Monday, October 22, 2007

My Trip to Key West

I went with a friend to Key West for part of this weekend, and I didn't take a single picture. Why? Because it rained the entire time, with a few brief interludes of sunshine.

But rain or shine, I was quite unimpressed.

Although I'm a Florida native, I've only been to the Keys twice: Once was seven years ago, when I did a little snorkeling and saw the sunset off Key West as I was looking toward Cuba. The other time was this weekend.

Despite the valiant efforts of their tourist board and a few intrepid citizens, there really isn't much to do in the Keys that you couldn't do (and enjoy as much or more) in Miami.

You see, the Keys are beautiful: I mean gorgeous. Their water is an incredible blue or blue green (depending on how deep it is). It's crystal clear and an absolute treat to scuba dive or snorkel in. The fishing is wonderful, the animals are incredible, and there are shipwrecks to see. So, if you like water activities, you really need to visit the Keys.

But don't expect to be entertained.

Oh sure, there are some quaint shops and at least 3 drag queen (DQ) shows on Duval Street in Key West. Being as the drag queen shows are apparently the ONLY shows in Key West, if you want to have a couple of drinks and take in a show, you have to subject yourself to at least one drag queen show.

The first one we saw at Aqua was pretty offensive. Every drag queen had to grab every straight man's crotch in the entire nightclub, so that by the end of the show, there wasn't a single male crotch that remained unmolested. After accosting the clientelle, the DQs would make comments about how large (or small) their victim's really were. After a while, such puerile 'jokes' grew stale.

I'm amazed that Aqua hasn't been sued for assault and battery yet. However, the wait staff was nice enough and the drag queens DID put on a highly energized and entertaining show. That is, if you are OK with having your penis caressed by another man while you're both under the spotlight. Interestingly enough, they never tried that with any of the gay clients there. I guess the DQs were afraid they might like it and attempt to return the favor.

We left when the show dragged on interminably and the raunchiness grew as rancid as a piece of fish that's been rotting in the trashcan for three days.

The second drag show was further down the street at Lateda (pronounced 'la-ti-da'). It was so boring that it wasn't worth staying through, either (although we paid over $50 for the unique experience of being bored at a drag show). The two men in the show rehashed some trite and dull Broadway tunes. Unlike the DQs in Aqua, these guys attempted to sing themselves, rather than lip synch. It was a wasted effort, the tunes dragged on (pun intended) and I was almost asleep at the bar before I voted that we cash in early for the night. My friend agreed, and so off we went.

Strangely, one of the DQs in the Lateda show is a performer named Randy Roberts. His site shows him as thinner and more attractive, with a variety of interesting costume changes. Like Britney Spears, apparently he's grown more fond of food and less fond of work. There were no costume changes (he wore a simple red evening gown), and Randy was more fond of ranting on and on about gay marriage than he was on impersonating anyone or anything. He's apparently slated to go on One Life to Live soon. Oh joy. He will really liven it all up, won't he. *yawn*

The only thing worse than Randy was his partner, who had less sex appeal and voice talent than Ethel Merman.

On the other hand, the food in Key West was generally good, and sometimes great.

The famous Sloppy Joe's (once frequented by Hemingway) was still serving their signature Sloppy Joe (it was quite tasty) as well as all other types of standard, crowd-pleasing fare. Their conch fritters with lime-mustard dipping sauce is a sure-bet.

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant was quite similar to Sloppy Joe's, and served a rather mundane cheeseburger in tribute to his famous song. If you want a margarita, go to Jimmy Buffet's. If you want to eat, find something elsewhere. It's not as if you'll suffer, but why waste the money and calories when there's something better to be found?

The Hog's Breath Saloon was a very typical type of bar. How it gained a reputation of being a 'biker bar', I'll never know. All types crowded in there, and as the evening wore on, you could see and hear the bikini contest going on in the outdoor portion of the bar. This is another example of a bar with the standard food and the usual drinks you will find elsewhere. The only distinctive features are the name and the (apparently undeserved) reputation. But as Key West is the ultimate destination for alcoholics, it's probably comforting for them to know that there is seemingly no shortage of alcohol at the Hog's Breath Saloon.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Key West is a cut above some of the others. The food is quite excellent. My friend declared their pulled pork sandwich to be the best ever, and I found their bacon and bleu cheese burger to be exceptional (as is their service). They have the added attraction of being located in an old, haunted house where the original owner hung himself many years ago, so the second floor's women's bathroom is sometimes given to cold spots, knockings, and repeated door slammings. I went up there myself to meet the ghost, but he apparently decided not to put in an appearance that evening. Maybe he was at a drag show.

An unexpected exception was a restaurant that all the locals repeatedly recommended: Alice's. Their food was light, interesting, creative, and exceptional to the usual fare. Their breakfast menu ranged from a smoked salmon eggs benedict to light and fluffy omelettes. Their dinner menu looked fascinating, but we didn't have a chance to try it out. However, don't wear anything that you want kept clean: Alice apparently doesn't believe in cleaning. The seats were filthy, as were the cushions adorning them. I would like to believe the kitchen doesn't follow suit.

There are many nice little shops up and down the street, some showcasing amazing artistic talent. There is also jewelry of all types and descriptions, for any budget. I picked up a couple unusual things while there, and I'm still enjoying looking them over.

I also had a chance to look over a gorgeous handmade, hand-painted silk blouse for $4,500. I was indulged by the owner and his wife, who apparently have many connections in the artistic community (and buyers, too!). The wife hand-looms many of her materials, and their shop houses contributions from other skilled textile craftsmen and women.

The Mel Fisher exhibit, the Hemingway house (and the lighthouse nearby) are interesting and worth a brief visit. However, in typical Key West style, there is truly not much to be seen and you can see everything in each exhibit within 1-2 hours, max.

So, if you are going to visit the Keys, go with the intent to spend a day in Key West (don't forget to see the sunset celebration in Mallory Square). Then spend a couple of days on another key where it will be cheaper to stay and you can try many of the water sports available. That is what *I* intend to do the next time that I visit there.

(Incidentally, I rented a car from Avis via Priceline (undoubtedly the cheapest way to get a car) and had a wonderful experience. What a far cry they are from Enterprise Rent-A-Car!)


The Lazy Iguana said...

You know there is a fast cat ferry that runs from Ft Myers or Naples to Key West. No driving.

Key West is a place for people who like to drink. If you like to drink, then Key West is the place to go.

I never got my crotch grabbed by fags. I like the smaller street bars than the large "famous" bars.

Hog's Breath Saloon was a biker bar - then the tourists discovered it and took the place over. Key West used to be a lot different than it is today. Before the cruise ships made it a frequent port of call. I have gone there, but it is usually full of idiots with cameras, and the little "unknown" bar down the street is less packed and has the same booze. So I go there.

I would never EVER EVER go the Jimmy Buffet place. I do not drink margaritas, I just take a shot of tequila and skip the other crap that has no booze in it. Just give me the shot! Keep the bar mix away from me. Plus, everyone knows that only idiots with cameras will be at the Jimmy Buffet place. El passo.

Last time I was there was on my cruise to Mexico. The ship made Key West a port of call. I got really loaded on the ship the day it left Miami, and so when I got to Key West I was not exactly feeling so well. I did not even have anything to drink.

The Key West aquarium sucked. Do not go there. It sucks.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I tried, but lost the dang message and I am too lazy to try again. Too bad you didn't enjoy yourself more.