Continuing where I left off last week, my mind is still on a mini trip back to the Florida Keys. That’s not to say I am oblivious to what’s been going on all around the world regarding the senseless deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and many more throughout the years.
It is definitely time for some deep reflection, major changes and reforms and more importantly to listen to what is being said from those asking for change. I recently covered the preliminary hearing in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. As a journalist I report the testimony and cross examination. I report on what was said without adding any of my own thoughts and opinions. But I am also human (many of you may disagree) and hearing some of the hurtful things they said was done – it breaks my heart.
To keep some form of sanity, I fondly remember some of my favorite places and I thought I’d share them here in case you need a mental getaway for at least a few minutes.
My friends and I would go to Key West each year (sometimes several times a year) for a variety of events. For about four years in a row we went every January for the International Women’s Flag Football Tournament. I played on the offensive and defensive line for one of the two teams that represented Miami. I recall actress Kelly McGillis (can you say Top Gun!), who had a home and bar and grill on Key West back then, sponsored the tournament. We got to meet her face to face and she hosted the awards ceremony at her bar. It was so cool.
I remember we had one friend who had a MAJOR fear of bridges (of which there are tons to get to Key West). The one she feared the most was the famous Seven Mile Bridge, the gateway to
the Conch Republic. She would have to lie flat in the backseat of the car and cover herself with a blanket just to make the pass.
People know about the great live performances on Mallory Square each night. I remember there was a guy who trained 18 stray cats to do all kinds of cool trips. Walk the tight rope, jump through hoops, walk on a ball and all on cue with no attitude!
Folks know about checking out Sloppy Joe’s or Captain Tony’s Saloon. Every popular restaurant, attraction or event happens primarily on Duval Street. But one of my go-to spots was on another road that lead into an archway that read – Welcome to Bahama Village.
Can you say GOOMBAY FESTIVAL?
Every October, a week or two prior to Fantasy Fest (which deserves its own story albeit a PG version), the folks from Bahama Village celebrated their annual Caribbean Carnival. It’s jammed pack with Caribbean influenced art, crafts, foods and glamorous costumes – Oh and a street parade. Sample authentic jerk chicken, ox-tail and curry goat. Enjoy the parade as a spectator or join in the fun!
And the music! Get ready to dance your legs off in the streets.
Bahama Village is where I also had my first taste of the awesome plates offered at Blue Heaven. This is a place inspired by two free-spirited owners. Their eclectic décor is about as famous as the cats and hens that roam freely throughout the place. But it’s their food that will keep you coming back for more. They have a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu as well as a special Sunday menu. Everything from Vegan to Caribbean and Key West inspired favorites. My breakfast favorite is their fresh made banana pancakes. If you go for lunch, try their Yellow
Submarine made with Yellow Tail Snapper. Mango tartar, yellow peppers, vinegar slaw and pickles on a crispy baguette. Caribbean BBQ Shrimp is a dinner must made with Jamaican Red Stripe Beer. On Sunday’s it’s either the shrimp and grits or the lobster and grits that suite my palate.
There are places in Key West of interest to nature lovers and historians too. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a butterfly park that houses from 50 to 60 different species of live butterflies from around the world in a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. I’m also a paranormal freak and definitely suggest taking an outdoor tour of the Haunted Artist’s House, the freaky Key West Cemetery and the East Martello Tower. This is a Civil War era fort near the beach and much admired for its architecture and its art collection. It is also where the famous haunted Robert the Doll (from the Haunted Artist’s House) is housed in glass.
There are a few haunted tours, but I highly recommend Haunted Key West Tours. They know their stuff and have been providing these tours since 1996. And if you’ve never heard of Robert The Doll, I’ll fill you in sometime soon.
Patty Leon Senior Editor, Coastal Courier.