Take It Easy: Key West
One Human Family bumper stickers adorn a variety of cars and businesses throughout Key West. It’s a simple slogan that reveals the open attitude toward the diverse population. Gay, straight or somewhere in between, we are all one human family.
Hotels are scattered throughout the island and offer a range of amenities to fit every budget and décor preference.
I chose to stay at the Hyatt, located on the far northwest end of Key West. Curved around a pool, the hotel feels smaller than the 118 rooms. Well appointed, the recently renovated rooms are bright, modern and comfortable. All rooms have an ocean view, generous amenities and nice finishes (stone showers, tasteful vases and attractive linens). Rooms at this location are part of a program called Respire by Hyatt. Hypoallergenic, the rooms undergo a six-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants. This process includes an air purification system and treatment of all fabrics and surfaces in the guestroom. Rooms run $270-$400 nightly depending on season and availability.
The Curry Mansion Inn is notable for being the home of Florida’s first millionaire. The main house functions as a museum, with rooms staged, as they would have been used 50-100 years ago. Guests are encouraged to roam freely, although touching the accoutrements is not allowed. Highlights included a working phonograph in the parlor and various newspapers with salacious headlines over the years. I also spied several haggard, but intact oversized wardrobe trunks bearing the Curry name on my way to see the widow’s walk. After climbing three long sets of nearly vertical stairs, I arrived on the narrow walk with a 360 degree view of the city – which back in the shipping days was used by wives (or husbands) awaiting their returning sailor.
Several simple bungalows surround a curious, round pool sit behind the main house museum. Generous with wicker and accented through antiques, the room costs include a full deluxe breakfast, afternoon open bar cocktail party and full access to the 22-room mansion. Rooms run $220-$400.
Other major chains on the island include the Westin, Doubletree and Marriott.
First off, Key West is not the place to come for low calorie, bland dining. Everything has spice and many traditional dishes are modified with the local flavor. The truly local items that come out of Key West include honey, key lime pie and the conch (pronounced without the “ch”), which are used for chowders and host of other creative meals.
SHOR American Seafood is fine dining at the Hyatt, while Blue Mojito offers an open-air poolside option for more casual meals and drinks. Recently corporate Hyatt opened the door to allow each property executive chef to create locally inspired signature meals. Chef Dan Elinan has designed a menu meant for seafood lovers. Lunch specials include conch fritters and flavorful American blue crab cakes, while dinner starts with fresh catch ceviche (served with cantaloupe, honeydew and lime cilantro marinade). At various meals, I sampled both the apple and white cheddar soup – which was a subtle mix of savory and sweet as well as the seafood sliders (scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, chipotle mayo), my favorite item. Dinners are organized such that you order a meat or fish, and then choose from a range of sauces such as bbq, banana rum, key lime and green peppercorn. I played it safe and ordered the filet with peppercorn, which was absolutely delicious.
Another night we made it out to Antonia’s on Duvall Street. Classic, with low lights and dark furniture, this is the place to come for pasta and great red wine. My mushroom fettuccini was one of my all time favorite meals.
Seeing the Sites
The gay and lesbian historic trolley tour is a must. Departing Saturdays at 11am from the city lot, one block off Duval on Simonton Street, it costs $25 per person and will give you the insider’s look at the gayest of Keys. During the 75 minute rolling party, we saw the mainstream and off beat sites through the colorful and hilarious presentation by a seasoned and sassy old queen. Highlights included Mallory Square, the Military base, post office and homes of famous residents such as Tennessee Williams and Harry Truman, whose Little White House is Florida’s only presidential site.
Our trolley driver proudly recounted Key West’s participation in the anniversary of the rainbow flag. In 2003, Gilbert Baker, who is also credited with making the first ever rainbow flag for his friend, Harvey Milk, created a rainbow flag that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the flag. Today Steve Smith, a rep with the tourism board and long time resident, sends portions of the notorious flag to various pride celebrations throughout the world as a way to celebrate and connect the community. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the trolley at gaykeywest.com.
Numerous local shops offer day trips for inner and outer reef dives, as well as night and wreck dives. The main options for the more adventurous diver looking for shipwrecks include Joe’s Tug, the Cayman Salvager and the 523-foot-long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, which was scuttled in May 2009 to become an artificial reef.
Other water activities include snorkeling on the coral reefs, renting jet skies or chartering a yacht for a private cruise. Hydro Thunder rents scooters, golf carts and jets skies out of Hyatt and offers a 27-mile island tour through both the Atlantic Ocean & the Gulf of Mexico for $120 per person.
Hyatt’s on site spa, Jala, has two treatment rooms and offers massage (Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue and prenatal) as well as a variety of hydrating, energy boosting and purifying facials and body treatments. Like my check in at the front desk reception, my massage began with my technician, Douglas, offering me a glass of bubbly. Next he began a foot scrub using locally sourced herbs – a signature of all Hyatt’s spas. My deep tissue massage was spot on with regards to pressure and even coverage. They offer a steam shower option – take it. Near the end of the massage, Douglas turned on the steam and I felt the remainder of my stress fall away.
Key West is fairly compact, so getting downtown or to the waterfront is a 15-minute walk from most hotels. Bikes are also a prevalent mode of transportation throughout the island. The nightlife is as mixed as the population, with countless bars and restaurants. Garden of Eden is a notorious “clothing optional” hot spot that I found tended to attract more gawkers than patrons, but it’s worth a drop by. We also stopped in to see the smoky-eyed, drag queens at 801 and listen to a live band near the open-air waterfront at Schooners’.
The tourism department has an active section dedicated to courting and hosting gays visitors. Major events include a Key West Pride, Tropical Heat, Womenfest, Headdress Ball and Gay Spring Break. Several major airlines offer nonstop flights out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta and Orlando. For updated events, maps, trolley tickets and nightlife options, head to http://gaykeywestfl.com.