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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
December 2009 Email this to a friend

Key West

By Michael K Lavers

BluQ, Key West

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Key West!

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded Key West article click DailyXtraTravel

Located literally at the end of the road, Key West has welcomed gay travelers for decades.
The island, known to locals as the Conch Republic, is roughly 90 miles north of Cuba and 160 miles south of Miami. This geographic isolation from mainland Florida and its anti-gay politics remains one of the island's best assets. The island's police chief is gay. And the city's other elected officials are either gay or gay-friendly.
� Although thousands of cruise ship passengers crowd the narrow cobblestone streets around Mallory Square on a daily basis, the island has maintained its anything-goes reputation. Key West's tropical climate affords visitors the perfect opportunity to shed their clothes and sunbathe nude. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see men in thongs or g-strings and topless women on the main drag of Duval Street.
� Key West is certainly not a destination for either the prudish or those seeking an action-packed vacation. This island's residents go out of their way to ensure visitors experience their slower pace of life with an added touch of hedonistic-fueled fun.

Getting Here
Located two miles east of downtown, Key West International Airport offers a variety of daily flights to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and a handful of other southern cities. A taxi from the airport to Duval Street costs roughly $7.50. The Blue and Green Routes operated by Key West Transit (305-809-3910) shuttle between the airport and locations around the city.
� Many Key West visitors opt to fly into Miami International AIrport, which is roughly 150 miles to the north. They pick up rental cars and drive south via the Overseas Highway. The Keys Shuttle (305-289-9997) makes daily trips between Fort Lauderdale, Miami and destinations throughout the Keys. Greyhound (800-231-2222) also offers two daily trips between Miami and Key West.

Getting Around
A rental car is not necessary once you arrive in Key West. Key West Transit operates across the island and the Lower Keys, but bicycles and mopeds are among the more popular ways to get around. Moped Hospital (601 Truman Ave; 305-296-3344) offers daily and weekly rentals.
� The 70-minute gay and lesbian trolley tour on Saturday morning is also a great way to gain an appreciation for the island's queer history.
� Pedi cabs are also increasingly popular on Duval Street and around Mallory Square. The operators and their sculpted calves also provide very good eye candy.

What to See
Nearly all of Key West's gay bars and clubs are found within a few block of Duval Street in Old Town.
� The Southernmost Point monument at the intersection of South and Whitehead Streets is an essential part of Key West's tourist kitsch that is a must see for anyone who has never visited the Conch Republic.
� Literature aficionados will appreciate the Ernest Hemingway Museum (907 Whitehead St; 305-294-1136) and the more than 60 polydactyl cats that live on the property. Gay playwright Tennessee Williams also bought a small house at 1431 Duncan Street.
� One of the more enjoyable (and relaxing) attractions is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (1316 Duval St; 305-293-9358).

Neighborhoods
Old Town: The vast majority of Key West's gay-owned businesses are located in Old Town. Bustling Duval Street, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and Truman Avenue are among the area's main drags.

Local Media
The Key West Citizen routinely covers the island's gay happenings

Pride Day
In 2010, Key West Pridefest will take place from May 29 through June 6.
� ���
in focus
Oops! There went my swimsuit!

Key West's location near one of the hemisphere's largest coral reef systems has made it a popular destination for snorkelers, scuba divers and other nature enthusiasts for decades.
� And what better way to experience nature than to go au natural?
� Captain Steve Silva and his crew on the Blu Q catamaran offer a variety of cruises departing several times a week from their mooring in Key West's harbor.
� A recent snorkeling trip brought more than 20 men to a small patch reef near Man Key. Among the eelgrass and clumps of brain and fan coral they spotted several species of tropical fish and even a barracuda.
� A moon jellyfish stung one passenger who had apparently failed to heed the first mate's repeated warnings to avoid them. The sting left visible marks on his arm, but some vinegar was enough to temper the discomfort.
� Jellyfish aside, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the cruise is the trip itself. The turquoise waters that surround Key West are some of the world's most tranquil (except when hurricanes periodically blow through the Florida Keys.) A handful of flying fish that skipped across the surface and a sea turtle captivated passengers on a recent tour.
� One of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip is the visit to a sandbar. Passengers can explore using a sea kayak or simply frolic in the shallow tropical waters. Out gay radio host Frank DeCaro and his partner Jim Colucci had a particularly difficult time with the sea kayaks they tried to use on a recent trip.
� "It was like skiing on the bunny slope, but thrilling none the less," he joked.
� The remains of a raft on which Cuban migrants sailed across the treacherous Straits of Florida earlier this year are clearly visible on nearby Woman Key, but the vast majority of passengers remained focused on their various beverages and a handful of hunky Italians who captivated nearly everyone on board.
� On a separate trip last October, I finally found enough courage to get naked. In one particularly embarrassing scene, I jumped after I spotted what I thought was a stingray swimming along the bottom -- it was, in fact, my swimsuit floating in the water.


Top experiences

Pedal power: The best way to explore Old Town is on bike. The city has installed numerous bike lanes to accommodate bicyclists. With its highest point at only 18 feet above sea level, even novices will have little difficulty navigating Key West's streets.

Go naked: Captain Steve and his crew offer a variety of clothing-optional snorkeling, kayaking and sunset cruises that bring passengers to coral reefs, sand bars and other areas roughly 10 miles west of Key West. You're almost guaranteed to see sea turtles, barracuda, sharks and other denizens of the deep.

Cuban pleasures: One of Key West's arguably lesser-known aspects is the island's large Cuban-born population. Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, for example, fired up supporters from the balcony of what is now La Te Da on Duval Street. You can sample great Cuban food in several places in Old Town.

Day of the dead: The Key West Cemetery, located at the base of Solares Hill in Old Town, is one of the best places to appreciate the island's rich and varied history. Look for the grave of Edwina Lariz, who described herself as a "devoted fan of singer Julio Iglesias" on her tombstone.

Live your fantasy: Fantasy Fest, a week-long series of events at the end of October, brings visitors to the island in the off-season. The event kicks off each year with the Coronation Ball, where they crown a king and queen. The party ends with a parade of 70,000 costumed revelers.

Event planner

Bone Island Bare It All Weekend
Dec. 3-6
www.nakedkeywest.com

Tropical Heat
August
www.tropicalheatkw.com

Key West Bear Fest
September
www.keywestbearfest.com

WomenFest
September
www.womenfest.com

Fantasy Fest
October
www.fantasyfest.net

Accommodations

Alexander's Guesthouse (1118 Fleming St; 800-654-9919), has upscale rooms filled with gay men and women.

Big Ruby's Guesthouse (409 Appelrouth Lane; 800-477-7829), with super deluxe accommodations, draws well-heeled gays, and lesbians, too.

Parisian-owned Caribbean House (226 Petronia St; 877-296-0999), a five-minute walk from Duval Street, is on a block that's gentrifying by leaps. This gay-friendly budget choice has ten no-frills rooms with all the amenities you'd want.

You'll stay in one of Key West's historic mansions when you visit the Coral Tree Inn/Oasis Guesthouse/Coconut Grove Guesthouse complex (822/823 Fleming St; 800-362-7477). The clientele at Key West's largest gay resort is sophisticated and international. The interconnecting Oasis and Coconut Grove guesthouses -- with manicured garden pathways and famed balconies and sun decks -- are all about luxurious, secluded relaxation. Guests mingle around hot tubs and pools, and there's an afternoon "social." Across the street, the Coral Tree Inn is even quieter, with marble floors and a quiet pool area in back. And it's getting even more beautiful: Coconut Grove has embarked on a $1.5 million renovation project.

Across the street, the Equator Resort (818 Fleming St; 800-278-4552) provides all-male, postmodern digs. Being clothing-optional, there's plenty of eye-fest here for the worldly crowd. Think designer fabrics, feather pillows, Italian-tile whirlpool baths, phones with voicemail, free wi-fi. You may never leave these spacious rooms. A full continental breakfast may be savored by the pool. Equator hosts theme parties each season to keep their guests entertained, and G.I.R.L. sustains the energy that pulses throughout the resort.

At the all-male, green-in-every-which-way Island House (1129 Fleming St; 800-890-6284), the sexual heat scorches as much as the Key West sun. Guests here enjoy access to the Island House gym, steam room and sauna and to a multitude of day-pass visitors. (Don't forget your ID if you plan to day-pass.)

The deluxe rooms of New Orleans House (724 Duval St; 888-293-9893) overlook Old Town's Duval Street, but the real action is in the expanded back court, where you'll find the Garden Bar, two pools, a large hot tub, what seems like an acre of sun deck and several stand-alone cottages. It's part of the Bourbon Street Pub Complex, where gay Key West parties.

Nightlife

Aqua (711 Duval St) dance club has frequent special entertainment for a mixed crowd of men and women, gay and straight. Club doors open directly onto Duval Street.

Locals crowd Bobby's Monkey Bar (900 Simonton St) with a friendly group of boys and girls, gay and straight, and frequent special events. Happy hour runs noon to 7pm.

Duval Street is the city's main drag in more ways than one. At it's center stands the Bourbon Street Pub complex, where the raucous Bourbon Street Pub (724 Duval St) anchors it all. New Orleans House (see above) is located upstairs. 801-Bourbon Bar (801 Duval St), with nightly drag shows, is cater-corner to the Bourbon Street Pub, and One Saloon (514 Petronia), with leather-Levi cruising, is next door to the 801.

KWest (705 Duval St) is the city's go-go bar. In the early part of the evening folks come by for cocktails and a chat; then, at 9pm the curtain is discreetly drawn and dancers begin their tease.

Mango's (700 Duval St) confirms they're not just a fruit, but a lifestyle! This superb restaurant offers delicious meal choices. Upstairs at Mangoes, their nightclub is open to people of all preferences.

Shopping and more

Leather Master (418 Appelrouth Lane), an edgy toy store for the adventurous, offers merchandise for adults of many sexual bents. Be they harnesses or vibrators, cock-and-ball toys, or masks, you'll find these and a sizable porn collection too.

For wheels, get to gay-friendly Moped Hospital (601 Truman Ave). There's no better way to get around town than on a scooter!

Skinny Dipper Cruises offers "alternative pampered charters" that are clothing-optional. Up to six people are accommodated on their 27-foot yacht with plenty of gourmet food, stong libations and interesting men.

At Towels Of Key West (806 Duval St) you'll find towels and robes to treasure all your life.

Media

The Gay Rag, Key West's monthly gay magazine, has events listings and community news. Their online edition can be read page by page.

Pistol and Enema has all the daily Key West gossip and essential insight. Their sister site Keywestcocks.com is not about roosters.

Author Profile:  Michael K Lavers

Michael K Lavers is the national news editor for the EDGE Media Network and managing editor of the Fire Island News. His work has appeared in The Advocate, the Village Voice and many gay and mainstream publications.

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