Winter Escape To Key West – January 21st – 26th, 2019

After our last trip back in July, my husband and I wanted to return again before the spring. I knew how during the Winter months can become so dreary with cloudy skies and gray trees. So I decided that the 3rd week in January would be the perfect time to break away for a few days. I called the Gardens Hotel and was able to book our usual room for our 20th stay.

Monday, January 21st – Arrival Day

A day before we were supposed to leave, we had a snow and ice storm that came through. Luckily it had passed but the temperatures dropped way below normal for NJ. We woke up and it was only 1 degree. We thought what a perfect time to leave NJ. I was also concerned about getting through TSA at Newark airport since the Government shutdown was still in affect. When we arrived at the airport surprisingly the lines were not that long and we breezed through security. Once we had all our things in place I checked to see if our gate had changed since I checked us in the day before. It turned out that not only our gate changed, but the terminal changed.

I thought that we were going to have to go back out through security, but it turned out that there was a shuttle bus available that can take you from Terminal C to A. We walked down to the lower level to catch the bus which was not heated at all. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long for the bus to take us to the next terminal. Once we got off the bus we had to go back up a flight of stairs in to where our gate was. We had a couple hours to spare so we were relieved to find a United President Club lounge was also in Terminal A. It was actually a really nice lounge that must have been recently completed.

I kept checking my phone to see if our plane was at the gate. The alert said that our plane was flying in from Louisville and that it was behind schedule about 15 minutes which later turned into a half hour. It seemed like a long time to wait and eventually I saw our plane had arrived at the gate. We grabbed our things and saw that people were already boarding. I couldn’t believe that we almost missed boarding our flight. Once we went to the ticket agent, she asked us if we were going to Milwaukee. We immediately stopped in our tracks and told her no. It turned out the gate we were at had two gates. One was A25A and the other one was A25 and the doors were literally side by side. We were supposed to be at A25A and stepped back into the waiting area. We didn’t wait too long to board the plane. Once we were settled in the pilot came on the speaker to tell us that they were waiting for the water trucks to thaw out so they can fill the plane’s lavatories with water. It turned out to be about a 15 minute delay which could have been worse. We actually made up the time in the sky.

Since it was a direct flight to Key West it took about 2 and a half hours. Soon you could see the different hues of blues and greens of the water. It was so nice to see after looking at bare trees for months. Once I saw Key West come in to view I became so excited. I couldn’t believe we were coming back in January. 

Once we landed we immediately deboarded the plane and walked into the airport. I noticed that even though the skies were brilliant blue, it was quite chilly for Key West. 

It was quite breezy and it was only in the low 60s. I didn’t care though, we were back in Key West! We were one of the first ones off the plane so we were able to get a taxi right away. The taxi took us to the Gardens Hotel to check in.

We saw Nancy and Jim the general manager and they both welcomed us back. Our room wasn’t ready but it didn’t really matter, since it was so cool we just kept our clothes on we wore on the plane.

We walked down Angela St. and made a quick right hand turn onto Duval which we both always love to do. I noticed the streets seemed quieter then usual. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds go for the third week in January. It turned out it wasn’t much different then when we go in the Spring. I knew the musician Zack Seemiller who I have been doing artwork for the past several years and have become good friends with was playing at the Hogsbreath Saloon with his son. However, we wanted to stop at Rick’s to see our friend Miguel who was bartending that day. We walked down and crossed the street to Rick’s and sat down on the outside porch seats. Miguel was happy to see us. Unfortunately it was so cold we had to move inside. We talked for a bit before making it down to Hogsbreath. He told us that it was supposed to warm up for a couple of days. It was nice to see him again. 

Then we walked in to Hogsbreath. Zack and his son were on break but I was able to spot them at one of the tables having lunch. His son Kai knew we were coming and tried to surprise Zack but we wound up blowing the surprise. We walked on over and it was great to see them both.

They were finishing up so we wound up getting a table to sit at to watch their second set. I wanted to sit at the bar because the table was not protected from the wind, but all the seats were taken. We ordered a couple of beers and listened to them play. It was so much fun and that’s when I realized it was great to be back in Key West, not only because it is such a beautiful place, but we have become friends with people on the island.

After their set was done I noticed that I got a call from the Gardens Hotel letting me know our room was ready. So we said our goodbyes and told Zack we would catch him play at the new Tuna location later on. 

Once we unpacked our things we realized that we hadn’t eaten since the plane. Or tried to eat on the plane. As a side note, the food they served us must have been on the plane where it wasn’t temperature controlled or due to the fact the outside temperature was so cold, everything was frozen solid. I tried to eat the yogurt and couldn’t even get a spoon through it, so needless to say we were both really hungry. We used to have dinner on our first night at Deuce’s which was located right behind the hotel and was so convenient for our first night. Unfortunately since our last trip it had closed down. I did hear however they will be opening up at a new location, but not as close to the Garden’s.

I didn’t have a preference where to eat, as long as it was indoors since the temperature was dropping. Luckily I packed a knit hat so that helped a lot. It wasn’t that it was so cold, it was that the winds were strong and cold. So once you were in a place that was protected by the wind, it wasn’t so bad. 

My husband wanted to check to see if there was a place to catch the ending of the Nets basketball game and then Jack Flat’s came to mind. It was a perfect decision. We walked in and it wasn’t too crowded and we sat down at the bar. The bartender even changed one of the tvs so my husband could see the game. We ordered a couple of drinks. For our appetizer we split their coconut shrimp which hit the spot. I decided to go with their wasabi tuna and my husband had their meatloaf. It wasn’t a gourmet dinner but it definitely satisfied us.

While we were eating another friend of ours Dave, who we met a couple years ago who bar tends at the Galleon Sunset Tiki bar, asked us where we were. We told him that we were on our way to see Zack at the new Tuna location.

We walked down Duval and found the new Tuna location. It was turned into a sports bar that was wide open and went way back. The place was quite large. The stage where Zack was playing was off on the side. We made sure he knew we were there and then grabbed a couple of seats at the bar.

Then not before long we saw Dave walk in. Ironically he moved to St. Thomas a couple years ago for about a year and we were able to see him while we were vacationing on St. John. We hadn’t seen him since, so it was nice to see him again. We hung out for a bit before he had to leave. We told him we would try and meet up again another day.

Once Zack’s show was done (of course I had to take a couple of pictures before making our way to the old Smokin Tuna location), he told us that if we keep walking back in the new Tuna it will connect you to the old one. He was right! It was so odd how they all connect.  We walked on in and it wasn’t really crowded so we were able to grab our two favorite seats at the end of the bar.

I noticed that Scott Kirby was finishing his set. We were hoping to catch Caffeine Carl, but unfortunately he wasn’t playing due to not feeling well.

However George Chapman and the Joey Marchiano were still playing. We did miss Carl, but the band did put on a good show. We sat for a bit and chatted with another couple and had fun. It was crazy how it was only our first day, but I felt like we were already there several, which was a great feeling. We were both getting tired and thought that it would be a good idea to go back to the Gardens and call it a night.

Tuesday, January 22nd – Banana Cafe, Martin’s and a lot of walking around

I woke up pretty early for me on vacation, at around 7:30 and couldn’t sleep anymore. I knew it was a shorter stay then we normally do so I wanted to get up and start the day. Once we freshened up we checked outside and noticed that it definitely was warmer then the day before. I still had to wear a jacket at that point but it felt a lot better. We made our usual stop to Cuban Coffee Queen for a couple of con leches. 

We usually have our first breakfast when we are in Key West at Blue Heaven, but it was so early in the morning that it wasn’t warm enough to sit outside. I remembered how our last visit we tried to eat at Banana Cafe but it was too crowded. I figured that we could try eating there again since we were up so early. It was a nice quiet morning to walk down Duval. The love it when the streets are so quiet.

When we walked into Banana Cafe, there wasn’t a wait. We were seated right away but my husband wanted to sit at the counter/bar area which was fine. I decided to go with the smoked salmon eggs benedict and my husband had one of their signature crepes. Everything was delicious.

After breakfast we agreed to walk off our breakfast. We made it down by the bight and walked into a couple of shops and looked around for a while.

Eventually we made it to Sunset Pier. We wanted to say hello to the bartender Al who is always a pleasure to see. Once we got to the pier it was so nice to see it rebuilt again. It looked beautiful. 

We went up to the bar and said hello to Al. We talked for a few and ordered a couple of beers. We sat along the pier and just took it all in. It is such a nice view looking at the water and seeing Sunset Key in the distance. The temperature was getting warmer but not warm enough to go in the water.

Instead we decided after our beer was done was to go towards First Flight and have a beer there.

I do miss the old Kelly’s but the atmosphere there hasn’t changed much and I always enjoy it. We walked in and noticed there was some live music which was a nice surprise. 

Then my husband wanted to see Miguel again at Rick’s so we walked down to see him. This time it was warmer so we were able to sit out on the porch area which is great for people watching. We talked with Miguel for a while and before you know it my husband and him (which are both wrestling fans) had to do a few poses for me to take pictures of. 

I was looking at my watch and realized Zack was playing at Willie T’s. I wanted to catch him play so we finished up our drinks and walked in. We were able to find an open table and listened to him play for a while. He is always so much fun to see. I think it is great that I actually do artwork for such a talented musician. While we were there his son stopped by for a little bit before he had to go for work. 

It was getting later in the day and once again are stomachs were telling us that we should get something to eat. My husband suggested that we go to Martin’s for their happy hour. I had no problem with that, but that meant we had to leave because we didn’t have much time before it ended. So of course I had to do a couple pictures with Zack again before we headed on out. We made plans for breakfast the next day so we told him we would see him then.

We walked down to Martin’s and the bar was packed. The hostess was able to find us a table towards the front of the place which was fine.

Immediately we opened our menus and picked out a bunch of appetizers, ranging from lamb chops, escargot to pork schnitzel. I think the total was around 8 or 9 appetizers. My husband had a martini and I had a glass of wine and everything came to around $54. You simply can’t beat that price for all that food.

I wasn’t sure if it was from the food or from the long day but we were both pretty tired at that point so we walked back to the Gardens. When we walked past the bar we saw Kate the owner of the Gardens. She welcomed us back and our loyalty of staying there every time we come down to Key West. She even gave us a bottle of champagne to celebrate. We thanked her and told her how we wouldn’t stay at any other place and how we love it there. 

We got back to our room and sat on our porch. I don’t think I got through much of the glass of champagne before heading in for much needed sleep.

Wednesday, January 23rd – Breakfast Club Too and Food & Wine Festival Kick Off Party

We woke up to another warm day. It was probably the best day weather wise we had during our short visit. Once we freshened up we were ready for another full day in Key West.

We wound up walking down Simonton instead of Duval and head towards Cuban Coffee Queen. We started talking about our stay so far and before we realized it we missed the street completely and we were pretty far down the road. Then my husband mentioned how we were supposed to meet another friend of ours Joe the next morning for coffee at this place called Coffee Plantation. So we figured we would try and find the place and get coffee there. It wasn’t too far to find as it was located down Caroline St. We walked in and the place was decorated so festive and welcoming. We ordered a couple of con leches and sat on the front porch for a bit. 

We were meeting Zack for breakfast so we had some time before walking over to the Breakfast Club Too. We walked back over towards the bight and then made our way to the restaurant.

Once Zack got there we were seated at a table inside. This wasn’t our first time eating there and remembered how the last couple of visits the food was really good and this time it was the same. Everyone enjoyed what they ordered. It was nice to sit for a while and just hang out.

After breakfast Zack offered to show us the Key West Theater since we never had the opportunity to see a show there. We walked down the street and first stopped at a place called The Studios of Key West located across from the theater. He introduced us to one of his friends that work there and he showed us their current gallery which was made up of clever ways to show poetry on signs and what not. It was a different type of gallery I am used to seeing, but it was very creative.  Then we walked over to the guitar shop The Grateful Guitar where his son works. We walked in and it was cool to see the photos of all the musicians that play in Key West. 

Our next stop was the Key West Theater. It was really great to finally see what it looked like inside. There was also another area in the theater where they have more intimate shows. Unfortunately Zack played there a couple days earlier and we literally missed it by one day. After that we just walked around and Zack showed us other places along Duval. Then it was time for him get a few things done before his show later on that day. We thanked him for taking the time and giving us a walking tour if you will, of Key West. 

Eventually we made it to the Galleon to sit down and enjoy the view. 

We ordered a couple of drinks and sat for a while chatting with the bartender. Our next stop was to see Miguel again at Rick’s. We hung out for a bit before going back to the Gardens to freshen up. 

As a side note, a couple of months ago I found out that Key West’s Food and Wine Festival was going on while we were there, so I purchased tickets for the Food and Wine Festival kick off party. The event started at 5pm and was being held at The Garden at the Oldest House Museum. I wanted to get ready for it and then stop by and see Zack and Kai play at Willie T’s.

When we said goodbye to Miguel he told us he wasn’t working again until the weekend so we wouldn’t see him again before we left so we thanked him again for always having a good time when we see him. 

While we were walking back to the Gardens we noticed two cops on horses walking down the road. We have seen them before, but it still looked so odd watching them walk Duval Street. 

We made it back to the Gardens and freshened up for the kick off party. Thankfully it was still mild out so I was able to wear something else besides yoga pants and a sweatshirt. We walked back down to Willie T’s to catch Zack and Kai play. While my husband was ordering us something to drink at the bar, I noticed there was a familiar face. It turned out Zack’s photographer was there watching him. I have used a lot of his photos for the different ads I create for Zack to post on social media and never officially met him in person. We wound up sitting with him and chatted for a bit.

I was also so happy to meet Zack’s good friends Natalie and her boyfriend Ron.

Then it was that time to say goodbye and walk to the Oldest House Museum. It was pretty impressive to walk in to a beautiful garden behind the house. 

They had stations set up where you can select a glass of wine. Servers would come out with a variety of hors d’oeuvres. 

In addition, they had this Doo-Wop band called The Fabulous Spectrelles which were really good. 

We danced a little and talked to other people that were attending the event. It was something different for us to do and it was a lot of fun. I probably didn’t need any more wine at that point but we enjoyed ourselves. I would definitely recommend trying the event.

After we left we walked down Duval Street and noticed that Caffeine Carl and George were playing at the new Tuna. We walked in also saw Carl’s wife, Erin bartending. 

We had not seen Carl yet, so of course we stayed. As they were nearing the end of their show, we found out that they were playing at Rick’s next. So we left the Tuna and made it to Rick’s and saw Miguel again and Big Ed. 

Again, I probably should have just gone back to the Garden’s but wanted to see them play. Right before then went on, I was able to get a photo with Carl. 

It was fun to sit and watch them play for a while.

Eventually we called it a night and went back to the Gardens.

Thursday, January 24th – a day with Joe and the Rooftop Cafe

When we eventually got up I was feeling the night before, however after a shower and a couple of Advil I felt better. This was the morning we planned on meeting our friend Joe who we met a couple years ago while sitting at the Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar. 

The weather was still mild so I just threw on a tank top and shorts. We walked down Simonton to Caroline St. and down to Coffee Plantation. We spotted Joe and said our hellos. We mentioned that we were going back to the Breakfast Club Too for a late breakfast. He decided to join us and we walked down to the restaurant. This time we were seated outside.

I was so hungry that I ordered one of their rostis with fried eggs, sauteed onions, peppers, cheese over potatoes. It was delicious but I was so full after eating it. When we were done with breakfast we told Joe we were going to walk off our breakfast for a bit and then meet up at the Galleon Sunset Tiki bar. 

While we were walking around we ran into our friend Dave. We were hoping he was bartending at the Galleon but he wasn’t until Friday evening. We told him we would try and meet up again. 

After a bit, we walked to the Galleon and sat down at the bar. We ordered a couple of drinks and not before long Joe showed up.

We talked for a bit and he mentioned how he really liked this new sports bar called The Sandbar. After we finished our drinks we walked in to the Sandbar. It was a nice place. We sat at the bar and I ordered a margarita. I should have stuck with a corona light or something because the margarita was made with all sour mix which wasn’t agreeing with me too well. I wasn’t even able to finish it.

We mentioned that we were going to see Zack at Willie T’s and Joe wanted to see him as well, so we thought perfect – that will be our next stop. As we were walking down Duval St. I noticed a cooler breeze was picking up and the skies were getting dark. There was talk of a cold front coming through and that was probably the start of it.

We walked in to Willie T’s and we were able to get a table right in front which was good because there was a cover above. We were having a lot of fun watching Zack when all of a sudden it started to downpour so everyone tried to bring their tables closer to the front to take cover while others left. The way the rain was falling I figured we weren’t going anywhere for a while. 

That is exactly what happened. We wound up staying for Zack’s entire show. 

The rain still wasn’t letting up so we decided to stay a little longer, which was fine because we were able to see John LaMere and another musician we enjoy seeing. Eventually Joe had to leave and we wished him well. 

When the rain finally let up we both came to the conclusion it was our opportunity to get something to eat. 

My husband wanted a nicer dinner so we walked down to the Rooftop Cafe. The restaurant wasn’t too crowded so we sat at the bar on the outdoor side which surprisingly not very crowded. I ordered a caesar salad to start and their fresh catch of the day, which was yellowtail snapper for my main course. My husband ordered the gnocchi for his first course and then the pork tenderloin. Everything was delicious. 

We tend to eat at the Rooftop Cafe at least once while we are in Key West and have never had a negative experience.

When we were done with dinner, you could feel the cold front settling in so we agreed to go back to the Gardens and get some sleep. 

Friday, January 25th – Last Full Day Already

We woke up to a chilly day but at least the rain had stopped. Earlier in the week I received a message from a friend of ours from NJ that she was on a cruise and was coming into port on Friday from 7:00am – 1:00pm. So we wanted to make sure that we would see her at some point. In addition, people that we met while we were on St. John during our last trip were also going to be in Key West and we were supposed to meet up with them as well.

Unfortunately it was too cold of a morning to go to Blue Heaven again, so we decided to go to Harpoon Harry’s for breakfast. We were a little late then normal for breakfast and noticed when we walked past Pepe’s it was packed. Harpoon Harry’s also had a line of people waiting. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long before being seated in a booth.

I always enjoyed their grits there so I had to have a side of grits with a couple of eggs and bacon. The food was served quickly and it was nice and hot.

It is a nice place to start your day with that old diner feel and being from NJ I always enjoy a good diner.

We walked back to the Gardens to grab an extra jacket since it was not warming up much.

I wound up getting a text from our friend from NJ and she and her friends were at Irish Kevin’s. So walked down to meet her. It was so odd to see her in Key West. It was in Key West where we first met her. It also turns out that she lives not far from where we are. We joked saying how we live in NJ and only see her in Key West.

She didn’t have much time before going back on the boat so we walked on over to Rick’s since it is one of her favorite places. I didn’t mind because I knew Zack would be playing there shortly. We grabbed a table and talked to her and her friends. Soon enough Zack walked in and we chatted for a few minutes before he started his show. He told us that he was playing the Salty Angler later that day. 

Not before long our friend had to leave and get back to the boat. We wished her safe travels and not before long were our friends Rick and Christine from St. John. My husband and I laughed about how we couldn’t ask for better timing. We sat with them for a bit and they told us the work they are doing on their boat and how eventually they will wind up in St. John. It was fun to talk about St. John and then meeting up in Key West. We hung out for a bit and then they wound up grabbing some lunch. I wanted to stay to watch the end of Zack’s show so we told them we would try and meet up again before they left if not, we’ll see them again on St. John.

After Zack’s show was done I had to get another obligatory photo with him and then said we would see him and Kai later at the Angler and grab some dinner. We wound up walking down to First Flight again to have another drink. We wound up talking to very nice couple at the bar.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Why does the last day of a vacation always go by so fast?

We walked back down to the Salty Angler but first had to stop back at the Gardens to grab extra money. The Salty Angler is located right across from La Te Da so it wasn’t too far of a walk. We walked in and Zack and Kai were already playing. We found a couple of seats and ordered some dinner. The Salty Angler is known for their chicken thighs they refer to thunder thighs. My husband and I are not huge fans of chicken thighs but thought we would give them a try. So for an appetizer we shared the chicken thighs and then my husband ordered the brisket and I had yellowtail fish tacos. Everything was really good – even the chicken! I can see why they are known for them.

While Zack and Kai were playing, Zack told us he was playing at the Smokin Tuna that night. I thought would a great way to end our last night at the Tuna one of our favorite places. It was fun watching them play and I being that I am a HUGE Pearl Jam fan, I was so excited when they played Hunger Strike!

So after they were done at the Angler we walked down to the Tuna. We walked in and it was quite crowded. Thankfully a few people left so we were able to get a couple of seats right in front at the bar and also see Erin again.

It turned out too that Caffeine Carl couldn’t play so Zack’s son Kai was able to fill in his spot. It was so much fun to see both of them on the main stage like that.

 I thought we were only going to stay for an hour but wound up staying until the end. At that point it was time to go back to the Gardens. I think by the time we got back to the room it was around 2am. 

That was probably the latest we had even been up in Key West and of course it had to be our last night. We wound up getting a taxi back to the Gardens.

Saturday, January 26th – Going Home

Our flight wasn’t until 1pm so we were able to sleep in for a little bit. We also had planned to meet Zack and Kai for breakfast before we left at Sarabeth’s which is located very close to the Gardens, Once we freshened up and packed our things we walked down to Cuban Coffee Queen for our last order of con leches. Then we made the short walk down to Sarabeth’s and met up with Zack and Kai. It was a nice way to end our trip. 

After we were done with breakfast it was time to say goodbye. I always get so sad to leave Key West and especially sad to say goodbye to our great friends. We wished them all the best and hope to see them again real soon.

We walked back to the Gardens and made sure we had our boarding passes printed and we were ready to go. The taxi picked us up around noon and we were on our way back to the airport. Check-in was a breeze and soon we were back on the plane.

The flight was a quick 2 hour and 20 minute ride so we made it back to Newark around 3:45pm. We wound up landing 45 minutes earlier then expected. The direct flight is such a no brainer if you can do it. We only had carryon so once we landed our car service was there and made it home around 5pm.

I am so grateful we were able to pull off this quick trip to Key West and break away from the cold NJ winter season. Even though it was a bit cooler then we were used to, I would do it again without any hesitation. No matter what time of year we go to Key West it never disappoints. Key West continues to be a special place in my heart filled with many memories and amazing friends.

Thanks for taking time to read my blog…. until next time!