craziness of this place. It takes photos:
Amazingly, no one ever steals the dollar bills line that the walls and ceiling of this restaurant, despite the fact that it is an open-air facility without nighttime security.
Blue Heaven, located in Bahama Village, is one of the more popular breakfast spots in Key West (above). Here customers enjoy alfresco dining, live island music, and the very real possibility of being attacked by one of the chickens or roosters that freely roam the restaurant, perching on umbrellas (below) or giant sails strung across the courtyard to provide shade.
The Key West Coffee and Tea House occupies a lovely historic building at the south end of Duval Street, and is a favorite of locals, like this man (below) who comes by each morning for coffee, accompanied by his pet parrot. Note the blue porch ceiling, which is traditional in the tropics. Local lore insists the color keeps insects away, because they are fooled into thinking it is the sky.
Cops turn a blind eye to the “Scrub Club” an adult entertainment venue that offers ‘lap dances and private rooms.”
So why am I here amidst all this craziness? A few years ago, when I was preparing to retire from real estate, I began thinking about where I’d like to live when I left the Outer Banks. I had a whole list of criteria for choosing a place. It had to be located on the ocean, be a moderate size city (not too small, not too big), have cultural amenities, have a good airport with access to International flights, have vegetarian restaurants and health-food stores, be safe, affordable, and warm year-round. The delta states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were too muggy. I’m not a Texas fan, so I scratched that off the list. For two years, I traveled to every community on the Eastern Seaboard, the Gulf Coast of Florida, and coastal Washington State, looking for my perfect place. I liked Sarasota, but eventually was lured by the tropical breezes, lush vegetation, turquoise water, and brightly painted houses of Key West.
I bought an older house in the Historic Old Town district of Key West and began restoring it. By the time I’d restored two of its three apartments, I knew this wasn’t the place for me, and so rather than move here I rented the Key West apartments to year-round residents and moved to Sarasota instead. Once in a while, however, I must come to Key West to work on the property, and that’s why I’m here at the moment. Today is day ten, and counting. So far, I’ve completed a major trimming of all the trees that were hanging over the roof or leaning on the house, the removal of scraggly bushes at the front of the house, and replaced the damaged trash bins. Later this week, my new property caretaker will do a major site cleanup.
As soon as the Key West Historic Architectural Review Committee issues my permit, the major work will begin. I’ve hired a contractor to replace some rotted siding and deck boards, power wash and paint the exterior, and install lattice skirting around the base of the house. In the midst of all this, I will be cleaning one of the apartments and interviewing prospective new tenants, since a long-time resident is moving out the end of this month. I have high hopes that the house will sell once the work is complete, because it is an excellent investment property, and when it does, I’m thinking maybe southern California. Key West is fun for a few days, but I definitely don’t want to live here. And I like Sarasota, but I’m thinking that California might be better suited to my liberal views and politics. Yep, the more I think about it, the more the west coast calls.