Hard to believe that this was going to be our 22nd time down to Key West and 3rd time for the year. You think we would get tired of going to the same place over and over, but that is not the case. I think I get even more excited each time we go.
Sunday, June 30th – Going Back “Home”
I had the alarm set for 4:45am and it was already a beautiful summer morning. Our driver was right on schedule and we made it to the airport just before 7:00am. I was a bit concerned that we were going to have issues with our flight due to the fact the previous day a United flight had to make an emergency landing into Newark Airport causing massive delays. I even got a message from United saying that if we wanted to change our flight we could. Luckily when we got to the airport it seemed that everything was back on schedule. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:55 am so we had time to have some coffee at the United Club Lounge.
Soon it was time for us to walk to the gate. Last time we had a bit of an ordeal with changing planes and gates. This time, however we lucked out. It wasn’t before long we were boarding the plane. The flight itself was a little bumpy along the way but not too bad. After about 2 hours I soon was able to see the beautiful hues of blues and greens of the water.
The excitement of returning to Key West once again came back. We actually landed about 20 minutes earlier then scheduled so it was just about noon when we landed.
We exited the aircraft and made a quick dash to the taxi pickup. There was no line so we were able to grab the first taxi available.
The taxi driver was quite an interesting guy but we got a kick out of him. I always love seeing the water along the way to the hotel. Not before long I could see the yellow walls surrounding the Gardens Hotel. He dropped us off and we checked in. Jim, the Gardens Hotel GM was there, so it was great to see him again. Our room was ready so we unpacked all our things. Before making our way out for the afternoon we sat down on the outside porch for a moment and I thought to myself how nice it is to be back “home”.
Since it was a Sunday there wasn’t any live music I wanted to see in particular so my husband suggested we stop in at Jack Flat’s for a drink and catch the ending of the Yankees and Boston game that was being played in London. It was pretty hot out so it wasn’t a bad idea.
We made our usual first right onto Duval. It is always such a fun feeling getting back on the street and walking down. It was a fairly quick walk and we made our way into Jack Flat’s. It was kind of crowded but we were able to find a couple of seats at the bar. We ordered a couple of beers and watched part of the game. During the game, there was a large group of people came in. We just ignored them but they were getting pretty loud. They became so loud and obnoxious that local patrons were yelling at them to be quiet or leave. Eventually they were thrown out of the place. Apparently after they walked in, another party of two walked in. The large group ordered first, but the order for the party of two got their order first. I used to work in the service industry and it is quite common that the smaller order will come out first. I guess the large group didn’t feel that way and hence that is why the commotion happened.
The Yankess wound up having a big lead so we decided to move on to another place. My husband suggested the Blue Macaw since it is back towards the Gardens and it is always a nice atmosphere there. We sat at the bar where we listened to some guy play steel drum music which I love because it reminds me of the Caribbean.
While we were sitting there we started to talk to the bartender, Travis. He mentioned that he also bar tends at the Hot Tin Roof which I always wanted to go to. We talked about any special drinks that he makes and he said that he makes a lot of different ones at the Hot Tin Roof and that we should come by. I wound up making a reservation for the following evening. So we told him we would see him there the next night.
We walked back to the Gardens so we could freshened up for Jazz at the Gardens which was the last one of the season so we wanted to be sure to check it out. When we walked back to the Gardens we saw a familiar face, Adam the bartender.
We sat down with him and talked a bit before getting ready for Jazz. Once we were all freshened up we grabbed a couple of seats near the bar and listened to the Jazz for a bit. Kate, the owner of the Gardens was also there. It was nice to see her before she left for Paris the following day. She always thanks us for our loyalty for always staying there and also how she loves the logo I did for the hotel. I told her we always look at other places but could never find anything comparable.
We were getting pretty hungry so we wound up leaving before the Jazz ended. Since it was getting later I suggested the Moondog Cafe since it is nearby. I also read that their dinners are very good there. We only tried breakfast the previous trip so I figured why not.
We walked in and sat the counter/bar area. It wasn’t too crowded so our food came out quickly. We shared an ordered of truffled french fries which hit the spot. For dinner my husband ordered a burger and had their grilled mahi mahi fish tacos. Everything was tasty and enjoyed our dinners.
It wasn’t too late but being it was a travel day, we were both pretty tired so we called it an early night.
Monday, July 1st – First Full Day – Azur, Peppers, Hogsbreath, Willie T’s, Hot Tin Roof
We woke up to a beautiful day. It was already quite warm but still so pretty. We freshened up and walked down to Cuban Coffee Queen for our usual first stop.
I couldn’t believe there was no one waiting but then again it was summer which is much quieter then in April. https://tinyurl.com/y2capbvu
Once we had our coffee in hand we walked down to Azur for breakfast. We usually go to Blue Heaven for our first morning breakfast but I wanted to try something different. We went to Azur several trips ago and I remembered it was quite good.
When we got to Azur we realized we were a few minutes early. The restaurant doesn’t open until 9am. Since we had some time we walked further down Grinnell St. looking for this new place called the Dirty Pig. We wanted to try it this time and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. So we kept walking down the street and there it was on the corner. You could smell the meat being smoked. It was bigger then I thought it would be too. We both looked at each and thought we will definitely be back.
It was just about 9am so we walked back to Azur. We were the first ones there and decided to sit inside since it was getting steamy outside. I decided to go with the smoked salmon eggs benedict and my husband ordered the gnocchi fritatta. My eggs benedict were a little on the cool side but still very good and my husband had no issues with his breakfast. https://tinyurl.com/y4enocmm
After breakfast we strolled around for a bit before walking into Peppers.
We have been there so many times and are very familiar with their hot sauces so I wasn’t going to try any. They did have a few new items so my husband volunteered to taste a few. Meanwhile I was making the selection of hot sauces that I wanted to be shipped back home. We decided on a decent amount of hot sauces and a few marinades. I filled out the shipping info and we were all set. Ironically when we came back home, the box from Peppers made it home the same day we did.
We made our way to the Galleon’s Sunset Tiki Bar. It was getting hot so it was a perfect spot to grab a couple of seats and order a cold beverage. Also the bartender Grubby was working and he is always fun to talk to and full of energy.
We kicked back a bit before deciding on our next stop.
I wanted to be sure to see my good friend Zack Seemiller (who I also do all his design/ad work for) at Hogsbreath but I remembered our friend Gabriel Wright was playing at Captain Tony’s as well. So we wound up going to Captain Tony’s first. We stopped in and immediately he recognized us.
As usual he wound up playing a set of songs we normally request which is always welcoming. We were able to talk to him for a bit once he went on break. Before I realized it, we were there much longer then intended but we were having a good time.
With not that much time to spare we said our good byes and made it to Hogsbreath. It was fairly crowded but luckily a couple of seats opened up. Zack saw us and gave us a shout out. While we were listening to Zack, we saw a familiar face – Wayne. We met him a couple of years ago at one of Zack’s show and turned out he is from Long Island which isn’t too far from NJ. We agreed that we would meet up then next day at Willie T’s. Just as Zack’s show was ending, his son Kai showed up. Once Zack was done, I got my obligatory photo before leaving. We had dinner reservations at Hot Tin Roof, so I wanted to be sure we had enough time to get ready.
Kai wound up walking back with us to the Garden’s so it was nice to catch up with him. We said our good byes and said that we would catch him tomorrow at his dad’s show, if not we would see him and his dad at Breakfast Club Too that Wednesday for breakfast.
When we walked into the Gardens we noticed that Adam was bartending again, so we grabbed a couple of seats and sat down for a drink. We took turns getting ready for dinner. We also saw a familiar face at the Garden’s, David who works the front desk from time to time and Alicia who helps out around the hotel. It was fun to hang out and talk to everyone before dinner.
We realized we were cutting it close to dinner so we said good bye and walked at a fast pace down Duval towards the Ocean Key Resort. We made it to the front doors at 6:28 and our reservation was for 6:30 so we literally just made it.
We walked up the stairs and asked to be seated at the bar, which was empty so it wasn’t any problem.
We didn’t see the bartender Travis that we met the other day at the Blue Macaw working. We asked the bartender about Travis and turned out he was out sick – all well. It was still a beautiful setting and I finally was able to see what the restaurant looked like. As we were deciding on what to order, I noticed more people coming in asking to be seated inside since it was so hot out. Usually people will sit outside to watch the sunset but not that night.
For our first course I ordered the grouper ceviche and my husband ordered the tuna poke. I tried my husband’s poke and I actually like it better. The ceviche was good but not as flavorful as other places I have tried it, like Off the Hook and Turtle Kraal. We then ordered a half dozen of their east coast oysters on the half shell which were delicious. I then choose to go with the black grouper for dinner and my husband had their NY strip sirloin. My grouper was very good, however my husband’s steak wasn’t exactly. While it looked amazing, he said it lacked flavor – like it was freezer burned. He joked and said that’s what he gets for ordering a steak in Key West. Perhaps next time we will give Prime a try since we heard from so many locals that is where you go for good steak. https://tinyurl.com/y36rv7a5
I was pretty full after dinner since I managed to finish everything on my plate. It felt good to walk back towards the hotel.
On the way, I noticed Big Ed was bartending at the Tree Bar at Rick’s. We walked on over and said hello while ordering a couple of drinks. He mentioned that Carl and George were playing at Rick’s the following night so we thought perfect, we’ll be back the next night. We were both pretty tired at that point so we said good bye to Ed and walked back to the Gardens and got some much needed rest.
Tuesday, July 2nd – La Te Dah, Pool Time, WIllie T’s, The Dirty Pig
We woke up to another gorgeous morning. It was already warm again but there was a nice breeze. We did our usual first stop to Cuban Coffee Queen.
Our choice for breakfast this time was La Te Da. I enjoy the atmosphere there and you are right along the street where you can people watch – which in Key West, can be very entertaining.
We walked in and grabbed two seats at the bar. I didn’t have anything really planned that day so we both ordered a couple of screwdrivers to start.
I ordered the omelet of the day which hit the spot. My husband had the 3 egg breakfast with their candied bacon. https://tinyurl.com/y4cguywq
After breakfast we went back to the Gardens to relax by the pool for a while. It was the perfect decision after all the walking the previous day.
A couple hours passed and it was time to head back to town. After we freshened up we walked down to Blue Heaven for a drink. I was surprised it was pretty busy even though it was just after lunch. They had some entertainment while we were there so it was nice.
We only stayed for one and walked on over to the Blue Macaw. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar right next to the fan blowing that helped immensely. We chatted with the bartender Justin for a few. We actually remembered him from a previous trip, which isn’t much of a surprise since we go some many times of a year. I wanted to head on over to see Zack at Willie T’s but my husband wanted to stop at the Green Parrot first.
It is one of those places you have to stop in at least once during your stay. It seems like every time we go to the Green Parrot, there are always nice people we wind up meeting.
Then it was time to go to Willie T’s. We walked in and I saw our friend Howard and his wife there. We sat down at a table next to them. We talked to them for a bit during Zack’s show. It was a lot of fun. They were leaving the next day so once Zack was done we got a few pictures and wished them a safe trip back home.
We mentioned to Zack that we were going to give the Dirty Pig a try, since one of his good friends is part owner of the place. He mentioned that he would stop by. We walked to the Dirty Pig and once again you could smell the smoke. It smelled so good that it made me quite hungry. Of course we choose to sit at the bar. The lovely bartender handed us menus and explained to us how the ordering worked. For example if you order one of the main entrees, you get a choice of two sides, etc.
My husband ordered the mac and cheese balls and I was craving something green so I ordered a caesar salad. The bartender asked if I wanted it small or large. I opted for the large and when she brought it out – it was HUGE. So I decided to try the mango habanero wings as my main course and my husband had the brisket sandwich. The wings had a great smoke flavor to them. They weren’t crispy but they were so tender which was fine for me. My husband enjoyed the brisket sandwich but would have preferred the meat in larger slices then chopped. https://tinyurl.com/y45g9ola
While we were finishing up a familiar face stopped in, it was Zack. We told him that we enjoyed the meal. He told us that George who was supposed to play with Carl later that night at Rick’s was having issues with his eyes and wouldn’t be able to play.
So after we decided on a time to meet up for breakfast the following morning we walked around the bight a little bit before going back to the Gardens to turn in for the night.
Wednesday, July 3rd – Breakfast Club Too, Café Solé
Another beautiful morning and made our first stop once again at Cuban Coffee Queen.
We walked along Simonton Street this time towards Caroline Street up to Breakfast Club Too.
We sat at the bar while we waited for Zack and Kai.
My husband ordered a bloody mary but I didn’t feel like anything to drink at that point but it sure looked good.
Once Zack and Kai showed up we grabbed a table. It was nice to hang out and catch up with them since our last visit. Everyone enjoyed their breakfast. I don’t think we have ever been disappointed there. It has actually become one of my favorite places for breakfast. https://tinyurl.com/y2r6gxmg
We thanked Zack for breakfast and told him we would catch him later at Willie T’s. We walked back to the Gardens to relax for a bit before heading back out for the day.
After we freshened up, we made our way back on to Duval.
We decided our first stop would be First Flight. I hadn’t had a moscow mule in a while so ordered one. It was the perfect drink on a hot day.
After our drinks we made walked down towards El Pepe De Mason for a couple of mojitos.
However after we ordered a couple we realized that they raised their prices from $12 each to $14. I thought that was crazy for the size drinks you get.
So obviously we were one and done after that.
Then we walked back to the Galleon Tiki Bar to hang out there for a bit. It was another hot day so the shade was perfect and plus you get the breeze off the water.
Eventually we made it to Willie T’s to catch the second set of Zack’s show. It wasn’t too packed so we got a table in the shade right next to the fan – it was perfect! We stayed until the end so I could get a couple more pictures.
We told him we were going to Cafe Sole later for dinner. He invited us to stop by his house after dinner since it isn’t too far from the restaurant so he can show us the work he has been doing to it. We told him we would meet him later.
We walked back to the Gardens to get ready for dinner. Once we got to Cafe Sole we were asked whether to be seated outside or in so I suggested that we sit outside. The table they sat us at was really hot since the ceiling fan above us was broken. My husband asked our server if we could sit inside and they offered two seats right at this tiny bar inside. It was perfect.
My husband ordered the beef carpaccio and I had their tuna tartare. It was amazing. Then of course we each had the hogfish for dinner.
The food was delicious. Cafe Sole never disappoints when we dine there and enjoy its location off the beaten path. https://tinyurl.com/yyqs5pnd
After dinner we got in touch with Zack and walked over to his house. He showed us around and suggested to walk to Don’s place – which is a local hangout that we had never gone to. While we were walking we noticed the skies became this amazing color of orange. It was beautiful.
We walked to Don’s and sat in the outside area and talked for a bit.
It was a nice way to end the evening. We thanked Zack and Kai for their hospitality and walked back to the hotel and went to sleep.
Thursday, July 4th – Independence Day at the Casa Marina
I always heard about how you can get tickets to be a part of the VIP picnic that is held every year at the Casa Marina to watch the fireworks. I saw the tickets when they went on sale and thought they were a bit pricey, but then after reading how it is a 3 hour open bar, gourmet buffett and live local music – I thought why not? Plus for the past couple of years we have been going out on one of the boats for the fireworks that it would be a nice change.
When we first woke up we could here rain, but by the time we freshened up, the skies had cleared. As we were walking to Cuban Coffee Queen I spotted a rainbow. It was pretty impressive.
Once we had our usual coffees in our hands, we agreed to go back to Moondog Cafe for breakfast. We walked in and sat at the bar. Unlike last time, the inside was busier then the outside because it was another hot day.
We ordered breakfast and I decided to try the huervos rancheros. I was a bit disappointed because they served it like a deconstructed style so I had to put everything together myself – it still tasted good but prefer them already assembled.
Due to the fact we had the Casa Marina event later in the day, we thought it would be best to take it easy.
Plus we found out that in honor of July 4th, the Gardens was having a hot dog bbq from 2-4pm that afternoon.
As a result, we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool. Around 2 o’clock the hot dogs were ready.
We even met a nice couple from Albany, John and Carolyn.
Another bartender by the name of Scott was working and we remembered him as well from our previous visits. We were talking to him and the other couple about how they should check out the Smokin’ Tuna the next night because Caffeine Carl and Zack were playing. Then it was time to get ready for the fireworks. The hotel (Nancy) called a taxi for us since it was a bit of a walk to the Casa Marina. Just before we were leaving we saw her (who has been working at the Garden for years). She is such a sweetheart.
We hopped into the taxi and soon we were at the Casa Marina. They had tables set up before you walk in to check-in. Once we walked through the lobby and outside on to the grounds, it was so magnificent – such a beautiful place.
We walked towards the beach where they had tables set up. I was surprised when we were seated at our own private table. It was perfect, the setting, the location, etc.
My husband grabbed a couple drinks for us while I was just sitting there taking in the view. Not before long they had the buffett stations ready for dining.
The food was quite good for a buffett. They had beef tenderloin, grilled local organic chicken, paella with all kinds of shellfish, salads, and other sides.
While we were eating, my husband realized he left his phone in the taxi. Thank goodness while we were going to the hotel, my husband remembered that the driver kept repeating the number 42 on his radio. So after a few phone calls, we were able to locate the taxi driver and he said that he did have his phone. We arranged that right after the fireworks, he would pick us up.
The sun began to set making it an even more beautiful setting.
Really the only negative was that they wound up not having live local music. Ironically in the past Zack and his son would play at the Casa, but for some reason they didn’t have it this year. I honestly think it would have been so much better instead of the top 40 hits radio music they were playing.
As it neared 9 o’clock you could see the White Street Pier fill up with people and all the boats that went out for the sunset and fireworks lined up in the distance. It was strange to be in the opposite spot that we were usually at, to watch the fireworks.
Soon the fireworks began and they did not disappoint. You felt like you were so close to them. It was amazing to watch. The fireworks lasted probably around 20 minutes or so. Even the grand finale was spectacular. https://youtu.be/M7F9o1WRRLY
Once the fireworks ended, we walked out of the Casa Marina and it was a mad house with everyone doing the same thing looking for a taxi. Luckily we spotted the taxi driver right away and he was able to get through the crowds pretty easily. On our way back he handed my husband his phone and said that another passenger after us found it and gave it too him – and without a pass code on it, I thought how nice that person was and how lucky my husband was to get his phone back. The taxi driver dropped us off and we turned in for the night.
Friday, July 5th – Last Full Day (Already)
We wound up sleeping in a little later since most likely we would be up late going to the Smokin’ Tuna later that night. So when we arrived at Cuban Queen there was a line.
Thankfully it moved pretty quick and soon we had our coffees back in hand.
We both decided to go to Bagatelles for breakfast. It wasn’t too hot so we sat outside on the porch. I ordered the smoked salmon served on focaccia bread and my husband had the huervos rancheros (which were served the way I prefer). It was a great start to our day. https://tinyurl.com/y2r4mufl
Once we were done with breakfast we walked around for a bit before stopping at Glichcraft, a small craft beer place on Simonton.
Last time the bartender at the Gardens told us about the place and thought it was pretty cool and wound up doing some artwork for them. This time we were meeting up with one of the owners to talk about some t-shirts. We walked in and sat down. One of the owners, Adam was sitting there waiting for us. We talked for a bit about some potential design ideas. I told him I would get going on them once we got back home.
While we were sitting there, they were setting up their screens for locals to come in and watch the Netflix Series Stranger Things Season 3. I didn’t want to stay because I wanted to wait to watch it once we were home. We thanked Adam for the beer and told him I would be in touch.
Our next stop was sunset pier.
We had not been there yet and wanted to see Al the bartender. When we got there we didn’t see Al. We asked one of the bartenders and it turned out he was off for the July 4th holiday weekend. We were both a bit disappointed but had one beer before going to Rick’s to see Zack.
We walked to Rick’s and were happy to see that the seats outside facing the bar were available. There were a bunch of people already inside so it was perfect to be away from the crowds.
As we were sitting there, I noticed that Zack was wearing a shirt I designed for him for his up and coming birthday.
I laughed with my husband and told him he has to get a picture of it when he goes on break.
We hung out for a bit and Kai also showed up. It was fun but that feeling of leaving the next day kept coming over me, but I knew how lucky we have been to be able to come to Key West so many times – year after year. After Zack’s show, we told him we would see him later at the Tuna.
While we were walking back to the Gardens we noticed that since it was a Friday, they were closing off the portions of Duval again, like they did when we were there in April, which I think is a great idea.
When we got back to the Gardens we saw Scott bartending again. So obviously we had to sit down and have a couple more drinks. Then the other couple that we met the other day, John and Carolyn showed up. My husband and I wound up getting ready in shifts – first me and then my husband. When we were ready to go we told them again about going to the Tuna that night.
While we were walking trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I looked at my fitbit and saw that it was 7:30. How did that happen?
I knew if we went somewhere to eat we would never get a seat at the Tuna. So I suggested we go straight to the Tuna and that’s what we did.
When we walked in it was crowded because the band the Nace Brothers were playing.
Luckily a couple left just as we were about to order drinks so we were able to get two seats at the bar. We saw Erin back behind the bar and it was great to see her again since we missed her the last trip. We ordered a couple appetizers to start but never ordered anything else – which in hind sight I probably should have. https://tinyurl.com/y38dkg7m
Soon Zack showed up and we talked to him before the show. We even were able to get a few pictures with Zack and Carl.
Then it was time for the show to begin. Not before long Zack’s son Kai showed up to watch with us. While we were hanging out and enjoying the music, we noticed the couple from the Gardens, Scott the Bartender, and David the front office guy – all showed up.
It was hilarious to see them all there. We were having such a great time hanging out and they even thought the band sounded great. I was joking saying – why is the last day always the best one?
They wound up leaving before us but we didn’t make the mistake before like last time staying until the end of the show. We were leaving the next day and the last thing I wanted, was to feel terrible for the flight home. We were supposed to have breakfast with Zack and Kai before we left so we told them we would seem them in the morning.
Saturday, July 6th – Leaving “Home”
We woke up to another sunny day. After freshening up and packing up all our things we walked to Cuban Coffee Queen for one last cup of coffee. Kai wound up meeting us there because Zack was running later from his morning workout.
We then walked over to Sarabeth’s which is our usual go to place before we leave so you don’t have to get too warm from walking some place further away. We got a seat inside and ordered. Then we got a message from Zack saying he couldn’t make and wasn’t feeling well. I was really bummed out, but obviously hoped he felt better. We still had a nice breakfast with Kai.
After breakfast we said our usual good byes which I always hate.
We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 11:30am and soon we were on our way to the airport. Our flight left on time and even arrived back in Newark, NJ a few minutes early. There were severe thunderstorms forecasted to hit the area (which seems to be a regular occurrence lately), but luckily they didn’t arrive until we were pretty much back home. Before I knew it we were back home doing laundry and unpacking.
Every trip to Key West seems to go by quicker and quicker. Some day I would like to stay longer, but at least we are fortunate enough to keep returning as many times as we do.
As I always say Key West continues to bring great memories filled with amazing people and special friends that makes it feel like “home”.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog… until next time!!!