Fantasy Fest in Key West October 23 – 30th, 2021

Originally my husband and I were planning on returning to St. John in the US Virgin Islands for our annual October Trip, however with the testing (even though we are vaccinated) and not being able to go to the British Virgin Islands I decided to postpone our trip another year. I contacted the villa company and they were very accommodating. So I (of course) suggested that we go back to Key West. I was aware that it was the same time as Fantasy Fest but was always curious about it. Plus I wanted to see some events, like the Zombie Bike Ride, the Parade, etc. And figured we could always avoid certain events. Luckily I was able to book a room for the week at our favorite place, the Gardens Hotel.

You can read my review of the Gardens Hotel here:

As our departure date was nearing, I found out that most of the large events for Fantasy Fest that I wanted to see were canceled. I was a bit disappointed but then thought how it was probably for the best with COVID and less people would be visiting Key West during that time. However, little did I know there were still many people planning on coming down to participate in Fantasy Fest even though there were only smaller events still scheduled. I had no idea what to expect.

Saturday – Oct. 23 – Arrival Day

A few months prior I registered my husband and I for Clear®.

Last time we were at Newark-Liberty Airport, the lines were crazy, even in the TSA Pre line which we do have. After our car service dropped us off at Terminal C, we walked up to the Clear Entrance and up to the kiosk. The TSA agent asked us if we had our eyes scanned yet, etc. and we hadn’t. So we had to leave the line and then go to another area of kiosks where there was another TSA agent standing by to assist with the process. It wound up not being an easy process, at least for me. I went up to the kiosk first. First you had your finger prints scanned, followed by a picture taken. Then you had to enter in your address which was fine. Then a series of questions came up. One of them for me, was the age of my mom. Mind you it was 6 am and I only had one cup of coffee, plus I was nervous not wanting to answer anything wrong. Then I selected the age range and got it wrong. My husband standing behind me even said something, but I hit the submit button already. So I failed. I had to start the process all over again. Then the TSA agent said that if I failed again then I wouldn’t be able to finish the registration process until 24 hours after. Thankfully the second series of questions didn’t require any math and were pretty easy. Of course when it was my husband’s turn, the questions that they asked him were super simple. In the end we both were able to get enrolled in Clear.

Relieved, we walked back to the Clear line. I think there were just a several people ahead of us, while the TSA Pre line had a long line. When we walked up to the kiosk the TSA agent instructed us to look into the machine where they scanned our eyes and then had to place our hands on the platform so the machine could recognize our finger prints. It took only a couple of seconds and once we got the green light we walked through to the security check-in. Next time will be a lot less stressful since we now just go up to the Clear line.

Our direct flight on United left on time (a little after 9am) and about after 2 and a half hours I was able to start to see the Keys below. This time our seats were on the left side of the plane so I wasn’t able to take a photo of Key West when we got close to land.

We landed just a bit after 12:30 and it is always such a wonderful feeling to walk off the plane and feel the sun and warmth on your face. When we walked outside to grab a taxi there was a long line, but thankfully it moved in a timely matter. The taxi ride to the Gardens was a little longer than usual. This was due to construction going on, once you exit the airport you have to make a left turn (you cannot go right). I didn’t mind so much. It was a different way where you could see different things that I normally have never seen, like the high school. 

Once we arrived at the Gardens we had to wait to check-in since another guest was in the office. I was so antsy to get to our room, that the wait felt like an eternity. Eventually the guest left and we were able to check-in. Due to the fact it was our 26 time staying at the Gardens, yes 26 times, check-in was quick. Our room was ready so we grabbed our carry-on and the box of toiletries I had shipped directly to the hotel. 

After we unpacked all our things and changed into shorts and flip-flops, we walked down the stairs and past the bar. As we were walking by, we recognized the bartender from our July trip. It was Phil! He gave us a warm hello with a big smile. So we wound up sitting down at the bar for a welcome beverage. Plus I think I needed to unwind after the flight down and the Clear enrollment process. It was entertaining talking to Phil for a bit. He even shared his ability to blow a conch shell.

Feeling a bit more at ease it was time to make our usual first walk down Duval Street.

Here is a video I took of us walking down Duval St.

I knew Zack Seemiller was playing at Rick’s so I wanted to be sure to say hello before he was done for the afternoon. We walked down Duval Street to Ricks. At this point there were not many people that I saw dressed up for Fantasy Fest. All looked normal on Duval Street. We walked in and Zack immediately recognized us. We watched his last set and afterwards talked to him for a few minutes before making our next stop.

I made dinner reservations at Red Shoe Bistro which is located not too far from the Gardens Hotel. During our last trip in July we dined there for our last dinner and were quite impressed. We still had some time, so I know my husband wanted to check out General Horseplay. When we walked in it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to sit at the bar. 

It was a warm day so the air conditioning felt good at first. We each ordered the drink we remembered from last time that we thoroughly enjoyed called the murricane. It is made with bourbon which I normally never touch, but the way they infuse the flavors in this particular craft cocktail make it taste really good. They are dangerous – since you cannot taste the alcohol at all. 

Before started to get too comfortable, we made the wise decision to pay our tab and head back to the Gardens Hotel to freshen up for dinner. The Red Shoe Bistro is located right down Petronia St. 

Our reservations were for 6pm, right when they open up so when we walked in there was just one other table. We decided to sit at the bar just for more room. One of the owners came up to us and told us the specials for the evening. One of the items that intrigued my husband was the beef stroganoff with fresh pasta. So of course he wound up ordering that for his main meal and decided to go with the fish of the day which I believe was snapper, but I could be mistaken. Regardless it was delicious. We each started with the caesar salad which was served with the romaine lettuce left whole and grilled. It was an interesting twist for a typical salad that most restaurants offer. It was really good. When we were finished with our meals we both started feeling the travel day. Sometimes we would go out to the Smokin’ Tuna afterwards, but instead we walked back to the Gardens.

You can read my full review here:

The Garden’s bar was still open so we sat down. While we were talking to the bartender Phil, there was a nice lady sitting by herself. She introduced herself (Julie) and mentioned how she was waiting for her husband to fly in the next day. He got held up with work back in Nashville so she flew down first by herself. Turns out she was staying right next to us at the Gardens. She was so sweet and friendly. We talked to her for a bit before turning in for the night.

Sunday – Oct. 24 – Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar, Garden of Eden, Bel Mare

When I first woke up that morning for a split second I thought I was home, but then realized I was in my happy place, Key West. Feeling revived from a good night sleep, we both freshened up for breakfast. As usual, our first stop was Cuban Coffee Queen for a couple cups of their cuban american coffee with an extra shot. 

With our coffees in hand, we walked down to La Te Da. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be crowded since it was the weekend (Sunday), but luckily when we walked in the bar area was more or less open. We sat down on the end near the street. For breakfast I just had the standard american breakfast. (As a side note, La Te Da serves three eggs instead of the typical two). My husband had their scrambled eggs with their infamous caramelized black pepper bacon.

The breakfast came out in a timely matter and everything was delicious and hot. Nothing frustrates me more is being served a cold meal. It was a nice way to start our day. I didn’t really have anything planned besides dinner at Bel Mare up at the Bight later that evening.

The weather was on the overcast side so it wasn’t a ‘relax by the pool’ sort of day. We decided to walk around and see where the day will takes us. Ultimately we wound up down on Front St. and walked to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. 

We walked in and noticed that the side facing the water had a couple of ladies sitting where we normally like to sit, but there was room for us to sit beside them. Our friend Ramsey was bartending so it was nice to see her. We were talking to her when we saw Phil (who owns the Sunset Tiki Bar).  

He told us that in about a half hour there was going to be a big group of people coming in for some sort of event but wanted us to stay. He even bought us a round of drinks and even the two ladies next to us. We both looked at each other and thought well I guess we will stay. We started talking to the two ladies Mo and Kristen. They were from Minnesota, but Mo recently moved to Tampa. I mentioned to them how I work for a company based in Minnesota. They were on a girls only vacation without their significant others.

While we were talking to them, another familiar face stopped by Dave. He used to work at the Sunset Tiki Bar and that is how we met him. Ironically he is from New Jersey like us. 

As time passed, we started to notice people walking into the bar. Not before long it, the place was packed. A couple sat down next to us and began talking to my husband. I also joined in on the conversation with them in between talking to Mo and Kristen. Then we found out that the event was indeed a swingers event?! Okay then. We all kind of laughed about it and Mo and Kristen asked us if we ever have been to the Garden of Eden. And the answer of course from my husband and I was no. We had never been up there before nor have I ever wanted to after coming down to Key West for over 15 years. However I was always a little bit curious. 

After a bit of convincing from the ladies we decided why not? It’s Fantasy Fest so we were going to see a lot more things going on throughout the week. We saddled up our tab with Ramsey and walked down Duval to the Garden of Eden. I noticed that there were definitely more people walking around then earlier. Also I started to see people with body paint, some with costumes on, and some with not so much on.

We made it to the Garden of Eden and started walking up the stairs. I kept thinking to myself, I can’t believe I am doing this. I have no idea what to expect. Thankfully I had a few cups of courage in me so I wasn’t going to stop now. We walked all the way up to the top roof of the Bull. It was a whirlwind of what I saw. There a mix of both men and women hanging out at the bar and standing around. Some were clothed and some were not. I kept trying not to stare and look else where. The view of the town up top was actually really impressive. You can’t take pictures there for obvious reasons. After the initial shock we got a couple of drinks. We stayed long enough for just one drink before walking back down the stairs, and no, none of us disrobed at the Garden of Eden. At least now I can say been there seen that, or should I say unseen that. 

There was a couple of guys playing music down at the Bull that sounded pretty good. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and talked about what we just experienced. We couldn’t stop laughing. We were having such a great time, but I knew that we should probably head back to the Gardens and relax for a bit before freshening up for dinner.

Sadly Kristen and Mo were leaving the following day but suggested that they could join us for breakfast the next morning. I suggested Bagatelle’s since it was sort of in the middle of where they were staying and where we were staying. We said our goodbye’s and thanked them for a great time.

On our way back to the Garden’s I wanted to stop by Margaritaville. Kai, Zack Seemiller’s son recently started working there. As we walked by, there he was. I knew he was busy working, but wanted to say hello and get a quick picture with him. I told him that we plan on having breakfast with him and his dad on Tuesday if we didn’t get to see him again before then.

We made it back to the Gardens and their Sunday Jazz was in full swing. I completely forgot about it and wanted to listen to the music before going back out to dinner. While we were grabbing a few drinks at the bar, I noticed Kate, the owner of the Gardens. I walked on over and said hello. She is always so sweet and pleasant. Of course I had to get a picture with her and her little dog. She welcomed my husband and I back to the Gardens like she always does when we get the opportunity to run into her.

It was getting close to our reservation that we didn’t have time to change or freshen up. Thank goodness most of Key West has a casual dress code for dinner. We had to hustle down Simonton St. to the Bight. We were a little late to Bel Mare, but it wasn’t too busy so honestly we probably didn’t need a dinner reservation.

We were seated near the window and the sun was setting. The view was nice of the boats in the dock below. 

Our server was a young girl in training but she did a fantastic job. I (for some reason) was craving caesar salad throughout this trip so I ordered the caesar salad. Plus Bel Mare is an Italian restaurant which tend to have very good caesar salads.

My husband ordered the carne cruda, which was a filet of rare beef tenderloin served over a bed of arugula and cherry tomatoes, served with a grapeseed oil and soy dressing. I normally do not eat red meat, but it looked so good that I tried a piece and it was so tender and flavorful.

For dinner I had the Chef’s special piccata, which was wahoo. 

My husband had the pappardelle with Key West pink shrimp. Everything was outstanding and really enjoyed trying Bel Mare. We tend to stay away from Italian restaurants on vacation (being from NJ there is an Italian restaurant on practically every corner). However after having dinner there, I would make that exception again to return when we come back.

You can read my review here:

We were both too full to have dessert so we walked off our dinner back to the Gardens to turn in. It was a long and interesting day to say the least. 

Monday – Oct. 25 – Bagatelle’s, Hogsbreath, Boathouse

I We woke up to another overcast sky, but didn’t mind too much since it kept the heat down while walking around. After a quick shower we went down to Cuban Coffee Queen for coffee before walking down Duval to Bagatelle’s.

The streets were oddly quiet. The thing I realized during Fantasy Fest, most of the participating crowd stayed out late making the mornings quiet. In a way it was great because we never had to wait to be seated at breakfast like back in July. 

We made it to Bagatelle’s and walked up the stairs to see the hostess.  She asked us where we would like to be seated, but my husband wanted to sit at the back bar outside. So that is where we wound up. It was fine, especially being that we were expecting two more people to join us. I did get a text from Mo that they would be a little later so we wound up ordering ahead. I ordered the southern eggs benedict with pulled pork and my husband ordered the regular standard two egg breakfast. 

While we were waiting for our breakfast we saw Mo and Kristen walk in. They didn’t see us so I got up and showed them that we were sitting in the back. It was nice to see them before they had to leave. They sat at the bar with us and ordered a couple of drinks. We started talking about yesterdays events. Then our food came out. All I have to say, whomever came up with the combination of using pulled pork and grilled corn bread to replace the usual country ham and english muffins is a genius. It was delicious. Unfortunately though, very filling so I couldn’t finish it. Mo and Kristen weren’t hungry so we tried to figure out where to go next. They usually go to Sloppy Joe’s for their final drink, but being it was getting late Mo thought it would be too crowded. (Thank goodness because I really didn’t feel like going there.)

Then I mentioned that our friend Zack Seemiller will be playing soon at Hogsbreath which is literally across the street. So it was decided that that’s where are next stop would be. It was just before noon so I was hoping for good seats at the bar, but of course when we walked over they were already taken. There were seats open at the raw bar so we sat there. We ordered a round and after a few minutes the seats at the regular bar opened up. I was so excited that I made everyone move. No one seemed to mind, plus I wanted to see Stephanie who was bartending at that bar instead of the guy at the Raw Bar.  

Soon Zack showed up and we spent the afternoon having a great time between listening to the music and talking to Mo and Kristen. Unfortunately Kristen did have to leave since her flight was in the afternoon. We said good our goodbyes and wished her safe travels.

I also reached out to a friend of Zack’s, Zoltan who I recently did some artwork for several weeks prior. Instead of paying me through Paypal, I thought it would just be easier to do in person since we were coming down within a few weeks. He agreed to meet me at Hogsbreath. It was nice to meet him in person and he was able to hang out and talk to my husband and I for a little bit. And ironically it was his birthday.

Once Zack was done I had to make sure I get my usual picture with him.

After Zack’s show, Mo suggested that we should go to the Boathouse. Yes the Boathouse finally opened up in the old Turtle Kraal location. We walked in and the bar was packed. We were fortune it enough though to find a couple of open seats at the bar. And as a side note I don’t think the one bartender was wearing anything under her little skirt.

Mo and my husband ordered a bunch appetizers to share but I still wasn’t hungry after eating the benedict earlier. The food did look great however. Then it was the time that Mo had to leave and catch her flight back to Tampa. I always hate saying goodbye to friends you just met and also ones you have known for years. We told her we would stay and touch. 

I didn’t have anything else planned that evening so we walked back down to the Gardens to wind down and relax. We saw Phil was still bartending at the Garden’s bar so we sat down. Julie was there again so we talked to her again for a little bit before calling it a night. She told us that her husband Brent was flying down the next day and that we had to meet him. 

Tuesday – Oct. 26 – Breakfast Club Too, Smokin’ Tuna, Ramhead’s Southernmost

Finally we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. It definitely made it warmer but I it felt great. I knew that once we get back home to NJ, winter is on its way so any warm/hot day is better then a cold/snowy one. We made tentative plans to meet Zack and his son Kai at Breakfast Club Too for breakfast. After a couple of quick showers, we made our first stop at Cuban Coffee Queen and then walked down Simonton. Again the streets were pretty quiet.

We walked into Breakfast Club Too to wait for them. We didn’t wait too long and soon Zack and Kai showed up. We were seated right away since it wasn’t crowded at all. It was a nice morning talking and catching up. 

We thanked Zack for breakfast and walked back to the Gardens to relax for a little while. Zack was playing later that afternoon with Caffeine Carl at the Smokin’ Tuna. I remember we saw them play back in July and it was a nice change instead of seeing them play with band so I wanted to make it a point to stop in and see them. 

After relaxing for a bit on our porch at the Gardens we rallied up and walked down Simonton St. We figured since it was getting later in the day, Duval St. was probably getting more crowded. Shockingly (I know) we wound up walking down to the Galleon and back to the Sunset Tiki Bar. It just seems to be one of those places we gravitate towards. It is never gets crowded (besides for that swingers party) and it is so nice to sit there and look out onto the water.

I didn’t want to stay too long so we could catch Zack and Carl at the Tuna. So after a couple of drinks we walked down Duval. We both noticed a lot more people out and about. Many were dressed up or not dressed so to speak, but in body paint. Also I remembered that it was Tutu Tuesday, so obviously there were a lot of people wearing tutu’s. 

We made it to the Tuna and found a couple open seats at the bar. Zack and Carl were already playing, but after they were done with the song they were doing, Carl said hello and welcomed us back “home” which brought a smile to my face. During the show, we observed more and more  people walking in.

They were all dressed up for Fantasy Fest. I almost felt out of place wearing regular clothes. It was still fun enjoying the show. I did get a message from one of Zack’s friends that we became friends with as well, Wayne. We saw him briefly back in July. It turned out that he was going to be having dinner with his wife Karen at Ramshead Southernmost. So we told him that we would meet them later. When Zack and Carl were down with their show, I wanted to get my usual picture with them. And then I realized Carl was wearing a tutu too!

Also while we were enjoying them play, a gentlemen came up to us. He said he recognized us from my blog. He mentioned how much he enjoys it, I thought that was so nice.

We had some time before meeting Wayne and Karen so we walked back down Duval to the Gardens. When we walked passed the bar I heard a familiar  “hello Susan”. It was Kate, the owner. I wound up sitting down next to her and chatted for a bit I waited for my husband to freshen up. Then it was my turn to get ready. When I walked back down I saw my husband talking to Julie and her husband Brent, finally showed up. It was nice to finally meet him. We talked to them for a few and mentioned if they enjoy music to see our friend Zack and Caffeine Carl play the following night at the Tuna. They were interested and we made plans that we would meet up with them.

It was nearing the time to meet Wayne and Karen at Ramshead so I headed down towards Ramshead while my husband finished talking to Julie and Brent and also squared up the bill with Phil.

I walked in and saw that Wayne and Karen were sitting at a table towards the front. Zack was also playing so it was fun to see him again. Soon my husband showed up as well. Wayne and Karen recently completed their newly built home up the Keys. It was  nice to hear about how they were adjusting to life in the Keys coming from New York. We had a pleasant evening talking to them and the good thing about where Ramshead is located, it was very subdude as far as Fantasy Fest people. Actually when Zack finished his show, the place cleared out. I think we were the only table left at the place. Wayne and Karen had to drive back up the Keys so we said good night and that we would catch up again when we hopefully return in several months. 

On our way back to the Gardens my husband stopped and suggested that we grab a slice a pizza. I realized that neither of us had eaten anything since breakfast. We each had a slice and realized that one slice wasn’t going to be enough. My husband ordered a few more slices for us to take back to the room. 

We walked back to our room and I devoured 2 more slices of pizza. While I was devouring the pizza, we heard two familiar voices walking up the stairs and it was Brent and Julie. They were returning from dinner and as I mentioned earlier their room was around the corner from ours. As a result, we hung out for a little bit talking and telling each other about what we did that day. 

I was getting tired, mostly likely from eating all that pizza so I called it a night. I am not sure how much later my husband hung out with them but I feel asleep right away.

Wednesday – Oct. 26 – The Lighthouse, Willie T’s, and a Night Out & About

It was another beautiful morning. I was still feeling all that pizza I ate the night before, so I wanted to go somewhere for breakfast that had a decent walk. Then I thought of Azur. After grabbing our cuban coffee queen coffees, we walked down to Azur. It is one of those out of the way places but always has consistently good food.

We walked and chose to sit inside instead of outside. It was a pleasant and quiet way to start the day being the only two in the room. My husband ordered the all american standard breakfast as usual, but I went out of the box and ordered a chicken caesar salad. It sounds weird, but Azur offers lunch options as well for breakfast. I guess they consider it brunch everyday starting at 9am. I was tired of eggs every morning that it surprisingly tasted quite good for breakfast. When we were finished with breakfast I suggested that we walk down to the lighthouse. I always curious about checking it out. The lighthouse is located right across the street from the Hemingway House and close to the Moondog Cafe.

We walked down Whitehead Street and there it was. I noticed a few people were already up the lighthouse. It was $17 per person but agreed that it was something different to do. Once we paid the elderly man at the window we walked towards the lighthouse. There was a sign that said it was 88 steps to get up and thought no problem. 

We began the climb up the spiral staircase, but we started to hear people coming down the stairs. And there was not much room for two people to pass on this spiral staircase. I was getting a little apprehensive as they neared. We were able to maneuver where the couple stayed towards the inside of the stairs and we stayed towards the outside. Eventually they were able to get by us. 

Of course several more turns up the stairs there was a platform for people to pass one another. All well, we made it all the way up to the top. We walked out to the balcony and it was so narrow. If someone was standing on one side, it was hard to pass behind them. For some reason I started to feel uncomfortable. I basically took a few pictures (afraid I was going to drop my phone down below) and had enough. I normally don’t have any issues being up high, but I think it was because the area was so small. It was beautiful don’t get me wrong and I was glad that we did give it try.

We made it back down to ground level and took few picture before checking out the little museum which was the old keeper’s quarters. It was really interesting to read the history of the lighthouse and how important they were to the Keys.  

We left the lighthouse and started walking down Whitehead Street and noticed our legs were a bit fatigued from walking up and down the stairs. I was caught of guard because I run 4 miles a day, but we were probably using different muscles in our legs that we were used to going up and down those stairs.

In the mood for a cold beverage, we stopped Mary Ellen’s for one. Last time we were there we couldn’t get a seat at the bar. This time there was just two other people in there. I do have to say if you are hot from walking around and need a place to cool off, this is the place. At first it feels good, but after a while it’s a bit much (for me). I was getting cold and couldn’t even finish my beer before we headed back out. 

Zack was playing at Willie T’s later on so I wanted to be sure we would see him. We wound up going back to the Gardens to relax for a bit before going back out to Willie T’s.

We walked into Willie T’s and it was pretty busy. I wanted to sit at a table but the one that was available was right in the sun so we grabbed a couple of seats at the bar. I noticed the servers were dressed up and a few patrons, but it wasn’t too crazy. 

We ordered a couple of drinks and then noticed our friends Natalie and Ron walked in. I joked at them saying we have their seats because they usually sit at the bar. A table in the shade opened up so we joined them. It was a fun afternoon hanging out with them and listening to Zack. 

We were such a good time, that we stayed to see John LaMere after Zack. My husband ordered a couple of appetizers for us. We couldn’t stay too long because we were planning on seeing Zack and Caffeine Carl at the Tuna with Brent and Julie that night. Before getting into too much trouble, we said goodbye to John and walked back down to the Gardens to regroup.

Feeling recharged after freshening up we grabbed a couple of seats at the Gardens Bar. Not before long, we see Brent and Julie. They were ready to go. I was excited for them to see Zack and Carl. We walked down Duval St. and it was starting to get crazy and crowded. 

It was around 8pm, but we figured if we arrived at the Tuna early we could get good seats. Well I was wrong. We walked down to the Tuna and noticed a lot of people dressed up standing outside. I walked in and the place was mobbed. And then there was some kind of event going on. Then I remembered reading that there was a homemade bikini contest of some sort going on at the Tuna that night that I completely forgot about. I reached out to Zack and Carl and they said they had no idea when they would be going on. I thought this is just great. 

Then my husband remembered he reached out to Gabriel Wright earlier that day to see when he was playing, and suggested going to Captain Tony’s to see him play. So we left the Tuna and walked to Captain Tony’s. However, it was the same thing. Mobs of people standing outside. I walked in just to see what was going on and the guy at the door said it was open to everyone. I ran back outside and told my husband that we could go in since it’s not a private event. 

So we walked in and saw the area that normally has the pool tables had several tables in their place. Luckily there was one available for us to grab, because the bar area was crazy. We sat down amongst the craziness. While my husband went to get us a round, I walked up to say hello to Gabriel. His wife who was also there filming his show.

It was an interesting time sitting there watching all these people dressed up and as I said earlier some not dressed at all. Even one gentlemen came up to us and was pretty friendly and sat with us. It was a bit awkward because lets just say he wasn’t wearing too much. After a few minutes I kindly told him my husband wasn’t enjoying his company too much so he left.

Gabriel as usual played a couple of songs that my husband and I always request him to play. We stayed for a few before heading back out since his show was coming to an end. I was glad we were able to catch him, since the next time he was playing at Captain Tony’s was on Saturday and that’s when we were leaving.

We made it back onto to Duval and it was crazier then before. I don’t know if it was less people then normal or not for Fantasy Fest, but I had nothing to compare it too since we had never been had experienced it before. After a while seeing all these people, you almost get used to it. No one bothers you and everyone is having a good time. 

We made it through the crowds and walked down to General Horseplay. I probably could have called it a night at that point, but my husband took a liking to this place and wanted Brent and Julie to check it out. Again we walked in and it was crowded, but low and behold there was one table available. We sat down and ordered a round. Ironically the server was from the same county that my husband live in, in NJ. 

There was also a band playing in the back outside. I could here them while we were sitting inside so I went to check them out. They were playing a lot of 90s alternative rock which I really enjoy so I sat out there for a few. It is actually a pretty cool set up, the way they have the stage out in the back. There were a bunch of people there, but no one was on top one another.

The night was getting late and it was time to get back to the Gardens. 

We all managed to get back to the Gardens together. We thanked them for a great time.  I also mentioned how not all is lost, Zack and Carl play on Friday night so we can try again. And with that note we called it a night.

Thursday – Oct. 27 – Moondog Cafe, Willie T’s, Prime, Margaritaville

I woke up starving since I didn’t have much to eat the previous day. We hadn’t been to Moondog Cafe yet so we decided to go there. As a side note, Blue Heaven was closed during our stay. Apparently they had some construction going on during their usual time they close (September) but I guess things took longer, so we heard sometime in November they would open.

We freshened up and walked down to Cuban Coffee Queen for much needed coffee. Thankfully there wasn’t much of a wait. Then we headed down to the Moondog Cafe. When we walked in all the seats at the counter/bar were taken (that’s where we prefer to sit). Then the hostess asked us if we would like to sit inside or out. The inside looked pretty busy so I said the outside. 

However, it was not the outside area in the front like I was thinking, but the back. I thought we are going to be forgotten out there, but after we sat down and gave our order, more people were seated out in the back. I definitely prefer the counter but it was okay for what it was. I decided to go with the veggie eggs benedict which were delicious and my husband had the standard american breakfast with two fried eggs. 

The Moondog Cafe always is a solid choice for breakfast. I usually try to order something different each time we go and never have been disappointed, besides their huervos rancheros. They are good, but they serve it deconstructed style, which I am not a fan of.

When we were done with our breakfast we went back to the Gardens to relax for a bit. Zack was playing again at Willie T’s so as usual I wanted to stop and see him again. We had dinner at Prime that evening so I knew we couldn’t stay for the entire show.

After spending some down time relaxing at the Gardens we headed back out onto Duval. There were more people out and about then the previous days. We made it to Willie T’s and all the tables were taken. Then I noticed a couple leaving so I grabbed the table as soon as they left before someone else did. Plus it was a table in the shade which was key.

Zack was already playing, so we ordered a couple of drinks and listened to him play. While he was playing I looked around and noticed that the wait staff were topless with body paint on top. At first it was a bit uncomfortable but then after a while I began to get used to it. At one point even some guy asked me to take a picture of the one waitstaff with him. I was like really? Okay no problem I guess. More and more people were walking in with costumes on and body paint. 

We stayed until about 4:30 and were also able to see Kai before he went to work at Margaritaville. We then walked back to the Gardens to freshen up for dinner. Revived once again with showers we walked back out on to Simonton to avoid the craziness of Duval.

Our reservation was at 6pm so I figured Prime wouldn’t be too busy at that time. We walked in and we were seated at the bar (which I did reserve ahead of time). 

We sat down and started perusing the menu. The bartender told us the specials. There was some sort of pasta special that sounded amazing, but I decided to go with their catch the day special which was tilefish. For starters, I went with the escargot and my husband ordered the oysters on the half shell. He then ordered their NY Strip as the main meal with a side of fries. I also ordered a side of the garlicky creamed spinach.

While we were waiting for our food to be prepared, my husband mentioned how there was this gentlemen at the end of bar talking extremely loud and throwing out the “f” bomb. At first I didn’t notice him, but once he pointed it out I couldn’t get his voice out of my head. As the evening went on he just kept going and going.

Our appetizers arrived and I couldn’t believe the amount of snails on the plate. Usually escargot is served with maybe 6 to 9 snails? Anyway they were delicious. My husband’s oysters were also delicious. We wound up sharing each other’s appetizers because there was so much.

Then our entrees arrived. My husband loved his sirloin. I even tried a little piece and it melted in your mouth. My tilefish on the other hand was not as good. The crabmeat stuffing and hollandaise/bernaise sauce (can’t remember which one it was but they are so similar) was outstanding, but the fish itself was lack luster. I thought to myself, I should have ordered the pasta special. Plus I saw another patron next to my husband at the bar having the pasta and it looked really good.

When we finished our meals I thought it would be nice to order a couple glasses of port. While I was looking over the dessert menu, my husband finally had enough with the loud and obnoxious man at the end of the bar. He stood up and basically told him to keep his voice down and we are paying the same amount as him and we were trying to have a nice and enjoyable dinner. Surprisingly the man apologized and kept his voice down for the rest of the evening. Even the bartender and the people next to us thanked my husband for saying something.

Once we finished our port it was time to go back to the Gardens. We walked out through the back where you can see the pool at Dante’s below, which always looks so pretty at night.

We told Kai earlier that we would stop by and see him at work. So we wound up walking down Duval. Having to dodge the crowds walking down the street, we finally made it to Margaritaville. We hadn’t been in Margaritaville in years, so when we walked in, it looked so much smaller to me. Even the stage.

We saw Kai and grabbed a couple seats at the bar. I really didn’t need another beverage at that point, but thought hey I am in Margaritaville, have a margarita. It was actually fun to be back. It reminded me of our very first visit back in March of 2006, when we had to stop at Margaritaville for a drink and I thought how cool it was.

We talked to Kai for a couple of minutes before walking back to the Gardens. When we left I saw the Strand building / Walgreens was lit up. I am not sure if the sign always looked like that but it looked brand new to me? Maybe I never noticed it before.

We made it back to the Gardens and sat out on the porch for a few minutes. While we were sitting outside, Brent and Julie were also returning from dinner. So we wound up talking to them for a few before going to sleep. I mentioned that we were going to  La Te Da for breakfast and would love it if they would join us. So we agreed that we would have breakfast the following morning. Then it as time to get some sleep.

Friday – Oct. 28 – Last Full Day (Always arrives way too fast)

We woke up to another beautiful day. I couldn’t believe it was our last full day already. That always seems to happen. The beginning of the trip it feels like you have all eternity before actually thinking of leaving. And then within a few days it is already the last day.

My husband got ready first and then it was my turn. While I was getting ready I heard my husband talking to Julie and Brent outside so I had to speed it up because I didn’t want them to wait too long for me. Once I was ready we all walked down to La Te Da. This was our first morning we didn’t go to Cuban Coffee Queen. It is a little bit out of the way and figured we would just wait to have coffee at La Te Da.

I noticed the a few day earlier walking down Duval to La Te Da some places really went all out with the Halloween decorations so I made sure I took a few along the way. Funny because Brent mentioned how I take so many pictures, but I told him how I do a blog and take a lot of pictures to help me remember what we do each day instead of trying to write it while we are on the trip. 

We walked into La Te Da and it was more crowded then the other day probably because we were a little later in the morning. Plus it was Friday and more people were coming in for the weekend. We wound up sitting at one the tables towards the back which was fine. Ironically, besides my husband, we all ordered the same thing. The standard breakfast with scrambled eggs. It was a nice breakfast talking to Brent and Julie. They were bumming out  that we were leaving the next day but joked around saying how we’ll be back in January and maybe we could meet up again then.

After breakfast we walked back to the Gardens and told them we would meet up with them later at the Smokin’ Tuna for our last night. Being it was our last full day I wanted to do some shopping. First we started packing most of things for the next day, before heading back out to Duval.

We wound up walking around Mallory Square. I was trying to find the sign from our last trip “My happy place”. I know it was a bit pricey but regretted not getting the sign during our last trip. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it. There were a few things I would have purchased, like Christmas ornaments, but I didn’t feel like walking around with a bag. 

Our next stop was back to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. Ramsey was working again so it was nice to catch her before leaving town the next day. We talked for a bit and I even showed her some logo ideas I had for the Sunset Tiki Bar that I sent to the owner Phil. It would be pretty awesome if they wound up using one in the future, but we’ll see.

It was time to move to our next stop, so we said our goodbyes to Ramsey. I was a bit bummed that Zack wasn’t playing at Willie T’s that afternoon so we decided to hit a place we had not been to yet and that was Hank’s.

There was a guy playing the guitar outside that was pretty good. We walked in and sat at the bar. It’s a shame we didn’t go there earlier in the trip because I really enjoyed the atmosphere. We only had one drink before walking back down to the Gardens to relax for a bit before going back out that evening.

When we walked back we recognized a few fellow guests that we ran into throughout the week so we sat down and talked to them for a bit. 

Then it was time to get ready for the Tuna. I figured that we would just grab some food there so we could get a good table at the Tuna and not worry about fighting over a bar seat.

We made our last trek down Duval St. to the Tuna. When we walked in there were two girls performing that sounded really good.

Thankfully the tables were open and I grabbed the one right in front for the best view. We had a couple of appetizers and then I ordered (yes again) a caesar with grilled mahi mahi. I couldn’t believe how good the fish was and how I was so disappointed with the tilefish at Prime.

Soon Caffeine Carl showed up along with Zack and the rest of the band. I also noticed more and more people were coming in all dressed up in costumes, and again some without costumes (clothing). We timed it right so when we were done with dinner the band was just about to start.

Of course once they started everyone started dancing and a few people were standing right in front of our table watching. So I couldn’t see anything. So much for getting seats at a table for a great view. In hind sight it probably would have been better to sit at the bar.

Eventually it started to clear a little so I was able to see the band again. While we were enjoying the band, my husband kept checking his phone to see if Brent and Julie were still on their way. Unfortunately he did hear back from them and they wound up going back to the Gardens after dinner. 

A bit disappointed we figured it was probably for best so we didn’t stay out as late as we could have, if they showed up. So after the watching the band for a bit, we decided to call it a night – but not before I hehard Zack play Jersey Girl, since I always request it.

You can see the video here:

We said goodbye and told him we would meet up for our usual last breakfast together at Sarabeth’s with Kai. Then it was time to make that last walk down Duval to the Gardens. The road was packed with people, especially being that it was a Friday night. Parts of Duval were even closed off so people could walk down the street. It was definitely a sight to see for our last night.

We managed to make it back to our room and get some sleep.

Saturday – Oct. 30 – Going Back Home

Our flight was a little earlier then normal, at 12:15pm so we didn’t have too much time. After we both freshened up, I started packing up the rest of our things. Soon it was time to head down to Sarabeth’s for breakfast. There was a little wait but since we picked inside we were seated right away. I prefer the inside rather then the outside. They redid the interior part of the restaurant and it looks really nice. We all ordered breakfast and had a nice time before having to say goodbye. 

Once we said our goodbyes we walked back to the Gardens. We only had about another 30 minutes to spare before the taxi was scheduled to pick us up.

Just as we were heading out to leave, we ran into Julie. She told us how after dinner they weren’t up going after. We said no problem and we were glad we were able to catch her and say goodbye.

We grabbed all our things and did the walk of woe to the front of the hotel. I dropped off our keys and soon we were on our way back to the airport. 

We probably gave ourselves a little too much time before the flight but since we did, we were able to find a nice place to sit at the gate. The airport wasn’t as nearly as crowded back in July. Our flight was scheduled to leave on time but right before we were going to board, the United ticket agent came on the intercom explaining they over sold the flight and would need volunteers to give up their seats for a voucher of $1200. No one was budging. And they said how we couldn’t leave unless they got volunteers.

I thought we were going to be stuck there for a while, but eventually the agent came on the intercom again and said that they checked and were mistaken that the weight of the plane is fine for takeoff. So it was not oversold, they thought that the plane was going to be too heavy with all the passengers and luggage. 

So we wound up boarding and leaving right on time. The flight was a quick 2 and 1/2 hours with minimal turbulence. I pretty much slept most of the way.

Soon I could see the NYC skyline and we landed a little bit early. Too early – that we had to wait for our car service to pick us up. Thankfully we only waited about 15 minutes.  It was definitely cooler back home then in Key West but it wasn’t too bad. And not before long we were back home. 

Once again there are never two Key West trips a like. This one was obviously the most interesting trip with it being Fantasy Fest and all. With that being said, most likely I would probably avoid returning that time of year again, but I will always remember this trip. I am so thankful and grateful that we were able to visit Key West three times this year especially after the year before without being able to travel anywhere.

Key West continues to be a special place for me not just because of its beauty and charm, but most importantly, it is also filled with amazing people and great friends that we have made along the way. Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog…. until next time! 

Should We Stay or Should We Go – Key West 7.3.21-7.10.21

We were in Key West just a couple of months prior but we were ready to go back. Our initial April trip was delayed until May (so we could be fully vaccinated before traveling on a plane again, etc.) As a result, it made the quickest amount of time between trips. However, for me it doesn’t matter if was a year ago, 2 months ago or even just a week ago, I am always excited to get back to my happy place.

Several days before our trip I noticed that there was a tropical disturbance forming in the Atlantic and thought to myself how could this be? I know it is technically hurricane season but normally I never see a storm form so early in the season that could possibly track towards Key West. 

As our vacation neared I saw that the tropical disturbance formed and was now named Tropical Storm Elsa. I thought to myself this is just terrific. What do we do? I kept reading reports and most of them indicated that the storm most likely would remain a tropical storm and not become a hurricane. And if it did, it would probably weaken again over Cuba. I know storms are very unpredictable but I figured at this point let’s just go and see what happens. 

Saturday, July 3rd – Returning to Key West

The day before our trip I was getting a bit anxious, besides the impending storm, I was having a hard time reconfirming our airport pick up with our usual car service. Luckily my husband recent worked on one of the driver’s cars so he got a hold of him and confirmed that he would pick us up at 6:30am. Our flight was scheduled for 9:30am so that was fine. 

I had my alarm set for 5:30am but didn’t need it. I woke up probably about 3 times before that throughout the night. I was so excited that we were returning again. When it was time to get up and ready, I made sure we had all our necessary ID’s, boarding passes, etc. Our driver was right on time at 6:30am. It was a bit of a rainy morning but it didn’t affect the drive at all.

We arrived at Newark-Liberty International Airport and it was insane. I knew that this was going to be the busiest travel weekend since the pandemic but was not prepared for it. We do have TSA Pre but even that had a line. It probably took us about a half hour to get through security. I couldn’t even imagine what the wait time was for the regular line, but it looked very very long.

By the time we got through security we still had about an hour to spare before it was time to board. Unfortunately where we were in the Terminal it wasn’t worth the extra walk to the United Club lounge. We did however, find this funky little bar and restaurant set up right in the center of the terminal. We sat down and had something drink. I noticed on the TVs they were talking about Elsa and how the projected path was still showing it headed right over Key West. I kept thinking to myself, it is a tropical storm it won’t be that bad.

Not before long it was time to walk to the end of the terminal to the lower level to our gate. It was a few minutes until we were going to board and I thought perfect, in no time we will be in the air. Then within a matter of minutes, one of the United ticket agents came on the intercom and announced that due to air traffic congestion in Florida our flight was going to be delayed until 10:30am. Really? I thought. My husband suggested that we could go back to the bar/restaurant where we were, so that’s what we did. It wound up being a good decision because we hadn’t had breakfast yet. 

I don’t know if a lot of airports are like this, but in the United Terminal all orders for drinks and food have to be through their iPads that they have set up. It was a little getting used to, but once you scan the QR code from your phone of your airline ticket it isn’t too difficult. Anyway we wound up ordering a couple of drinks and breakfast. I wasn’t sure where the food would come out from but somehow someone brought the food out from somewhere. $100 later we were done with breakfast and it was time to walk back to the gate. If we were delayed any longer who knows what the final tab would have been. Thankfully we started to board a little after 10am so the hour delay wasn’t too bad. Once we got on the runway we had to wait a while before take off, typical of Newark Airport since it is always so busy. 

Eventually we were in the air and the flight wasn’t too turbulent. It is about a 2 and 1/2 hour flight, give or take 10 minutes – so it doesn’t seem that long at all before you start to see the Keys below and the amazing colors of the water. We wound up approaching Key West in a different way, so I was able to get some great photos of the island.

Once we landed, as usual we were escorted on the tarmac into the airport. It was a hot and sunny day. We were one of the first to deplane so we got a taxi right away. I always love looking out the window along the way of Smather’s Beach. I kept thinking to myself we made it but what is going to happen with this storm?

Soon we turned on to Angela St. where the taxi dropped us off in front of our home away from home, the Gardens Hotel. Since our last stay a few months ago a few things changed. We didn’t have to spray our luggage or wear masks while checking in. Also they reinstated housekeeping once again, thank goodness. 

Our room was ready so we dropped off our luggage and unpacked. Of course we traded the socks and sneakers for flip flops. We wound up sitting down at the bar at the Gardens to have a nice cold beverage and decompress for a few minutes. Normally we get into Key West around 1pm but being that our flight was delayed it was a little after 2pm. I was getting a little antsy since our friend Zack Seemiller was playing at Rick’s only until 4pm that day so we finished our drinks and walked down Duval St. to Rick’s.

We walked in and found two seats at the bar. Zack immediately recognized us as usual.

His son Kai was also there. It was great to see them again. And of course I had to get my usual photo with Zack.

Once his set was over we were able to chat for a few minutes. He was playing later at the Smokin’ Tuna with Caffeine Carl so I told him we would try to make it.

A few weeks prior I made reservations at Cafe Marquesa. Usually we have dinner at Lola’s our first night, but I wanted to try something different. I knew it was a bit pricey but figured why not it is our first night in town and it is pretty close to the Gardens. I made the reservations for 6:00pm so we still had sometime before getting ready for dinner.

During our last visit my husband took a liking to this newer place called General Horseplay. As I mentioned in my previous trip report, the bar has a feel /vibe like you are in Brooklyn not Key West and the AC is wonderful. We walked in and ordered a couple of drinks called the Murricane. I normally would never touch bourbon, but these drinks are crafted so well you can’t tell what is in them except they taste really good. Since it was later in the afternoon the place was bustling.

We only stayed for one because we did have to make it to dinner. We walked back to the Gardens hotel to freshen up. On the way back we passed by the newly replaced Mile 0 sign. I have no idea why they made it the size it is now, perhaps deterring people from trying to steal it, but it just looked so odd.

Once we were all freshened up, we headed down Simonton St. to the restaurant. It is a quick walk from the Gardens. We walked in and there was only one other large table occupied.

The hostess sat us near the window. We did try dining here several years ago and were unimpressed. I heard that there was a new head chef and that the food was a lot better and indeed it was.

Our server was very accommodating and didn’t miss a step. For appetizers I ordered the fresh seared Ahi Tuna with watermelon and my husband had the oysters rockefeller. My appetizer was perfect for this time of year, tasty and refreshing. I tried one of my husband’s oysters and it was delicious. Then for dinner I decided to go with the crispy yellowtail snapper topped with a crabmeat salad and served with an avocado cream sauce. The combination was outstanding. My husband had the beef tenderloin and thoroughly enjoyed his dinner. We were too stuffed for dessert but really enjoyed our dining experience vs. the last one several years ago. When we received the bill it was a bit of a shock. Yes prices are listed on the menu, but once they are all added up it adds up! I would definitely recommend Cafe Marquesa, however just be forewarned that you will pay the price. It was worth it though.

You can see my review here:

Surprisingly I wasn’t too tired and convinced my husband to go to the Smokin’ Tuna to see Zack and Carl play. Plus it was a good excuse to walk off all that food. The sun was starting to set as we walked down Duval. It was a Saturday night so the streets were jamming.

We walked in and it was packed. I was able to stalk out two people getting ready to leave at the bar and waited for them to exit. Once they left we sat down. Erin and Big Ed were bartending so it was great to see them again. During the show I got in touch with one of Zack’s close friends Natalie. We got to know her from our past few trips and was looking forward to seeing her again. She met us at the bar and we were having a great time.

She mentioned how her boyfriend Ron who is in the band the Durtbag’s was playing next door at Dirty Harry’s. I figured we hadn’t been to that place in years so why not? We walked in and I felt like I was back in Panama City, FL during Spring Break. It was mobbed with people of the younger generation lets just say (I felt way too old). We found a couple of seats at the bar close to the stage. 

I wasn’t used to seeing such a loud band like that since my high school years. They were great though. We were having a lot of fun but it was getting super later. Normally we don’t stay out that late for our first night, but we did. We headed out and made it back to the Gardens. We then said goodbye to Natalie and would meet up later on during our trip. 

Video of the Durtbags

We called it a night after a long day. I think I remember the clock in the room saying 1:30?

Sunday, July 4th – Independence Day

I always love first waking up in the morning thinking I am at home, but then realizing I am not, I am in my happy place. We woke up to a beautiful day. I had a feeling that would happen since the old saying goes ‘the weather is always great before and after a storm’. 

Our first stop was Cuban Coffee Queen. Then I thought why don’t we try Blue Heaven this time since it is before 9am.

My review of Cuban Coffee Queen

We walked down past Ramshead Southermost and as we got closer to Blue Heaven you could see all the people waiting. There were even people waiting to put their name down. We looked at each other and said let’s go to Moondog Cafe instead.

We walked in and sat at the bar. I don’t understand why more people don’t sit at the bar. It is nice and spacious, but I don’t mind – more room for us. For breakfast my husband ordered the egg tacos and I had the standard two eggs with bacon.

Breakfasts at the Moondog Cafe are always consistently good no matter what you order. 

After breakfast we walked back to the Gardens to relax for a bit before heading out for the day. When we were set to go we headed up towards the Bite to walk around.

We eventually reached the Galleon but noticed you could not enter the parking lot area but had to go around using the boardwalk. It was kind of strange but I think they are trying to avoid a lot of foot traffic of non-guests from entering the parking area. 

So we walked down and sat down. Ordered a couple of drinks and as usual took the view in.

Another friend of ours Dave was in town so I reached out to him to see if he would stop by.

After about a half hour we heard his familiar voice. He wasn’t around during our last trip, so it was nice to see him this time. We talked for a while and glanced over to watch Joey Chestnuts eat 76 hot dogs.

I still don’t know how the guy does it. We also ran into Phil who manages the Sunset Tiki Bar. It was nice to see him as well. 

It was time for us to make our next move so we said our goodbyes to Dave and Phil and headed towards the Retro Room. This is another great place if you are looking for an escape from the heat. The AC is always blasting in this place.

We stopped in and met out with Kai for a drink. He even brought Bullet to say hello. 

While we were hanging out we heard from another fan of Zack’s that we became friends with Wayne. We wanted to say hello before he was leaving Key West. Once we settled up the tab at the Retro Room we headed down to Jack Flat’s.

It wasn’t crowded at all so we sat at a couple of seats at the bar. My husband wound up getting a box so we could listen to the Yankee Game.

As a side note, a couple months before our trip I was able to get dinner reservations at Latitudes for the Tuesday Night we would be in Key West. However I kept reading reviews of how the food is okay but not worth the price. We have dined there several times in the past and thought maybe try Louie’s Backyard instead. We have eaten there as well, but it has been a long time since we had dinner there. In the end I wound cancelling Latitude’s and booked a reservation at Louie’s Backyard for outside.

While we were waiting for Wayne, my phone starting ringing. I saw that it was a 305 are code, so I knew it was a Florida call. I answered my phone and it was Louie’s Backyard. They said that they would be closed on Tuesday (since that was when TS Elsa was forecasted to hit). I figured that would happen. Disappointed I told them thank you and would like to make a reservation for when we return in October and they said they would start taking reservations in September. So I made that mental note for next time.

While we were watching the Yankee game, we saw Wayne and his son walk in. Wayne couldn’t stay long but it was also nice to see him again.

We were getting hungry so we headed back to the Garden’s to freshen up. It was a beautiful evening. I heard from several locals that there is this new place called Kaya Island Eats right in the location Cowboy Bills used to be and across from the restaurant Mangoes. It is really close to the Gardens and I suggested to my husband that we could try it for dinner.

Initially I was hoping to do the Key West Rotary Fireworks Picnic like we did a couple years ago at the Casa Marina Resort, but this time it was being held at a local park and I wasn’t sure what it exactly entailed, so I opted to pass on it this year.

We walked down Angela St. and crossed Duval. We walked in to Kaya and it immediately reminded me of a restaurant in St. John, USVIs called Longboard. It had the same similar vibe and you could sit at the counter/bar area like Longboard.

I was so excited to see on the menu – all these things to choose from that I like.

For appetizers my husband ordered the coconut shrimp and I had the tuna poke. I also ordered a mai tai to go along with it.

The food came out and it was fresh and delicious. I had to order the fish tacos and I was happy I did. There are several ways to choose how you want your fish cooked and I went with blackened. It paired really well with the mango salsa. My husband had a burger and he really enjoyed it as well. I would definitely recommend this place. It is reasonably priced, fresh ingredients and amazing food. 

My review here:

After our dinner we walked over to Mary Ellen’s for a nightcap. We stopped in our last trip, but never noticed the Christmas Tree hanging upside down on the ceiling. I was getting tired so we only stayed for one.

On the way back we stopped at the liquor store to get a few things for the room in case we were stuck there during Tropical Storm Elsa which was supposed start effecting Key West the following day.

We wound up relaxing on our porch and listened to the Fireworks. We could actually see them around the other side of the building at the Gardens, so we walked down Simonton a little ways to watch the finale of the fireworks. I was kind disappointed we didn’t get closer to watch them, but I didn’t feel like dealing with all the people. After the fireworks were over we retired for the evening. 

Monday, July 5th – Calm Before the Storm

We woke up to a beautiful day with blue skies. My husband spotted this cafe / boutique the other day and wanted to try it for coffee instead of Cuban Coffee Queen. Plus it was on the way to a breakfast place I always wanted to try called La Grignote.

We made the left hand turn down Duval St. and there it was Flamingo Cafe & Boutique. We walked in and the place was adorable. In the back part of the store is where you order coffee. They also had a selection of pastries on display. The front of the store is devoted to women’s apparel and accessories. 

The woman that was working asked us if we would like coffee and we both ordered a cup. We had to wait for her to brew it, but once she handed us the coffee it was worth the wait. It was very good.

We walked down past La Te Da, which was really crowded and down to La Grignote. I walked up the stairs and noticed a closed sign on the door. I didn’t realize they are closed on Mondays. Then I thought let’s go to Banana Cafe, which is right next door, but that had a long line of people waiting.

So we turned around and started walking back towards La Te Da. We walked in and there wasn’t really any place to sit unless you would sit towards the back of the place closer to the pool area but I didn’t want to sit that far back.

Then we both agreed to head to Bagatelle’s. When we walked up the stairs, I noticed all the tables were occupied. I was beginning to think we were never going to find a place to eat breakfast. However, my husband suggested we sit at the outside bar area.

It wound up being a great call because no one else was sitting there and it felt in a way like La Te Da. We couldn’t people watch, but there was a tv on so we could watch part of Live with Ryan and Kelly while we waiting for our breakfast.

Our breakfast as usual was very good at Bagatelle’s. I had the standard two eggs and bacon breakfast and my husband did too. Once we were done I wanted to go to the retail store at the Hogsbreath Saloon to get a few shirts and also one for my sister (who asked me to pick me up one).

I find that they probably have the best variety of shirts over any other bars/restaurants. When we walked out of the store, I noticed this building across the way that I never noticed it before saying it was for sale. I looked towards the top of the building and it was faded but said ‘The Bank of Key West’. It was pretty interesting.

After our shopping we walked back to the Gardens to drop off the shirts and to relax for a little bit before going back out for the day.

Once we were ready to go back out we walked down Simonton St.

Then I noticed that the skies were starting to have more cloud cover if you turned around to the south. We walked all the way down to the Bite and around back towards the Galleon. As we were walking, we noticed that the winds were starting to pick up. I thought to myself here it comes.

We walked in to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon and there were a few people sitting around. The bartender Ramsey told us that they were closing at 2pm for the day. While we were having a drink I noticed the manager Phil gathering all the tables and chairs around the bar area. He mentioned he wasn’t too concerned about the storm but he wanted to move everything back because of the potential winds – which makes sense since the bar is located right near the water. He also told us that he planned on reopening the following day around 3pm. 

After a couple of drinks we walked down to Captain Tony’s to see our friend Gabriel Wright play, but when we got there someone else was playing. I got in touch with him and he said he was playing 4:30-8pm. I thought perfect, we can go see Zack at Hogsbreath and then come back. 

Obviously then our next stop was Hogsbreath. We walked in and there were no seats available at the bar. We ordered a couple beers from the bartender Stephanie and while we were waiting I stalked out two people getting ready to leave at the end of the bar. As soon as they were getting up to leave I was able to grab the two seats before someone else did. 

I prefer the seats at the bar so you can watch whomever is playing. The other seats around the bar make it difficult. So we settled in for a bit to listen to Zack play. His son stopped by gain with their dog Bullet.

During his show he was referencing a couple of friends of his from Missouri and how the one guy is a bass master. My husband is familiar with the sports competition from watching it on tv and thought it was really cool that he was there. 

After Zack was done I mentioned to him about breakfast the following day if the weather wasn’t going to be so bad. So I thought fingers crossed it won’t be and we’ll be able to have breakfast.

Before we left I wanted to get a picture with the bartender Stephanie, who has been working there for years and she always takes care of us whenever we go there.

Our next stop was to go back to Captain Tony’s. And sure enough Gabriel was playing. It wasn’t as crowded as the last time we went there during our last trip so we were able to sit closer to the front.

As usual Gabriel played a bunch of songs that we usually request which was a lot of fun to hear again. We stayed until he went on break. We were both getting hungry at this point so we told Gabriel we would see him again the next time he was playing, but unfortunately we didn’t get to meet up again. 

Video of Gabriel Wright:

We started walking around and my husband suggested we go to Marylin’s for something to eat, but when we got there, they were closed. So then I thought about going to Off the Hook since it was close by. We walked in and they were pretty crowded. We asked if we could sit at the back bar and it wasn’t a problem at all. In fact it was nice and quiet.

My husband ordered the tuna poke and I had the scallops ceviche. I never had a chance to have ceviche during our last trip so I was so happy to have it again. Off the Hook always makes great ceviche. I remember I would always order it back when they were located behind the Gardens Hotel.

While we were looking over what to have for dinner we saw that they have personal pizzas. I thought ‘sure I can go for that’! So we ordered the personal pizza with duck bacon. When it came out I was really surprised. It was larger then I expected and it looked terrific. And it was. I loved the firewood taste it had. The pizza was definitely enough for two people. In fact we couldn’t finish it so we took the leftovers back with us to the Gardens. 

My review of Off The Hook:

By the time we got back to the hotel it started to rain, so we made it just in time. We sat out on the porch and listened to the rain for a bit while watching the Yankee game on my phone. I didn’t know what to expect the next day figured the best thing would be is to get some sleep.

Tuesday, July 6th – Tropical Storm Elsa

When we woke up the storm was here. The rains were coming down and the winds were picking up. There was no need to rush out to breakfast this morning. I contacted Zack and we agreed to take a rain check (no pun intended) for the following day.

We wound up setting outside on our balcony watching the storm for hours. It was really cool to see. Every once in a while you would feel and see a huge gust of wind. We even saw one of the large palms from the two iconic large palm trees at the Gardens (and also my inspiration for when I redid their logo several years ago) fall into the pool. 

Every time you would think the storm was over, there would be another band that would come through. While we were watching the storm we saw a few other guests as well waiting it out. We chatted for a bit and even recommended to them totry the Kaya place since they were looking for a place with good fish tacos. 

We also saw David, who works at the Gardens down below trying to clean up all the debris from the trees that fell. He joked around saying how my husband should help. 

Video of Tropical Storm Elsa:

Eventually the storm subsided and we were getting antsy to get back out after being stuck at the hotel for so long. So around 1:30-2pm we went back out, or so we thought. We walked to the front of the hotel and the street was flooded. Luckily the Gardens sits on the corner of Angela and Simonton so we were able to go through the other side to Simonton which was fine. David showed us where the opening in the Gate was to leave. It was like it was just flooded right in front of the hotel.

I wanted to check out down on Front St. to see if it was flooded. When we were walking around I didn’t seem much of anything as far damage, etc. All and all it was just a storm that had rain and wind but nothing too serious at all. It was a big sigh of relief. When we reached Front St. it was perfectly fine. No flooding whatsoever. 

Since it was after 3pm I knew that General Horseplay was open (during the week they don’t open until 3pm as opposed to on the weekends they open at noon). My husband is a big fan of the place so we went back. 

The place was pretty busy but not too bad. It was also happy hour so that made it fun. For happy hour they give you dice to roll, actually just one and depending on the number that’s the discount you get. I rolled a 3 so my drink was half off. My husband rolled a 1 so his drink was only a dollar. 

Now this is a type of place where you can settle in and just keep ordering drinks. The recipes they put together are so tasty that you can’t really taste the alcohol. We were thinking of staying for another, but when I got up to use the ladies room, I could feel it. Plus Zack was playing that evening at Ramshead. His original show with Caffeine Carl was postponed obviously because of the storm, so it was the only chance to see him that day.

On our way to Ramshead, I noticed a lot of places were closed because of the storm and the ones that were open were packed with people. When we got to Ramshead it too was busy with people. We were going to have dinner at the bar there but it was too uncomfortable to eat so we just ordered a couple of drinks.

Zack showed up shortly after we did. I didn’t think the place would have entertainment that night but I am glad they did. His son Kai showed up too.

While we were enjoying his music, the couple from Missouri showed up, Sandy and Josh. My husband started talking to Josh and I started talking to Sandy. They were telling us how Zack played at their wedding 11 years ago (they got married in Key West) which was really cool. 

We wound up hitting it off with them and talked for a while. When Zack’s show was nearing the end I was starving. We both were. Since we were close to the restaurant 915 and also the Blackfin Bistro we figured that we could try going to either place for dinner. So we said goodbye to everyone and walked down towards 915.

When we got there, they were closed and so was the Blackfin Bistro. Then we were going to try Old Town Tavern and they too were closed. We circled back and then wound up coming upon this newer place I heard about Lost and Found. It was also crowded but once we walked in I could see on the side of the bar there were a few open seats. I thought thank goodness – I needed food asap.

We sat down and shared the shrimp cocktail. I saw that they had fried hogfish fish tacos and ordered them. I know a big surprise my husband ordered the burger. While we were waiting the bartender mentioned that they were substituting the hogfish with grouper. I love both so it didn’t matter to me and I told her it was fine.

It felt like eternity because I was so hungry but when the food came out I was so happy. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. The fish tacos were tasty and my husband enjoyed his burger. I even stole a few of his fries. I did notice a lot of locals in the place which is usually a good sign. I was so glad that we stumbled upon this place. It was really good.

My review here:

After dinner we were pretty tired so we walked back to the Gardens and that was that.

Wednesday, July 7th – Long Long Long Day

The storm was well out of Key West leaving it to be a beautiful morning to wake up to. We rescheduled to have breakfast with Zack and Kai that morning and would plan on meeting at Breakfast Club Too. First we made a stop at Cuban Coffee Queen before walking along Simonton St. 

The sun was shining and it was getting hot. We walked down to the Breakfast Club Too and noticed there was a letter on the door saying that for the month of July they are closed on Wednesdays. We waited for Zack and Kai to show up and when they did Zack suggested Harpoon Harry’s.

We walked in and it was really crowded. We were seated all the way in the back but it was fine. The breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s is always solid. Nothing fancy, just good home cooked food. I particularly enjoy their grits. It was a pleasant way to start the day – catching up and enjoying each other’s company. We finished breakfast and thanked Zack and told him we would see him later at Willie T’s.

After breakfast we wound up walking around along the Bight. It was amazing what a difference a day makes as far as weather. 

It was still quite humid. Locals were saying that the storm didn’t come close enough. It was actually 55 miles out to the west of Key West when it passed by. They said if it did come close enough the following day would have low humidity but that definitely wasn’t the case.

We wound up stopping in at the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon for one. They never wound up opening the day before after the storm passed. I guess it was like a snow day for them. We were enjoying the conversation with the bartender but knew one would be enough.

Since Zack was playing at 2:30 at Willie T’s that day we decided to go back to the Gardens and relax for a while. Unfortunately the pool was closed that day because it had to be treated / shocked after the storm. The pool on the other side of the hotel where the suites are located was open, but we figured we would just relax in the shade.

Before heading back out for the rest of the day we both agreed to freshen up since it was so hot out. It was a great idea. We made it back out to Willie T’s and thankfully found a table in the shade. 

We sat down and ordered a couple of drinks and listen to Zack play. During his show we saw his friends show up Natalie, Ron, Janice and Matt. We saw them last time and that is when we stayed out too long at Ramshead the last time, but it was a lot of fun. Also Sandy and Josh who we met the other day showed up. They actually sat with us and we had a great time talking and listening to Zack.

When Zack’s show was over we saw another familiar face John LaMere. We always enjoy watching him as well so we figured we would stay for a bit and then head down to the Tuna to see Zack and Caffeine Carl play.

We were getting hungry so we grabbed a menu. We wound sharing a dozen oysters. I never thought about ordering oysters at Willie T’s but they were delicious and very fresh. It definitely hit the spot. My husband also ordered their friend shrimp which wasn’t as fancy but very good as well.

With our bodies refueled we said good bye to John and made our way down Duval to the Smokin Tuna. 

When we walked in there was a female artist singing and her voice sounded amazing. I looked up on the schedule and her name was Kristen McNamara. She was finishing her show so we only heard a few, but at the very end she wound up singing the Star Spangled Banner. Everyone in the place stood up, took off their hats and put their arms across their chests, even the staff. It actually gave me chills it was so cool to see and experience.

Instead of sitting at the bar we wound up sitting at a table for more room and a better viewing experience. My husband ordered their delicious jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon. I wasn’t too hungry so passed on them, but in hindsight as usual I probably should have eaten more that evening.

Not before long I saw Caffeine Carl setting up with Joey Marchiano, the drummer. Then Zack showed up and I had to get a few pictures before they started.

Once they started Sandy and Josh showed up and joined us. It was a fun night. We wound up staying through both sets. 

Video of the Band:

When they were done so were we. We said goodbye to everyone and made it back to the Gardens and called it a night.

Thursday, July 8th – Taking it Easy

A few days prior I reached out to our friend Billy to see about going out on the water with him. I was hoping that today was the day that we would do so, but unfortunately he never got back to me.

After the night before we wound up sleeping in later then we normally do, but I needed it. I was feeling the effects of not eating enough compared to the amount of drinks. It wasn’t a great start but thought that a good breakfast may do the trick.

We freshened up and walked back down to La Te Da. It was nice and quiet this time and we found two seats at the bar along the road. I was so happy we could finally find a spot to sit, especially where we were. We ordered breakfast and surprisingly it came out quite fast this time. It was really good.

Unfortunately the breakfast did make me feel that much better so when we were done we went back to the Gardens to kick back for a while. Later on we had a beverage at the Gardens Bar and talked to the new bartender Phil for a while. He was a nice and friendly guy but boy he took forever to finish a story. We managed to listen to him for a while before going back out. 

Zack was playing again at Willie T’s so we headed down Duval. At least Willie T’s is pretty close to the Gardens so the walk in the heat wasn’t too bad. 

Zack’s son Kai was there so we joined him.

I also saw Donna who works at Willie T’s, a friend of Zack’s who I have become friends with being we are both Kevin Harvick Nascar Race fans. It was nice to see her, she always has a big smile on her face.

I tried a couple of things to drink, but nothing tasted good. It was like drinking sand. I couldn’t do it. So when Zack was done we didn’t stay much longer.

Video of Zack singing his song Harmony:

We were craving pizza again so we walked down to Onlywood, the original location, which is on the way back to the Gardens on Duval. 

My husband grabbed a menu and asked me what kind of pizza I wanted. The first thing that struck my eye was the marinara pizza. He wound up waiting for the pizza while I walked back to the room.

When he came back with the pie and opened it up we realized there was no cheese on it. I had no idea that it wouldn’t come with cheese, but looking back it didn’t say it had cheese on it on the menu. All well. It was still good, but my husband wasn’t too thrilled. I think I wound up eating the majority of it. At least it wasn’t too fattening because it didn’t have the cheese.

We were both really tired from the day/night before so we called it an early night. I think I was asleep by 9pm.

Friday, July 9th – Last Day 

Since we went to sleep so early, I woke up feeing refreshed. It was an awesome feeling. It was our last full day but it felt like we were there a lot longer. Maybe because we were just there a few months ago, it almost felt like a continuation to this trip. 

Of course our first stop was Cuban Coffee Queen. Then for breakfast we wound up going back to Breakfast Club Too knowing they were open. The place was pretty crowded so we decided to sit at the bar, otherwise they would have sat us at this two top right in the line of foot traffic.

I wound up ordering the chorizo rostis and my husband had the eggs and hash. While we were waiting for our order, we noticed a girl sitting near us eating off this platter which appeared to have 20 or so silver dollar sized pancakes and a plethora of sides, like jars of jam, etc. My husband asked the bartender what it was and it is called the pancake charcuterie board. I think it was enough to serve a family of four but it looked delicious and no she didn’t finish it.

Our breakfasts soon came out and I forgot how large the rostis are. It was so good I ate almost half of it but it still looked like I didn’t put a dent in it. I felt guilty not finishing it. If we were staying at a place with a kitchen I would have totally brought back the leftovers. It was that good – especially their homemade chorizo. 

My review here:

When we were done with breakfast we wound up walking around the Bight again.

As we were walking near the White Tarpon restaurant, we heard a guy yell to his wife that there was a manatee in the water. So we rushed over and sure enough there it was. I have only seen one a few years ago but not this close. He even came up for air. It was quite impressive to see.

We then walked back to the Gardens to start packing some things up. We had a later flight the next day (1:30pm) but figured why not get some of it done. I also was able to check in for our flight at the Gardens. 

The Gardens also has a computer and printer available so you can print out your boarding passes. I know you don’t need them if you have the app on your phone, but I tend to like having the printout just in case. I did have a problem with the printer, but David was able to help me. Basically I had the paper in the wrong part of the printer. 

Once we were set with everything we walked back out to the Green Parrot for one, since we hadn’t been there yet. It was kind of crowded but luckily two people were leaving when we came in so we were able to get seats at the bar. We chatted with a nice couple for a few. 

Then we made it back out to Willie T’s to see Zack play one last time there for our trip. While we were listening to Zack, Janice, her friend Marie and boyfriend showed up. We wound up having a great time laughing and telling stories.

I made reservations for our last night at a new place called the Red Shoe Bistro. It is located in the old Bliss restaurant location. I read about it on Tripadvisor and saw it recommended by locals. I looked at the menu and it looked different and I wanted to try it so I booked us a table at 6:30.

When Zack’s show was over we said goodbye to everyone and went back to the Gardens to freshen up. The Red Shoe Bistro is located down Petronia St. It is very close to the Gardens.

We walked in and the place was so charming. We were the first table so we were seated by the window. The owner came up to us and read us the specials. I ordered the spinach salad with mandarin oranges, bacon and almonds. It was tasty and refreshing. My husband had the oysters rockefeller and of course I had to have one. They were delicious. 

For dinner my husband had the shrimp and risotto and I had the catch of the day which was mutton snapper. Everything came out great and nice and hot. It is never fun to have dinner served to you that has been sitting around for a while and/or is lukewarm. 

Then after dinner the owner said for dessert they had homemade key lime pie. I don’t normally have dessert but I thought it is our last night why not? I am so glad I ordered it, it was so good. I prefer key lime pies that aren’t loaded with meringue. 

My review here:

We were both pretty stuffed but I wanted to go back to the Smokin’ Tuna to see Caffeine Carl and Zack play again. We made the walk down Duval which seemed longer then usual. 

My video of the walk:

We walked in and it wasn’t too crowded. 

We wound up grabbing a table again, but in order to sit there you have to order food. My husband ordered a chicken caesar salad. I couldn’t even think of eating anymore after the dinner we had at the Red Shoe Bistro. My husband was pretty full but took one for the team.

While we were waiting for the band to play Carl came over to say hello so I had to get another picture with. 

Not before long the band came on and started to play. They sounded even better then the night before. Maybe because it was the last night. 

Kai came by and sat with us too. Just when we were thinking we were going to leave after the first set, Sandy and Josh showed up. We couldn’t leave now.

Then I thought maybe we’ll stay until the end, but after the second set we found out they play until 1am on Fridays. We wound up dancing and having a great time. It was a fun way to spend our last night in Key West. 

It was getting late and we wound up leaving around 12:30. I knew it was going to be a long travel day so it probably was a good idea. 

We walked back for the last time down Duval to the Gardens hotel. I set my alarm for the following morning since we were planning on meeting Zack and Kai for breakfast like we usual do our last day.

Video of the band:

Saturday, July 10th – Leaving on a Jet Plane

I didn’t sleep that great. I never do the night before we have to leave. I tend to wake up frequently checking the clock and that’s what I did. So I really didn’t need to set the alarm on the clock. We got up around 8:30 and I was feeling the night before but after a shower it seemed to help.

We weren’t meeting Zack until 9:30 so we had time to gather the rest of our things for the trip home.

It was getting close to the time to meet, so we went down to Cuban Coffee Queen for our last cup of coffee. There wasn’t a line so the wait wasn’t long.

We walked down to Sarabeth’s and a few minutes later Zack and Kai showed up. It was still pretty humid out so we opted for the inside for breakfast. I noticed that the inside was redone. It used to be yellow, but now it is painted white with blue accents. Very nordic in away – it looked really nice and updated.

The waiter came out and read the specials. Yes specials for breakfast. I couldn’t believe how many things they had, including filet mignon eggs benedict. My husband ordered the candied spiced bacon for an appetizer for us to share. Everyone ordered off the regular menu and everything was really good.

Unfortunately I couldn’t eat that much because being out so late I wasn’t really hungry. Plus I was getting sad so that always kills my appetite. 

After a nice breakfast we sad good and got my regular send off picture with Zack and Kai. It was great to see them as always and hope to see them again when we return in the fall.

We walked back to the Gardens and asked the front desk to call a taxi for a 11:45 am pickup. Our flight wasn’t until 1:30pm so it was plenty of time – plus we didn’t have any luggage to check.

Not before long it was that time to make the walk to the front of the hotel and wait for the taxi. The taxi showed up right on time. I think we had the same taxi driver before. She looked and sounded very familiar.

Once she dropped us off we walked in and the airport was packed. Thankfully once again we have TSA Pre so the line wasn’t as long. While we were waiting on line to go through security I looked at the flight times above on the monitor and noticed our flight was already delayed 10 minutes. Oh great I thought, here we go again.

We got through security without any issues (I remembered not to bring back a box of coasters this time). We made it to the lower level and practically every seat in the place was taken. We walked near the eating area and saw two familiar faces – Sandy and Josh! They had a flight a few minutes before ours, but we were able to chat for a little bit before they had to leave. It made the long wait go by pretty fast.

Then their flight was called to board so we said goodbye and wished them safe travels. Eventually there was an update on our flight that it was on its way, but once it landed they would have to clean it, etc. So we had probably another half hour or so being delayed.

It seemed like an eternity. Finally the ticket agent for United announced that they were ready for boarding – finally. We were in Group 1 so we walked outside and made the long walk to the plane. I still don’t understand why United is always the furthest plane on the tarmac. 

We boarded the plane and soon we were on our way back home. The flight was not nearly as turbulent as our last trip. It was actually pretty tame. We wound up landing around 40 minutes later, so it wasn’t too bad.

I got in contact with our driver once we landed and met him curbside. It took us about an hour to get home and walked in the door around 6pm.

However, during our vacation we had some severe storms here ourselves in NJ. We had a tree of ours fall, but thankfully it didn’t cause any damage, but not something you want to see when you get home.

We were both tired but I always have to unpack and do laundry. My husband actually mowed the lawn too when we got home. Needless to say by the time we were done with what we had to do, we both slept very well that night.

Due to the storm we couldn’t do everything I wanted to do, but I am still happy that we decided to go. I will always appreciate going back to my happy place whenever we have the opportunity.

Key West is a place near and dear to my heart – is filled with special friends and great people a like. I always enjoy seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones.

Thank you for taking the time reading my blog….. until next time!

Good To See You Again Key West – May 8th – 15th, 2021

It’s hard to believe that the last time I wrote on my travel blog, it was almost a year and a half ago. I don’t think anyone in their right mind thought that this pandemic was going to affect some many people, lives and especially the travel industry. Originally last year we had 3 trips planned, two to Key West and one to St. John in the US Virgin Islands, but like everything else, they were postponed.

This year I had a trip planned for the end of January but with travel quarantines still in play here in NJ, I pushed our trip to Key West to April for Easter, but again that trip had to be rescheduled. Due to the fact that vaccines were becoming more available, I changed our trip to the second week of May (with fingers crossed) hoping by that time my husband and I would be vaccinated by then and we were. FINALLY we were going back to my happy place. 

Saturday, May 8th – Returning to Key West

My alarm was set to 4:30am to give myself enough time to get ready for the car service that was picking us up at 5:30am. I didn’t even need an alarm that morning. I was so excited that I woke up just after 4 in the morning and could not fall back asleep. Are we actually going to go back to Key West after all this time? I thought. With a big smile I was ready to return.

The car service was on time and we were on our way to Newark Airport. We did have to wear our masks in the car ride and also once we arrived at Newark. It was a long time to keep one on, but I didn’t mind. Whatever it would take to get back. Once we made it inside, my husband and I could not believe how busy the airport was. With the exception of everyone wearing facemasks you wouldn’t think that there was a pandemic still in play. Luckily we have TSA pre so going through security was a breeze. There were about five or six people in front of us, while the regular security line wrapped around for miles.

We had some time to spare, so we went to the United Business Lounge for a cup of coffee and a snack. I was so excited and anxious that I didn’t have much of an appetite. 

It was about a half hour before boarding time so we walked down to the Gate. I saw our plane was there so I knew that was a good sign and that we would most likely be on time, which we were. I was able to get first class tickets on the way down with all the credits I had from rescheduling, etc. We boarded first and took our seats. The flight attendants were handing out sanitizer wipes to everyone.

Once everyone got onto the plane we soon made our way to the runway, but we were 10th on line for take off. I knew it was going to be a while]. I always seem to get tired at this point of every trip, right before take off. Maybe it is because it is almost a sign of relief that we made our flight. (One time I overslept and we missed our flight and had to go on a later flight and it changed our entire travel day.)

I love how United has the direct flight now from Newark to Key West. It only takes little over 2 and 1/2 hours. It is quicker to fly from NJ to Key West then taking the Key West Express Ferry from Ft. Myers to Key West. Crazy.

About a half hour had passed and we were next on line for take off. Once airborne, the captain came on the intercom and told us that even though we were a bit behind, we would still be on time for our arrival to Key West. 

He was right. It was nearing 11:30am and I could begin to see all the green and blue hues below. I was so happy to see that beautiful water again. Then before I knew it I began to see Key West appear. It didn’t take long for us to descend. Once we landed we were escorted as usual on the tarmac into the airport. 

Even though we had not been to Key West in almost a year and a half it felt like we were just there. Maybe since we are so familiar with the island – especially being that this was our 24th time there since our first visit in 2006.

Several other airlines had landed around the same time so there was a line to get a taxi. Thankfully the majority of the people were standing in the wrong line so they were directed to another line which we got on right away ahead of them otherwise we would have waited for a while.

We were directed to the next available taxi and we were soon on our way back to my favorite place to stay, the Gardens Hotel on Angela St. I love how the hotel is so conveniently located off of Duval and the center part of the island, but yet when you walk in it feels like a different world with all the gardens and lush vegetation. 

(My review of the Gardens Hotel:

Prior to our arrival, I was notified via email that we would have to spray our luggage as a precaution with the can provided in front of the entrance. We also had to wear our face masks while inside the office to check in. Our temperatures were also checked and we were all set. They did mention that the daily maid service was suspended and that if you needed fresh towels to put them in the large plastic bag provided in the room and bring the used towels to the office. Breakfast was also eliminated for the time being, but snacks were provided in the room and would be replenished free of charge if needed. 

Our room wasn’t ready so we went to their large guest bathroom located near the pool to change into shorts and get rid of wearing socks and sneakers in exchange for flip flops. It is such a great feeling to do that. I noticed it was quite hot. Hotter then I expected. We had never been to Key West this time of year so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We tend to go around the 4th of July which is hot as well, but being we were having a cool start to the spring up here in NJ we weren’t used to the hot temperatures at this point.

While I was waiting for my husband to get ready I started to talking to a new bartender who was setting up the Gardens Hotel bar. Ironically he was also from NJ. Once my husband came back out and I was ready, he suggested we should stay for a drink and relax for a few minutes. I thought that was a great idea since we had been on the go all morning. We asked Greg, who was the bartender about the masks and he said that they were no longer required for walking around as of several days before we we had arrived. Some indoor places may require them and will indicate it with a sign on the door. We were so excited about not having to wear a mask while walking outside, sitting at bar, etc. 

We were having a pleasant time hanging out with Greg and we were just about to head out onto Duval, when the keys to our room were dropped off. So we figured it would be best to get all our things unpacked so we didn’t have to deal with it later on.

We walked up the stairs to our Gardens Room on the second floor (which I prefer) that overlooked the grounds and fountain below. I thought to myself, this going to be our home away from home for the week and smiled.

Once everything was put away it was time to head back out on to Duval. My husband and I always joke about how you walk down the block and once you make that turn on to Duval it’s like you are officially back in Key West mode. 

I knew a good friend of ours Zack Seemiller, who I have been doing artwork for him for a while now, was playing at Rick’s. My husband suggested that we would check out to see if our friend Gabriel Wright was playing at Captain Tony’s. So we walked down to Captain Tony’s and it was packed. We were able to find a few seats towards the back of the bar. We walked up to Gabriel and knocked on the plexi that they had set up in front of him. It was hard to see him but he recognized us. 

Once he went on break, we talked to him for a bit before he went back to play. He played a couple of our usual requests which is alway fun. I did have to use the restrooms and all I can say is, if I wasn’t vaccinated, my mind would have been ripped with fear. 

It was getting later in the afternoon and I didn’t want to miss Zack’s set, so we said our goodbyes to Gabriel and walked down to Rick’s – which is literally only a couple of minutes – if that.

We walked in and saw Zack’s son sitting with a few of his friends. He immediately saw us and came over. It was great to see him again. Zack also acknowledged us and gave us a wave. When he was done with his set he came over and I got my usual photo my husband takes us upon our arrival. We talked to him for a few and while we were I saw a familiar face, it was Ena whom I have gotten to know from my travel blog. It was nice to finally meet her.

We had dinner reservations at Lola’s which is located right behind the Gardens where the former Deuce’s Off the Hook restaurant was located. We tried dinner there the last time we were in Key West and thoroughly enjoyed it. They only have two seatings now, 6 and 8 o’clock. We choose the 6 o’clock seating, figuring after a day of travel we would be pretty tired. We said our goodbye’s to Zack and Kai said we would catch them at Kai’s show at Scotty’s the next evening.

While I was getting ready for dinner I totally forgot that we had to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, since Lola’s is a BYOB. My husband went back out to the liquor store which is located around the corner from the hotel for a bottle of white wine.

After we were both freshened up we had a few minutes to see Greg again and have a drink. While we were chatting with Greg I saw a familiar face. Jim! Jim is the general manager at the Gardens. He has been working there for quite some time and we have become friends over the years. I even do a few ads for him here and there. He always takes cares of us too and he worked with me while I was trying to reschedule all our trips. 

His sister was visiting so we also had the opportunity to meet her. We were having such a good time that we realized it was just past six. As I mentioned earlier the restaurant is right behind the hotel so it doesn’t take long to get to. While we were walking I realized my husband forgot to grab the bottle of wine that we had for dinner. So he ran back to get the wine while I walked in to secure our reservation.

I walked in and remembered how small the place is but it is a nice simple atmosphere with the open kitchen to watch the chef work his magic.

Our table was right near the entrance so my husband had no problem locating our table when he walked in. The owner’s wife I believe, came over to us to read off the chef’s selections for that evening. Last time we were there I ordered the sea scallops for dinner and they were delicious so I ordered them again, along with the fresh snapper. My husband also ordered the scallops and the filet mignon. Everything was spot on and it was a perfect ending to our first day back in Key West.

As expected, after we were done with dinner we were exhausted and thankfully had a short walk back to the room. I don’t think it took us a matter of minutes before we were both sound asleep.

My review of Lola’s:

Sunday, May 9th – Latitudes, Discovering New Places, Jazz at the Gardens

I made breakfast reservations for Latitudes for 8:45am a month prior to our return, so there wasn’t much time to sleep in. Actually I couldn’t sleep in, I was too excited. Once we freshened up we walked down to Cuban Coffee Queen for two cups of Cuban American with an extra shot and cream. It is a great way to start the day. Luckily we were early enough that there wasn’t much of line.

With our coffees in hand we walked down Duval towards Opal Key (which used to be the Margaritaville resort and the Westin prior to that). 

We had a few minutes to spare so we found a bench and looked at this massive yacht in the water. I wondered who could have owned such an enormous boat like that. It was very impressive. 

Then I noticed a few ladies wearing their masks waiting at the dock to take the ferry over to Sunset Key. I forgot that it was mother’s day and realized that’s why they were going over for a nice breakfast. (And then I called my mom to wish her a happy mother’s day while we were waiting.) We did have our masks with us the entire trip just in case such as instances like this, that you had to wear one in the ferry.

Soon we boarded the ferry and we were on our way. It is such a quick ride, but it always reminds me back when we stayed at Caneel Bay on St. John, in the USVIs and take their ferry from St. Thomas over to St. John and vice versa.

When we arrived at Sunset Key we walked up to the restaurant. 

Once we were seated outside we were able to take our masks off. We had a beautiful table overlooking the water. It felt like we weren’t in Key West anymore, but an island in the Caribbean. That’s what the appeal is to me going to Latitude’s. The food is okay but nothing spectacular, but the atmosphere speaks for itself.

We ordered a couple cocktails and breakfast.

It was a pleasant start to our first full day back in Key West.

After breakfast we took the ferry back to the dock and walked to the Gardens. It was getting hot again so I decided to keep the dress I was wearing on since it was lightweight. My husband changed and then we took a stroll around the gardens at the hotel.

We checked on the turtles and counted five of them. I remember when we first stayed at the Gardens there were only two.

Then it was time to make our way back onto the streets of Duval. We sometimes prefer to walk Simonton instead of Duval as a change and pace and less foot traffic.

We agreed that our first destination would be the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. This is one of our favorite spots to sip down a cold drink and enjoy the views. We walked in and saw a familiar face, Phil. He welcomed us back and said the first round was on him. We thanked him and sat back and enjoyed the view. 

While we were talking, my husband found out from a friend on social media that someone from his hometown works at this new bar called General Horseplay. I wasn’t too familiar with the place but saw some mention of it on the TripAdvisor forum not too long ago. 

Ultimately our next stop was General Horseplay. We walked in and it had the air conditioner on full blast but it felt great. The day was getting pretty hot and as I mentioned earlier we weren’t used to it. We grabbed two seats at the bar and noticed another young couple at the bar enjoying a few cocktails. The bartender gave me instructions to scan the QR code to access their menu. There was an extensive selection of craft cocktails I had no idea what to get. Then I saw a sprig of fresh herbs on the bar and it gave me the idea to order a mojito. It took a bit of time for the bartender to put together the drink, but it was probably the best mojito I have ever had. Not too sweet and not too acidic. My husband ordered I believe it was some sort of bourbon drink called a ‘Murricane’. I took a sip and it was outstanding. I thought we can get in trouble in this place. 

We started talking to the couple next to us and turned out they were from Pennsylvania and the bartender was originally from New York. My husband asked him about the lady that was from his hometown that worked there, but she only works at nights. We could have stayed for another but knew that the best bet would be to move on.

My review of General Horseplay:

We walked around a little more before going back to the good old Green Parrot. I was surprised to see they had the mask mandate when you walked in but no big deal. Again once you sat down you could take it off. I also noticed that the place no longer allowed smoking which made a huge difference. 

While we were there I got in touch with Zack’s son Kai to stop by for a drink. I still can’t believe he is 21, I remember I first met him 5 years ago. Time does go by fast. We were planning on seeing him play at the former Rum Barrel now called Scotty’s later that evening but turned out he was playing the following Sunday not this one.

We told him we would catch him the next day at Hog’s Breath where he would be playing with his dad. We had every intention going back to the Gardens, but we then remembered how the bartender from General Horseplay mentioned that their sister bar is Mary Ellen’s right down the road across from Willie T’s. I have seen pictures of the place online with all the Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling and wanted to check it out. 

It wasn’t hard to find and walked right in. 

Again feeling the air conditioning was much appreciated, and normally I am someone who is always cold. We grabbed two seats at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. 

The bartender immediately recognized my husband’s accent that he was from NJ. It’s funny how you can’t tell if you have an accent unless someone points it out. The bartender was also from the area so that’s probably the reason. While we were talking to him we noticed the same couple from General Horseplay walked in. What were the odds? 

It turned out they were staying on Islamorada and came down to Key West for the day. They were celebrating their anniversary/ birthday I believe. We wound up hitting it off and had a great time.

Then I remembered that the Gardens Hotel usually has jazz on Sundays but wasn’t sure if they started it back up again. I wound up getting in touch with Jim and he said he would reserve a table for us. While we were talking to the other couple we asked them if they would want to check the place out and see the jazz. They wanted to check it out so we all walked to the Gardens.

Tthere was a decent amount of people sitting at tables listening to the jazz when we walked in. I went up to David who also works at the Gardens, always so pleasant, if there was a table for us and he said Jim reserved us a table but it was only for two. I felt bad and I said we had another couple with us. Within seconds David grabbed another table and placed it right in front of the jazz performers. I have never seen someone set up a table quite so fast. It was pretty funny actually. I thanked him profusely and we sat down and ordered a couple of drinks that we didn’t need. The couple was headed back up later that evening so the husband stopped drinking and had water. We probably should have done the same.

The jazz did sound great and I took a few pictures. While I was leaning over to take a picture I leaned a bit too far and wound up on my backside right in front of everyone. It wasn’t my most proudest moments but I was totally fine. Jim ran over to help me up and thankfully I only got a little scratch on my elbow.

At that point it was time for us to say our goodbyes to the sweet couple and wished safe travels back up to Islamorada. Jazz was finishing up and it was after 7:30 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast at Latitudes. We were starving.

I didn’t have any reservations planned for that evening, but thought of checking out the Blackfin Bistro. I heard great things about it and my husband was craving a burger which they are known for. So I thought it’s not too far from the Gardens and we should be able to make it.

We did wind up making it, but after we walked passed it to about another block. I looked around and thought it couldn’t be this far. I have seen it along the way walking to La Te Da. We turned around and walked in. There were seats in the back outside, but the bar was nice and empty. 

We sat down and ordered their calamari appetizer to share, and then my husband had their burger and I had their snapper special. It was the perfect choice for dinner after a long day.

With our bellies finally full, we walked back to the Gardens and crashed.

My review of the Blackfin Bistro:

Monday, May 10th – La Te Da, Hog’s Breath, Prime

We tried to sleep in but couldn’t really sleep past 8 o’clock. It was another picture perfect day and didn’t want to waste it. After we freshened up we made our usual stop at Cuban Coffee Queen. 

Then we wanted to head down towards La Te Da. I always like sitting at the bar and people watch. When we got there we noticed that the bar was pretty full. What a bummer, but we did find two seats on the end towards the inside of the place. We couldn’t people watch, but at least we weren’t sitting on top of anyone. As a side note, we noticed A LOT more people around on the island – more so then ever. Probably the last time we saw so many people was back when we used to visit during Spring Break in March. 

For breakfast I went with their signature eggs benedict that substitutes ham with fried tomatoes and my husband had the standard american breakfast with two eggs over medium. The benedict was filling between the fried tomatoes and english muffins, but really good.

My review of La Te Da:

When we walked back to the Gardens my husband suggested we should relax there for a bit before going back out to see our friend Zack play at the Hog’s Breath Saloon. 

It was after twelve o’clock so it was time to motivate and walk back on Duval. We made it to Hog’s Breath and it was crowded which I expected. Luckily there were two end seats up near where Zack and his son were playing. It was hard to see them from the angle we were at but it was better then no seats at all. Eventually I was able to find two open seats on the other side for a better view.

We hung out for the entire show. It was a lot of fun. I even got to meet one of Zack’s friends that was also visiting at the same time Mitch and his wife. They were very pleasant to talk to.

Once Zack’s show was over we walked back to the hotel. We had dinner reservations at Prime Steakhouse and didn’t want to miss it since we heard such great things about the place and never been.

Once we freshened up, it was back out and down Simonton St. out towards the Bite. Prime is located just above Dante’s. It is kind of hidden in a way if you didn’t realize it was there. 

When I initially made reservations there were only two options, the bar or outside. I had a feeling outside would be hot so I choose the bar and I was so glad I did.

We walked in and the place was beautiful. It reminded me a little like Berlin’s with the dark lighting and the leather furniture. We were seated right at the center of the bar below a big screen TV. My husband was thrilled.

Once the specials were read we placed our order. I started off with the tuna tartare and then decided on the red grouper special stuffed with crabmeat in a bernaise sauce. My husband ordered the oysters rockefeller and then the NY Strip. 

Everything was spot on. The food, the service, timing, etc. I was so happy I finally took all the recommendations from people about this place.

My review of Prime:

When we were done with our meals we were too full to order dessert so we made our way back to the hotel. 

It was a beautiful evening.

We were always curious about this place that is located on Angela St. where our hotel is called the Sidebar. Due to the fact we had no care in the world at that point we figured why not? We walked in and it was definitely an interesting place. The stools were wrapped in tutu’s and it was decorated in a fun and festive way. The bartender was really nice and we only stayed for one.

When we walked back to the Gardens, we saw two people standing outside trying to get in and even trying to call David who is on call at night. Apparently they were having a hard time trying to enter the code to open the gate. I remembered back when we first stayed at the Gardens we had a hard time with the gate as well. Our timing couldn’t have been better. My husband opened the gate with the code and they thanked us saying we saved them. 

Tuesday, May 11th – Breakfast Club Too, Smokin’ Tuna, Ramshead Southernmost (Twice)

We woke up to another beautiful day. For breakfast this morning we were going to meet Zack and his son at Breakfast Club Too. We did the usual stop first at Cuban Coffee Queen for coffee and then headed back out onto Simonton and down to Breakfast Club Too which is located on Green Street.

It was early enough in the morning that we didn’t have to wait for a table. Zack and Kai showed up shortly after we sat down. We spent the morning catching up and enjoying a nice breakfast. 

After breakfast we went back to the Gardens. I knew that Zack and Caffeine Carl were playing at the Smokin’ Tuna later that afternoon and wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it. My husband suggested that we should relax for a bit. The Gardens is perfect for doing so.

Before we got too comfortable it was time to get back out and about. We wound up making a detour first and walked to Ramshead Southernmost (formerly the Blue Macaw). Basically the place looks exactly the same before Ramshead took it over. The only thing different are the signs and the menu. I always liked the vibe of this place – very island – caribbean feel to me. 

We grabbed two seats at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. We were only going to stay for one but a very pleasant gentleman by the name of Spike sat down next to my husband. He began talking to us and mentioned how he was waiting for his wife who was shopping. The next thing you know we ordered another round. It wasn’t our intent but things like that happen a lot in Key West. Plus it was so nice to talk to people again. 

I knew time was ticking away, so we finished up our conversation and headed back out to the Tuna. When we walked in Zack and Carl were already playing. Luckily there were seats at the bar, but the ones that were available were directly in the sun. I tried to tough it out but it was hot. My husband suggested we sit at a table and that was the best decision to make. It was still hot but not directly in the sun. There now is a covering that is connected from the bar to the stage to help with the sun. They also expanded the stage a lot so you have to be careful if you need to use the restroom facilities.

We ordered a couple of appetizers and enjoyed watching them play. While they were playing Kai showed up with their dog (Bullet). He is such an easy going cute little dog. 

When the show was over I was able to get a picture of all of us and I was so excited. 

Ironically Zack was playing later that night at Ramshead so we planned on going back see him play and have dinner there since we didn’t have any plans that evening. 

We walked back to the Gardens to freshen up and regroup. Ramshead Southernmost isn’t far from the Gardens. Just a quick walk down Duval to Petronia. 

When we got there Zack was already playing and we grabbed a couple of seats at the bar.

I ordered the “tuna boats” and my husband had the peel ‘n eat shrimp. We were planning on ordering more but I was good for the moment.

While Zack was playing friends of his, Natalie, Ron, Janice and Matt showed up. We have met Natalie and Ron before so it was nice to see them again.

We wound up having a great time talking to one another that we stayed there even after Zack’s show. In fact we closed the place. In hindsight we should have left earlier because I had planned going out with our friend Billy the next day on his boat to Snipes, but we were having so much fun.

Eventually we left and started heading back to the hotel when my husband stopped to grab us a couple of slices of pizza. At that point I was pretty hungry and it hit the spot. I can’t remember the name of the place but it is close to Angela Street. Once the slices of pizza were consumed we went back to the Gardens and called it a night.

Wednesday, May 12th – Plan B – Relaxing at the Gardens, Back at the Tuna

I was able to get in touch with our friend Billy a few days earlier and we were set to go at 10:00am He would pick us up right at the Gardens and take us to the marina. We wound up sleeping in a little figuring that we would get coffee and a couple of sandwiches at Cuban Coffee Queen for breakfast. 

We didn’t bother taking showers since we were planning on going on the boat. When we arrived at Cuban Coffee Queen there was a huge long line. I was starting to think we had the wrong idea. There wasn’t enough time to wait for food so we agreed that we would just get coffee and ask Billy to stop somewhere so we can grab something for breakfast.

While we were standing there waiting, which felt like an eternity, I mentioned to my husband that I was really thirsty and that when we got to the front of the line I needed a bottle of water. A few moments later I felt very light-headed and not well that I had to sit down. Most likely a combination from the night/day before and the heat. Plus not staying hydrated enough.

My husband did finally reach the front of the line and order coffee and water. While we were sitting there I realized it probably would not be a good idea to go out on the water that day in the sun and heat. Our friends boat is more or less a fishing boat, so there is not much shade on it at all.

So I wound up getting in touch with our friend Billy to tell him the verdict. I felt terrible but he was very understanding. I told him we would make arrangements for another day but with only a few days left it unfortunately never happened.

Plan B – wound up being finding a place for breakfast. We started walking down Duval and wound up at Bagatelle’s. I tend to stay away from restaurants on Duval because of the crowds, but Bagatelle’s is always a solid choice for breakfast.

We walked up the stairs and I saw there was a table available on the porch. Nice! This is another great place to watch the world go by when you sit on the porch. For breakfast I wound up ordering an omelet while my husband had the biscuits with a sausage gravy. It looked really good, but I would need a nap after eating that. 

My review of Bagatelle’s:

I started feeling myself again and when we were finished with our breakfast we walked back to the Gardens. We both agreed that the best thing to do for the day was to relax by the pool.

Jumping in that pool was indeed the perfect medicine. The cold water felt wonderful. I knew that it was probably the right decision to postpone the boat trip even though I still felt awful for cancelling the trip with our friend Billy. I think I needed the time to relax and unwind instead of being on the go which we had been doing pretty much every day. 

Zack was playing that afternoon at Willie T’s again but my husband suggested we should just wait until that night to see him play with Caffeine Carl and the band at the Tuna. We didn’t have plans for dinner again so I suggested that we could go to the Tuna a little earlier and try to get better seats and something to eat. 

We freshened up and made our way back towards Duval. 

On the way we saw that Zack was leaving at Willie T’s so we stopped by to say hello. Natalie, Ron, Janice and Matt were there as well. Another musician we like to see is John LaMere and he was setting up. Not before long he started playing and we decided to stay a bit longer and watch some of his set. It was fun to see him play again since it had been a while.

It was getting later in the evening and we were getting hungry so we walked down to the Tuna. 

The band that was playing when we walked in were called Hey Monea. They were quite good. 

We wound up finding two seats at the bar and low and behold was Ed and Erin (Carl’s wife) both bartending that evening. It was so nice to see them. 

We ordered a couple of drinks and shared their version of jalapeno poppers which are wrapped in bacon. Anything wrapped in bacon is addictive. My husband had the shrimp basket and opted for the fish dip, which is like having tunafish salad. It was still pretty warm out and I wasn’t in the mood for something hot. When we were done eating we decided to move to one of the tables closer to the front. The bar was getting more and more crowded making even warmer. 

I wasn’t feeling so great again so the table was a better option. Zack and the band came on and we watched the first set. I wanted to stay longer but I just did not feel well and couldn’t drink or get comfortable. We wound up going back to the room and getting some sleep in the cold air conditioning.

Thursday, May 13th – Seeing What’s Changed and Café Solé

I think this was the first morning we both slept in and it felt great. It was another sunny morning and I wanted to try Blue Heaven for breakfast. We never made it there during our last visit so it was on my to-do list. As usual we made our first stop to Cuban Coffee Queen. There wasn’t much of a line this time so we were able to get our coffees in a timely matter. I also brought a bottle of water with me just in case.

We walked down Duval to Petronia, passing Ramshead and then I started to see people, a lot of people standing outside the entrance to Blue Heaven. I also noticed that across the way they implemented a waiting area and a bar of some sort. We both looked at each other and thought Blue Heaven has good breakfasts but not good enough to wait an hour. 

Then I thought of the Moondog Café since it is close by and they always have a solid breakfast as well as dinner. When we walked to the door we noticed the sign to wear a mask upon entering. Thank goodness we had ours with us. We could have eaten outside but the bar was empty and it was nice and cool inside.

We sat down and ordered the standard two egg breakfast. While we were waiting I was watching a young gentlemen make fresh key lime pie. It was quite impressive how quickly he was assembling them.

My review of Moondog Café:

After breakfast we started walking around. (Again we noticed a lot more people in Key West. Even the side roads had a lot of foot traffic. There was even a line to take the Mile 0 sign photo every time we walked by – which is now on the opposite side of the road below the end of Highway 1 sign).

I wanted to see what has changed since the last time we were there. We had not made it up towards the Bite at that point (besides going to Prime) so that’s the direction we went.

We walked down Duval all the way to Front Street. We walked by the Galleon and past where the old White Tarpon was located. Now it is a Wahlbergers. It looked so strange to see. 

Then we walked by where the Boathouse used to be and now it is the White Tarpon. 

We continued our walk past Schooner Wharf and Turtle Kraal which is now going to be the Boathouse which wasn’t open yet. I thought it was an odd color choice for the building but I suppose once all the doors are open it will come together nicely.

Then my husband wanted to check out the new restaurant Marylin’s located where the Dirty Pig used to be on Grinnell St. We walked in and I loved the vibe of the place. It was like an old school dinner. The young gentlemen that seated us was very charming. 

We ordered a couple of drinks and looked over the menu for a potential future visit. I had reservations for Cafe Sole so I knew that evening wasn’t an option.

Our next stop was back to the Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar. As another side note, this was the first trip that we would have a full glass of water with everything drink. You had to in order to stay hydrated otherwise I would have felt like I did the previous morning. 

While we were enjoying the view we saw this huge ship sail on through. It looked like something out the movie Goonies. The bartender told us the name of the ship and how it sails around but the name escapes me.

Once we were hydrated we walked down to Mallory Square. Along the way I noticed the old Rum Barrel is now called Scotty’s. It looked like it had a cool bar up top but we didn’t go in.

When we got to Mallory Square we saw the same ship docked. It was so cool to see it close up like that.

We were going to stop at El Meson De Pepe but they had the bar area closed off. I wasn’t sure if it was due to COVID restrictions or what so we kept walking.

I knew Zack was playing at Willie T’s that afternoon so we started to head back in that direction. I was thinking of stopping at Rick’s but my favorite seats (the perch) were taken so again we kept walking. Then we passed the Tree Bar and my husband recognized the bartender Ed from the Tuna so we stopped and sat down.

Ironically while we were talking to Ed, the bartender Terry knew my name. She recognized me from doing all the artwork for Zack during the past several years. It was funny. She was really nice. We didn’t expect to stop at that bar but wound up staying a bit longer (as usual) then expected talking to them and also to a couple of other people that sat down.

Eventually we said our goodbyes and made it to Willie T’s. We were able to find a table that was mostly in the shade thank goodness. They have the fans blasting there which helps, but in that sun I would overheat. We wound up getting to Zack’s show a bit later then intended but it was fun to catch him again.

Our dinner reservations were at 6:00pm so we couldn’t stay for the entire show. We told Zack we would catch him again tomorrow.

We made it back to the Gardens to get ready for dinner. On our way out I saw a familiar face. It was Kate who owns the Gardens Hotel. I redid their logo a few years ago and she was probably the easiest client that I ever worked for. It was great to see her again. That’s another reason why we love staying at the Gardens, besides it being such a beautiful place, the staff is so nice and welcoming each and every time we stay there. 

It was getting close to 6:00pm so we had to book it to Cafe Sole. It’s not too far from the hotel. Just a few blocks down Simonton and a right turn onto Southard St. all the way to Frances St. and it is right on the corner. I think it is about a 3 minute walk? I remember during are earlier visits to Key West before we got our bearings straight, we would have such a hard time finding the restaurant and now it is super easy.

We were a couple of minutes late but it wasn’t an issue. I prefer sitting outside, but due to the heat we wound up sitting inside. And so was everyone else. No one was sitting outside.

We each order a nice glass of sauvignon blanc while perusing the menu. It was no surprise that my husband and I are were going to order their signature hogfish entree for dinner. I wasn’t exactly sure what to pick for my appetizer but then saw they had foie gras. I know it’s probably something I shouldn’t order but it is so decadent and thought hey I am on vacation why not? My husband went with the escargot which I was happy about because I wanted to try one. 

Our appetizers came out and I was a bit disappointed with the foie gras.

It was like a hard kind of mousse in a jar served with bread. It was like eating butter. I tried to power through it but I wasn’t a fan. The figs that came with it were delicious though. Thankfully I had a couple pieces of my husband’s appetizer.

Then our entrees came out. I thought the hogfish looked a bit larger or thicker then normal but it was still delicious. I think it is that sauce that makes it. You can put that sauce on anything and it will taste wonderful. It is like a hollandaise sauce and a roasted red pepper sauce infused together.

As usual we passed on dessert and walked back to the hotel. It was still early enough that the bar was still open. Kate was also still there so we were able to chat for a few minutes before she left. She just came back from Las Vegas.

Then we walked back to our room and relaxed on our porch before turning in for the night. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Friday, May 14th – Last Full Day – Already???

We woke up and it was the first time it was cloudy. It was a welcomed surprise because it kept the temperature down. After our usual stop for coffee we wanted to try Blue Heaven again. It was before 9 o’clock this time so we thought there shouldn’t be much of a wait. We were wrong. As we were nearing the entrance you could see all the people already waiting. What the??? I guess you have to get there right when they open now.

We turned around and started walking back to Duval passing Ramshead. We could have eaten there but it was also packed. Then I remembered the restaurant Azur is usually nice and quiet since it is off the beaten path. I checked my phone and it wasn’t too far of a walk for us.

When we arrived at Azur, they too had the mask requirement and thankfully we still had our masks with us. We walked in and sat inside. During breakfast we were contemplating our game plan for the day. I didn’t have anything planned and didn’t want to go back to the hotel since it was our last day. So after another good breakfast at Azur we set out to walk around again.

My review of Azur:

We wanted to stop by and see Al at the Sunset Pier since we had not seen him in a while. We walked down to check out the beach at the end of Simonton St., but the weather at the time didn’t make it look too inviting.

We made it to Mallory Square to look around and do some shopping.

The skies were starting to clear again but it was still comfortable enough to head over to Sunset Pier to see Al. 

It was nice to see him again. We ordered a couple of drinks and water and listened to the live music.

I wasn’t sure who he was but he was pretty good. He played a lot of music from the 90s which is my genre of choice. 

Zack was playing again at Willie T’s so that was going to be our next move. Along the way we checked to see if Gabriel Wright was playing at Captain Tony’s but it was someone else so we kept on walking.

My husband was getting hungry so we walking into Jack Flat’s for something to eat. We always say to each other how something always happens sports related while we are away. Unfortunately the last time it was when Kobe Bryant perished in that horrific helicopter crash. Another time was when Jason Pierre-Paul (former NY Giant) shot off his hand with fireworks (and we are Giant fans). This time the big news was Tim Tebow returning to football as a TE to the Jaguars. 

While we were sitting at Jack Flat’s we were trying to figure out where to eat dinner. I was thinking Blue Heaven, but forget that if you are a party under 6 you can’t make a reservation and with our past luck I didn’t want to chance having to wait a while.

We always enjoyed Martin’s for Happy Hour but when we walked by there the other day going to La Te Da, we checked out the menu and it looked very enticing. With not much hope of them having anything available I called. When I called they said they did have availability at 6:30. I thought perfect. 

When we were done we walked just a few steps down to Willie T’s to see Zack. We found a table again in the shade thank goodness. While we were waiting for our drinks from the server, two people started shouting out my husband’s name. I am thinking to myself who are these people? It turned out they are customers of my husband’s. (He owns an auto repair garage with his brother back here in NJ). What a small world we all thought. So of course we had to sit together and stayed longer then planned.

It was nearing our reservation time so we had to get moving. We said goodbye to my husband’s customers and walked down to Martin’s. 

Usually we sit at the bar for Happy Hour, but it was such a nice change to sit outside in the back of the restaurant. It wasn’t too hot and our table was perfect.

For dinner my husband had the beef wellington and I had the black grouper. I don’t think we could have done much better for our last dinner in Key West.

My review of Martin’s:

Zack was playing with Carl again that night so we went back to the hotel to freshen up. We made it back to the Tuna and it was packed. We were able to find two seats at the corner of the bar. We did manage to make it until the first set break, but the day started to catch up with us. I knew that tomorrow was going to be a long one with it being a travel day and all.

So we left and walked back down to Duval to Angela St. and to the Gardens.

Saturday – May 15th – Going Home

Earlier in the week we had made plans with Zack and his son to have breakfast before we left. It has become sort of a tradition going to Sarabeth’s for our last meal. It makes it a nice way to end our trip.

I got up first to get ready and started putting things back into the luggage. I love packing for trips, but despise unpacking. Once my husband was ready we made our last stop at Cuban Coffee Queen and met Zack and Kai at Sarabeth’s. After breakfast we said our goodbye’s. 

We went back to the Garden’s to finish gathering up all our belongings. Our flight was scheduled at 12:45pm so I had the front desk arrange for a taxi to pick us up at 11:15am. We grabbed our luggage and made that walk of woe through the Gardens and to the front to wait for our taxi.

While we were waiting there was another couple there who were also going to the airport. And the gentleman mentioned how we don’t recognize them, but they were the couple that my husband helped to get in when they couldn’t open the gate. We all laughed about it. It was funny. It made the ride back to the airport more enjoyable.

Checking in through security was a breeze and our flight left on time. However once we got to cruising altitude there was a loud bang that happened causing the plane to move so much that the flight attendant standing almost fell. Then she sat back in her seat. We had no idea what happened.

Moments later (which felt like eternity) the captain comes on the intercom and explained to us that it was a clean air pocket of turbulence that it was unexpected and that everything was under control. He also said that we would be experiencing more pockets of turbulence throughout the flight. He was right. The entire flight was so bumpy that I couldn’t sleep but we did make it back to Newark International Airport safely and on time. 

Our car service was waiting for us to take us home and before we knew it we were back home by 5:30pm. 

This was a very special trip for me. I was a bit apprehensive about traveling and not knowing what to expect, but definitely being fully vaccinated eased both of our concerns.

I feel so lucky that after the year we had we were fortunate enough to return to my happy place. Key West continues to hold a special place in my heart with its beauty, warm people and great friends.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog….. 

Until next time! 

Relaxing in Key West – January 26 – February 1, 2020

My husband and I started adding a third trip annually to Key West last year and wanted to keep up with tradition, so after our visit last year in July, I booked another trip for the last week in January, making it our 23rd time visiting since back in March of 2006, but who’s counting? We didn’t do too much this trip because it was cooler then we are used to. The days were filled will brilliant blue sky, but just not warm enough to out on the water or hang out at our hotel pool. Instead we spent each day walking the streets of Key West, drinking/eating delicious food and seeing great people. 

Sunday, January 26th – Arrival Day

Thankfully the day before we only had rain instead of snow. I always get concerned traveling during this time of year due to the threat of snow, freezing rain, etc. Our flight was scheduled for a 9am departure so we had our car service pick us up at 5:45am just to be on the safe side. Once we arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport, it was very crowded – which I was surprised due to the fact it was a Sunday. Then again, Newark Airport is always busy. We had TSA pre so it made going through security painless and easy. Once through, we went to the United Club to wait for our flight. Eventually it was time to head to the gate to board our flight. Besides the gate change there were no flight delays which I was extremely happy about.

Our flight wound up taking off a bit behind schedule, but we made up the time in the air. The flight was just under 3 hours and soon I could see the Keys appear below. I always get so excited when I see Key West come in to view.

Once we landed we were the first ones of the plane. I noticed that it was a bit on the cold side for Key West, but the sun was shining and the skies were blue and the most important thing, we were back in Key West! We quickly walked to the taxi stand and grabbed a taxi. It is funny how the drive to the hotel makes me so happy and yet the drive back to the airport makes me so sad. After a couple of minutes, I could see the yellow walls of the Gardens Hotel. I thought to myself we are coming back “home”. That is what the Gardens feels to us. I think it is the fact that yes we have stayed there so many times, but we have also come to know the staff very well.

The taxi dropped us off and we walked in to check in. We saw David at the desk and he gave us a big hello. He told us our room wasn’t ready, but would be in about an hour or so. It wasn’t a big deal since we didn’t need to change, so we left our luggage in the check in area and made our way onto Duval. To us, it never gets old making that first right hand turn on to Duval. It makes it feel official that we are back in Key West.

With our faces smiling we discussed where to go for our first stop. Being that it was a Sunday, not many of the musicians we knew were playing. We decided to walk down to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon so we could get a nice view of the water. Once we walked in we saw a familiar face at the bar, Philip. He welcomed us back and we sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. I started to take in that we were back to one of my favorite places to visit! 

It was nearing the time that our room should be ready so we paid our tab and walked down Duval back towards the Gardens. We walked by the Smallest Bar in Key West/ the Paradise Restaurant and thought why not stop in there for a quick drink since we never had been there before. It was an interesting little place. 

We walked in and found the inside bar area. We ordered a couple of mojitos. I watched the bartender make our drinks and began to question our decision when I noticed after he muddled the mint, he added pure sugar and rum. Then he topped the drinks with sprite. I thought how I have never seen a mojito made like that before. Our drinks were served and we both agreed that they were very sweet – too sweet in fact. Quickly we finished our drinks and went back to the hotel. It was some place new new to try.

Before we made it back we saw that Miguel was bar tending at Rick’s. We thought he was off so we popped in to say hello. It was quite crowded so we didn’t stay long, but that’s when he told us about Koby Bryant. We couldn’t believe the news. We told him we would come by the next day to see him before heading back to the Gardens.

We walked in to the check in office and our room was ready. We quickly checked in and went to our room to freshen up. When we walked into the courtyard area we noticed that they were setting up for jazz. We saw the two bartenders Peggy and Adam setting up as well. We waved hello as we walked up to our room.  

Once we unpacked our things, we figured that we would just stay in our clothes since it was still a bit chilly out and it wasn’t going to get any warmer later on in the evening. We walked back downstairs to the bar and talked to Adam a bit. While we were talking to him, he mentioned the General Manager Jim had an accident but he was okay. Apparently he suffered a bad fall, so I was a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t be around for jazz, but thankfully he was okay.

People started to make there way to the seats and soon the jazz music began.

We were also hoping to see Kate the owner of the Gardens, but she was away in Argentina. We couldn’t stay for too long because I made dinner reservations at Lola’s Cafe. Lola’s is a brand new restaurant that took over the old Deuce’s Off the Hook location. We walked in and we were seated at the only open table. I thought to myself, I am glad I made reservations. 

The server which I believe is also one of the owner’s, came over and told us about the four appetizer options and the four main courses. As a side note, the restaurant only offers four apps and four main courses and they change nightly, except for the scallops because so many people got upset when they weren’t on the menu. Also note that there is no physical paper menu so if you want to know the prices you have to ask. We had a wonderful dinner but it was very pricey even without having any drinks included – and they only accept cash.

Once we heard the options, I decided to go with the scallops and the fresh sea bass. My husband ordered the gnocchi and the rib eye for dinner. After we ordered we sat back and watched the chef at work. If you had ever been to Deuce’s you may have remembered the bar that was there. Now, in place of the bar, is the open air kitchen where the chef prepares your meal. It was quite entertaining to watch him. 

We felt like we were watching a show from the Food Network. Also the decor inside is lit with many candles lining the walls which make it very romantic. Every table was full so it was a bit loud. Mostly all the tables were larger groups as well.

The runner then brought out a first course from the chef which was a nice little surprise. Instead of a basket of bread and butter (that I never eat because it fills me too much), they served us a nice plate of fresh mozzarella and tomato on a slice of a baguette. It was a nice start to the meal.

Then our appetizers were brought out. I took one bite of the scallops and they were super tender and delicious. I myself am not a scallop fan, but after having them I am one now. I took a taste of my husband’s gnocchi appetizer and they were full of flavor. I couldn’t wait to try our next course. The appetizers came out rather quickly, but we did have to wait a bit for our entrees. You could see all the food that the chef was preparing so we totally understood why there was a bit of a delay. 

Eventually our entrees made their way to our table. The sea bass was huge. I couldn’t believe it. And the rib eye my husband ordered was also a generous portion. We thoroughly enjoyed what we ordered. Everything was delicious. By the time we finished our meal, we were quite stuffed. I couldn’t even think about dessert. We asked for our check and thanked our server for a wonderful meal.

My husband wanted to walk back to the Gardens, but I wanted to walk down to the Smokin’ Tuna to see Caffeine Carl play. I knew he was playing that night and only the following night, due to the fact the Mile 0 Festival was starting in a couple of days. I didn’t realize the festival coincided with the dates we were in Key West, so I was a bit disappointed that the festival was taking over a few of our favorite places to see music, like the Smokin’ Tuna.

After convincing my husband, we walked down Duval to the Tuna. Actually it was a nice way to walk off our dinner. We walked in and it was already crowded, but within minutes two seats dead center at the bar opened up. It was like it was meant to be (we both thought). A gentlemen (which name escapes me) was finishing up his set. He was quite good. Once he finished I saw Caffeine Carl getting ready to take the stage. I walked up to him and asked him for a picture. It was nice to see him again. (And I was glad we went because it wound up being the only time we saw him.)

As everyone took the stage we noticed that George wasn’t playing, but there was a new lead singer. We weren’t sure of his name – he was just okay. We enjoyed a few songs. While we were there the bartender told us our next round was bought. And then we saw a familiar face from our favorite shore town in NJ, Lavallette… Vincent!! He came up to us and we thanked him for the drinks. It was fun to see him in Key West. Small world!! Later on I went in the back to thank him again and meet his wife but unfortunately they left. I wanted to stay longer but the long travel day was starting to set in, so we left and made it back to the Gardens and called it a night.

Monday, January 27th – First Full Day

We woke up to a beautiful day. We freshened up and headed to our usual first stop every trip, Cuban Coffee Queen. It was a bit brisk in the morning so I made sure I grabbed a jacket to wear until it warmed up later on the day. We walked in to Cuban Coffee Queen and there wasn’t much of a line since we were there early. The coffee was much needed after the day before. 

Once we had our coffees in hand we walked down to Duval St. to have breakfast. In the past our first breakfast would always be Blue Heaven and we felt like we have gone there a lot of times that we have become a bit tired of the place. We decided to go to La Te Da for breakfast. 

We walked in and were excited to see that the bar area was quiet. We sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. For breakfast I ordered the standard eggs over medium with bacon and my husband had their egg scramble that was served with their candied maple bacon.

After breakfast we walked back to the Gardens to relax for a little bit before heading out for the day.

It was then time to make our way back out on to Duval.

We walked down to Front Street before making a loop back towards Ricks. My husband wanted to stop in and see Miguel the bartender.

He is always fun to hang out with. We chatted for a while before making our way to our next stop, Captain Tony’s to see Gabriel Wright play. 

We walked in and he immediately recognized us. We sat down at a couple of open bar stools and ordered drinks while we listened to him play. It is funny how he remembers our requests so he always makes sure to play the songs when we see him. Once he went on break we were able to talk to him for a bit before he started playing again.

While we were listening to him play, we started talking to two gentlemen that were asking questions about Key West. It was their first time in Key West so we talked to them for a few giving them some tips as to where to go to eat, drink, etc. We told them that we were on our way to Hog’s Breath to see our friend Zack Seemiller. I have been doing his design work for several years now and he has become a great friend so I was looking forward to see him again.

We said goodbye to Gabriel and told him we would catch him when he was playing at Captain Tony’s again later on in the week (which unfortunately we totally forgot his Wednesday evening show and it turned out to be the only time we could see him). We walked down to Hog’s Breath and through their gift shop. Once we walked in, the place was packed. After a couple of minutes one seat did open up. Luckily there was enough room for my husband to stand next to me. Zack acknowledged us as we waved to him. Not before long his son Kai came by with their dog Bullet. The dog was so cute. We also got to meet to his mom who was staying with them while we were in town. 

While we were enjoying his show, the bartender Stephanie told us that our next round was bought and paid for. We look over and it was the two guys from Captain Tony’s. We thanked them and they wound up walking over and ordered us shots. I really didn’t want to do one (and really didn’t NEED to do one), but I caved and had one shot. We wound up staying for the rest of his show. It was a lot of fun.

Once Zack finished his show I had to get my usual photos with him before he packed up everything. It is always great to see him.

He told us that he was playing later with his son Kai that night at the Schooner Wharf. We hadn’t been there in years to see a show at night and thought it would be fun to stop by and see them after dinner. 

We walked back to the Garden’s to regroup for a little bit before going out to dinner. One of my husband’s favorite places to eat is Berlin’s. He likes the old dark retro feel it has. I enjoy it as well, so we wound up walking down to the A&B Lobster house. We walked in up the stairs and into Berlin’s. We sat at the bar and the bartender took our dinner order (it is the same menu from A&B Lobster house). We were the only ones in there but we didn’t mind. I started with the oysters rockefeller and my husband had the beef carpaccio. For dinner I had the yellowtail snapper and my husband had the filet mignon. As always, the food was delicious.

Feeling refueled, we walked down to the Schooner Wharf. Zack and Kai were already playing so we sat down at a table right in front. Zack’s mom was there so she came over and sat with us. It was a nice evening to hanging out and watch them play. 

Another long day was catching up with us so we said goodbye to everyone and made the walk back to the Gardens.

Tuesday, January 28th – Lots of walking, Rick’s, Willie T’s, Little Pearl

Originally I planned this day to go out on the boat with our good friend Billy, however it was just too cold. I contacted him and we agreed to save our trip for another time and that maybe we could meet up later on in the week.

We woke up to another beautiful but cool day. We freshened up and made our usual first stop to Cuban Coffee Queen. Our breakfast choice of the morning was Moon Dog Cafe. It isn’t a far walk from where the Gardens is located and is right next to the Hemingway House. We walked in and it started to warm up a bit so we sat outside. This was the first time sitting outside for us due to the fact most of the time we go it is too crowded. 

We were seated near the edge of the porch and you could watch people walk by. We ordered breakfast and it came out fairly quick. I like how they cook their eggs at this place. They were perfect as usual. When we were done with breakfast we walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit. The day was becoming more and more beautiful.

We walked back down Duval and noticed that a portion of the street was blocked off. Miguel mentioned to us yesterday that they were going to set up a stage for the Mile O Festival, which we saw when we got to Sloppy Joe’s. The show wasn’t scheduled until 6pm that evening so it didn’t really affect anything that much.

We wound up walking around town for a bit and through Mallory Square. When we walked around to Sunset Pier we saw Al setting up the bar, so we stopped to say hello. We planned to stop by again when he was open, but unfortunately we never got back there.

Eventually we made our way to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon for a cold beverage. 

We agreed to only stay for one before making our next stop at Rick’s since Miguel was working again. We were able to get the two perch seats (which are great to see all the action walking by). They were still setting up the stage area so that added some entertainment. 

We ultimately stayed longer then we intended but it was fun. They were starting to do sound check on the stage so it was getting pretty loud. Then I realized that Zack was playing soon at Willie T’s so we walked down to catch his show. We walked in and we were able to find an empty table. We noticed the protesters were busy at work, standing outside one of the cosmetic shops.

It turned out that both Zack and his son Kai were playing. We stayed for a while but we to cut it short because we had to get ready for dinner at Little Pearl. We would try to catch Zack later at the Ramshead Southernmost where he was playing that evening.

We made it back to the Gardens and quickly freshened up. Then we walked down Simonton to Olivia Street to Little Pearl, which used to be the old Seven Fish location. 

I did request a couple of seats at the small bar when I initially made the reservations, but when we walked in, there were no open seats available. We were seated at a table in the corner pretty close to another table. Luckily they were really nice and not too loud. 

We looked over and noticed the one patron ordered the octopus. My husband immediately decided to order the same thing for an appetizer. I decided to go with the ceviche of the day which I believe was snapper. Then for our entrees I had the yellowfin tuna and my husband had the lobster, shrimp and crab pot pie.  Our server promptly brought out our appetizers and I had to try the octopus. I knew they were know for the dish so I was curious. It did not disappoint. It was tender and delicious. 

The rest of what we ordered was all very well done and fresh. We were too full again for dessert so we paid our bill and walked down to the Ramshead Southernmost, which is the former Blue McCaw Restaurant.

Besides for a couple new signs/branding, the overall atmosphere looks exactly the same with the tropical feel and color ambiance. We walked in and sat at the bar and listened to a few more songs that Zack was playing. We were planning on going to Rick’s after to check out Caffeine Carl who was playing there with Geortge. I was kind of puzzled though thinking how can he play there while the Mile 0 Festival is going on at the stage right outside of Rick’s on Duval? I figured I would message him just in case to see if indeed he was still playing. I am glad I did because he wasn’t feeling well and not playing at all that night. In hind sight it worked at well because we were both pretty tired from the day. Once Zack finished up his show we headed back to the Gardens, but not before another Kodak moment!

Wednesday, January 29th – Breakfast Club Too and few more familiar stops

It was another beautiful morning. It felt a little warmer then the previous days. 

We made our  usual  stop at Cuban Coffee Queen before walking down to Breakfast Club Too where we were meeting Zack and his family. It was a nice way to spend the morning.

After breakfast we told Zack we would catch him later at Willie T’s. We walked back to the Gardens again to relax for a little bit. 

The weather was so nice, but still a bit too cool to lay out by the pool (too much shade at that point of the day at the Gardens pool). So we wound up going back out and walked down to, yes the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. It was funny watching the floating tiki bar drift in the water. 

Then it was time to start walking again. We walked down to First Flight since we had not stopped by there yet during our trip. There was some entertainment so it made it a bit festive. We sat at the bar and I decided to give their key lime margarita another try. Last year, I ordered one and it the taste was not right. I tasted the margarita and it was good, but still not the same as they were back when it was Kelly’s.

I did manage to finish my margarita and once my husband finished his beer, we walked down towards the Green Parrot, but first had to get a picture at the Mile O Sign.

We realized we had not stopped in yet so we walked on it. It was quite busy but found a couple seats at the end of the bar. It seems that every time we go to the Green Parrot we wind up striking up a conversation with someone sitting next to us. This time it was a guy named Scott. He was traveling by himself and it was his first time to Key West. We talked him for a bit and told him we were going to Willie T’s and catching part of Zack’s show before dinner. 

We got to Willie T’s and were able to grab a table on the side near where Zack was playing. Not before long we saw Scott walk in. It actually wound up being a fun time talking to him and listening to Zack. 

Then several of Zack’s friends showed up that we have met from previous visits, so we had a chance to said hello to them. Not planning to, but we wound up staying until the end of Zack’s show. 

We were pretty hungry at this point so we went back to the Gardens to freshen up.

We were in the mood for a casual and reasonable place to eat that had sports, so we decided to go back to Jack Flat’s where we watched the NFL draft last year. I totally forgot about going to Mary Ellen’s instead until after the fact. I guess that will have to wait until next time. We walked on in and found a couple seats at the bar. It wasn’t very crowded. We split the coconut shrimp which hit the spot. I ordered a white claw but was pretty much done for the day and couldn’t drink it. My husband had their meatloaf and I was a bit redundant and a shrimp and rice entree which was okay. 

We watched part of the Nets basketball game before retiring back to the Gardens for the evening. 

Thursday, January 30th – Bagatelle’s. The Retro Room and Cafe Sole

It was another gorgeous morning and it was definitely warming up. It was the first morning I didn’t need to wear a light jacket to breakfast. I dropped off a couple bags of laundry at the front desk so I didn’t have too much laundry to do when we get back home. Luckily the laundry service hadn’t arrived yet so were able to get our laundry back later on that day. 

After grabbing our Cuban Coffee Queen coffees, we walked down Duval – this time towards Mallory Square. 

My husband and I usually save Bagatelle’s for our last full day breakfast, but both felt like going there. We walked in and they just opened up. (I didn’t realize they didn’t open up until 9am). They sat us outside on the porch where we could watch the action go by on Duval. I remembered during our last visit I really enjoyed the salmon toast so I ordered it again. My husband had the huervos rancheros which are also always very well done (even though they forgot to add the refried beans to the dish). 

We wound up going back to the Gardens for a bit before going back out and walk around. 

Eventually we walked down to check out the Retro Room (aka Glitchcraft). They wound up changing the name due to another bar in the state had the same name. It looked the same as last time with all the old video games, 80s figurines and so many other eclectic things hanging from every inch of the place. It is quite impressive how they managed to collect so many iconic things. My husband had a beer and I had a white claw. I remembered the last time we were there how they were setting up for the Stranger Things premiere. This time they were setting up for the Big Game.

My husband felt like a snack so we walked down to the Dirty Pig. I wasn’t really hungry at that point so I just had something to drink. My husband ordered the wings with the dry rub and he said they were outstanding. I was tempted to have one, but I knew one would turn into more and it would ruin my appetite late for our dinner at Cafe Sole.

Our next stop was again Willie T’s to see Zack.

We didn’t stay for the entire show this time because we wanted to get back to freshen up before dinner. Our reservations were at 6pm so we went back around 4pm. 

Once we freshened up we had some time to see Scott the other bartender that works at the Gardens. He is a pretty funny guy once you talk to him. We were having a good time chatting with him and some fellow guests before realizing we had to get to Cafe Sole. 

We quickly walked down Simonton to Southard St. I find it funny how years ago we had a hard time finding the restaurant. Now we could probably get there blindfolded. When we reached Cafe Sole it was just 6pm so we made it. 

It was getting cooler out so they sat us inside. This was the first time we ever sat in inside and it was nice and cozy. I had the lamb chops to start and my husband had the escargot. Not really a surprise, we both had the hogfish entree for dinner. That dish never ever disappoints and always tastes so good.  (I think it is the sauce…. you could put that sauce on anything and it would taste good).

We didn’t really feel like going anywhere else after dinner so went back to the Garden’s. Scott was still bar tending so we talked to him for a little before he closed up the bar. It was an early night for us but I didn’t mind – I was tired.

Friday, January 31st – Last Full Day

Why does the beginning part of vacation go so slow and then when it nears the end it goes by so quickly? Well the end of our trip was near and it was already our last full day. After we freshened up, we packed up our luggage with the clothes we knew we weren’t going to wear for the remainder of the trip. I always hate doing it because it makes me sad, but it is a huge time saver to do it the day before you leave. 

Of course we went back to Cuban Coffee Queen for coffee and wanted to go back to La Te Da for breakfast. The air was very warm and the sun was trying to come out. There was mention of rain that day but so far it was holding off. 

We walked to La Te Da and sat at the bar. We ordered breakfast and talked about how we couldn’t believe how quick the week went but that we were glad to know we were returning in the not so distant future which made the thought of leaving a bit easier. 

After another solid breakfast at La Te Da we went back to the Gardens to relax for a little while. Then it was that time to get back out to walk around. We wound up walking down Duval towards Mallory Square again. 

We noticed that it was definitely more humid and almost getting a little hot – it felt great. When we walked by Custom House Museum we noticed that there is now a cafe shop inside. I am not sure who new it is but thought that it was interesting. 

We wound up back to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon and Grubby was working. 

We talked to him for a bit before moving on to our next stop. And of course our next stop was Rick’s to see Zack play one last time. 

Our favorite porch seats were open so we sat down and listened to his show. 

While we were hanging out another couple that we met the previous day at Zack’s show, Brad and Jen came by. Ironically they are fans of Zack and also enjoy my blog so that is always nice to hear. 

It was another fun afternoon hanging out and talking to nice people. We talked about how it seems so crazy that the Lazy Gecko is now a sandals shop?! I don’t know how that is going to stay open – such a shame that is what has come of that location. 

Then it was time to head back to the Gardens and figure out where to go for dinner. We said goodbye to Zack and would meet up again the next morning for our farewell breakfast. 

When we got back to the Gardens we saw that Scott was bar tending again so we grabbed a couple of seats and hung out for a little while before freshening up for dinner. 

We discussed some possible options for dinner and decided on Onlywood at the new location on Caroline St. I looked up the number on my phone and quickly made a reservation and was given the option to sit inside or outside so I decided on outside. 

When we walked over, I couldn’t believe how big the place was. The outside dining area was lit up with small outdoor white lights which I love. We were seated at a nice table and ordered the octopus and tuna tartare for apps to share. For dinner I had the branzino and my husband had the filet mignon carpaccio that was served over arugula, which I thought was an odd choice. Everything was okay, but in hind sight we probably just should have had a pizza, which they are known for. We saw them being served and they looked amazing. Next time.

We debated about going somewhere else after dinner but we were both getting tired and due to the fact he following day was the dreaded “travel day”, we agreed to go back to the Gardens. When we got back Scott was finishing up closing up the bar, but we had a few minutes to ordered one last drink. While we were sitting there we wound up meeting Kate’s (the owner of the Garden’s Hotel) brother. He was a friendly guy.

I wound up going up to the room and my husband stayed up a little longer and talked to Scott. 

Saturday, February 1st – Going Home 😦

It wasn’t the greatest night of sleep knowing that we were heading home the next day and plus I get the anxiety of making sure we get up on time, pack everything, etc.

When it was time to get up I noticed that it was raining. My husband mentioned that there was a loud storm that happened just after I went up to the room. I had no idea. We never usually experience and rain the day we leave. It is generally a beautiful day. I thought it will make it easier to leave in a way if was raining (not knowing it would affect our flight).

We freshened up and made our last walk down Duval to Cuban Coffee Queen. While we were sitting there we saw Zack and his son and also his other friend Tim that we met a few times walk in. They figured that we would be there (like we are every morning) and meet us there before walking down to Sarabeth’s for breakfast.

We all walked over to Sarabeth’s and were seated at a nice table outside. It was a nice way to end our stay in Key West just talking to them and having a good breakfast. Then it was dreaded time to say goodbye and told them we would see them again soon.

We walked back to the Gardens and packed up the rest of our things and waited for the taxi to pick us up to take us to the airport. 

Not before long it was that time and we rolled our luggage out the front of the hotel and into the taxi we went. 

Once we were dropped off at the airport we could not get over how long the line was to get through security. We had never seen it that long. The line went all the way to where you would check-in your luggage. I assumed it was because all the people leaving from the Mile 0 festival.

Luckily we heard someone mention if you have TSA Pre the line started up further. And it did. WAY further up. It must have saved us at least 45 minutes easy. We went through security, but then my luggage was stopped. I couldn’t figure out how or why? So the TSA agent brought my luggage to be checked, which is always so embarassing. She went through it and found a box of coasters. My husband asked that is what set off the red flag? She said it was, because it appeared to be a solid mass on the x-ray machine and they had to check it out. It made sense but who would think that a box like that would do that? (Incidentally the same thing happened to me a couple of years ago going through the St. Thomas airport – I had a box of ceramic coasters. Maybe no more coasters for me.)

After that ordeal we walked down to the gate and to the restaurant / bar area. Thankfully two seats were open and we grabbed them right away. We know in the past how crowded the place can get being that it is so small. Once we ordered a couple drinks I get the “oh no” text on my phone from United saying how our 1:15pm flight was delayed an hour. Great I thought, but at least we have seats. Then we started to hear how other flights were delayed. 

The rain that was coming through Key West was actually causing planes to get diverted to Miami. I guess the storm was a bigger deal then I initially thought. Then our flight was diverted to Miami as well causing another delay. Eventually our plane did land and we started to board around 3:30pm.

The boarding process was pretty quick since it is a small plane. And not before long we were on our way back home.

2 and 1/2 (bumpy) hours later we landed back in Newark Airport. We gathered our things and met our car service. We finally made it home around 7:45pm. It was a long day, but we made it home safely.

We wound up not doing too many different things this trip to Key West, but that’s what happens sometimes. You either do a lot or a little and we wound up somewhere in between which is fine by me – there is always next time! 

Key West will continue to be one of my happy places that I will never get tired of visiting – filled with great people and friends that makes us feel like we see our “Key West family” each and every time we return. 

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

Still My Other ‘Happy’ Place – St. John 10.26.19 – 11.2.19

Several months ago my husband and I traveled to Key West for our 3rd time in one year. I couldn’t believe that we were now going back to my other happy place – St. John. I love both places, and both are so different in certain ways – but St. John always holds a special place in my heart.

I had to think about it for a bit to figure it out, but realized that this was going to be our 15th time to St. John since 2003 when my husband and I first visited the island.

My husband and I at Caneel Bay Resort on St. John back in 2003

This would be two years since Hurricane Irma and I was curious to see how the island was doing since our last visit a year ago. The villa that I had been eyeing for several years was finally available the same time I was planning our trip so I was very excited to experience a new villa in a different part of the island that we had never stayed in. In addition, my husband and I were traveling with friends of ours that had never been to the U.S. Virgin Islands, so we were very eager to show them such a beautiful island like St. John.

Saturday, October 26th – Arrival Day

I made sure the alarms were set and ready to go for our car service pick up at 5:45am. Since we were sharing the car with our friends, it made the drive to the airport seem to go by pretty quick. Once we arrived at the United Airlines terminal in Newark Airport, we could not get over how crowded it was. People were just standing around and not moving… We were finally able to figure out which line was for TSA pre, which my husband and I are, since registering last year for it. (I highly recommend it, if you travel at least a couple times a year.) After we went through security we had to wait for our friends to get through the regular lines. Eventually they made let through as well and then we walked down to the gate to wait for our flight. I couldn’t get over that it was such a beautiful morning. Lately when we had been flying, there was usually some sort of storm system that was affecting our flights. We checked the status and saw that our flight was on time, but then they made the announcement that our gate changed. It wasn’t a huge deal since it was a few gates away. Eventually it was time to board our flight and soon we were on our way. The flight was about 3 and 1/2 hours directly to St. Thomas.

It felt like an eternity to finally see the islands appear in the water, but once they did, I couldn’t believe how excited I was to seem the again. 

Once we landed and walked outside the plane, I could feel the hot sun beating down and it felt great. We walked in to the airport and did the mandatory welcome Cruzan Rum shots and welcomed our friends to the Virgin Islands. 

We all had carry on so we didn’t have to wait for any luggage. We exited the airport to get a taxi to Red Hook to catch the ferry to St. John. There were so many people waiting, but we were directed into a taxi that was nearly at maximum capacity, but the taxi driver insisted there was room for the 4 of us. So we wound up squeezing in the remaining spaces (barely). We had to first drop off a couple of people at the newly renovated Margaritaville Resort. It looked very well landscaped and reminded me a little of the Westin on St. John. I started talking to the couple seated behind me, and they said that they were staying at the Ritz. It was nearing 2:00pm so I figured we would most likely get the 3:00pm ferry since the next stop was the Ritz, however to my surprise the next stop was Red Hook. I couldn’t believe that we were going to make the 2:00pm ferry (which we never had before). I made sure I texted the villa manager who was meeting us at the ferry dock to let her know we would be arriving soon.

We were one of the last ones to get on the ferry but were able to find a couple of seats up top in the sun. The weather was just perfect and the anticipation of getting back to St. John was growing. After about 20 minutes or so we slowly pulled into Cruz Bay. 

We had to wait a while to get our luggage since there were so many people on the ferry. Once we gathered all our belongings we met up with the villa manager. She walked us over to her vehicle where she drove us to Bougainvillea Leasing to get our jeep rental. After all the paperwork was filled out, we were given the keys and we all hopped into the jeep. My husband has been driving every time we come to St. John so he had no problems following the villa manager up the steep roads to the Virgin Grand Estates to our home for the week, Arc Du Soleil. 

I saw the photos of the villa online and was apprehensive about the open air concept. As soon as we walked in to the villa I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and the views of St. Thomas. It was incredible. 

The villa manager showed us around, including the two fully air conditioned bedrooms. My husband and I choose the master suite, while our friends had the other bedroom. Both were similar in size, but our bathroom was larger. There was a 3rd bedroom on the lower lever as well. I sent a few packages ahead and they were waiting for us at the villa, along with provisions from Starfish Market (which I highly recommend). 

Once the villa manager left we all unpacked our things and changed into our swim gear. It was so much fun to get in to the pool and take in the views. 

After watching the sunset we all freshened up and headed to town for dinner. 

We decided to go to High Tide and were able to get a table even though they were pretty busy. 

Of course I had to order a rum punch which tasted quite good. I don’t remember exactly what everyone had, but everyone was satisfied with their dinner. I opted for the seared tuna which was very good.

We were all feeling the travel day so went back to the villa and turned in for the night. 

Sunday, October 27th – Trunk Bay, Tap Room, Greengos, Cruz Bay Landing

I didn’t have the blinds closed all the way so the sun woke me up early that morning. I didn’t mind since it was our first full day on the island. I was also surprised that I didn’t wake up with many bites. I normally get bitten up a lot while on St. John, however so far I was pretty good. I did notice they had the electronic bug swatters, so that made me nervous, but all and all we never had a problem like we did one time years ago while staying at Island Stones in Catherinsberg area off of John Head Road. 

I freshened up and made a large pot of coffee for everyone. Everyone eventually woke up and we discussed where we would go for the first beach of the trip. While I was cooking breakfast I thought that Trunk Bay would be perfect since it is the most iconic beach of St. John. After breakfast we packed up all our things and made our way to town towards the North Shore beaches. 

Along the way we stopped at the Caneel Bay overlook to show our friends the view. We told them how we used to stay there several times when we first came to St. John before staying at a villa. They couldn’t believe the damage to the resort and it was still difficult to see how nothing has been done to it – just left in ruin.

The next stop was the Trunk Bay overlook. Everyone took a few moments to take a bunch of pictures. I don’t know how many times I have taken pictures of the overlook, but it never gets old. Compared to last year, the green definitely seemed more abundant. 

As we were standing at the overlook, I mentioned to our friends about the St. John “smell”. They both agreed that it did have a skunky smell in the air. 

We hopped back in the jeep and my husband drove us to Trunk Bay. There were only a couple vehicles parked so we were able to find a parking spot quite easily. We grabbed all our gear and headed to the beach after paying the admission fee. We walked onto the beach and found a perfect spot to relax for a while. I noticed that we were practically the only ones on the beach. I couldn’t believe how empty it was. It was nice to show our friends such a beautiful place without being crowded. 

We spent hours swimming and talking. It was a beautiful to be spent on Trunk Bay.