Exclusive | Key West: Where to Stay Part Four
By Joe Okonkwo | AN OUTTRAVELER.COM EXCLUSIVE
Four Palms continued...
Azul Key West (formerly Lightbourn Inn, 907 Truman Ave.; 305-296-5152, fax 305-294-9490; $149-$299) New owners have taken over this formerly gay-popular inn and emphatically state that "gays and lesbians are not our target market." While it is theoretically an "all-welcome" property, we felt that gays and lesbians were definitely unwelcome. Rooms have been renovated and boast flat-screen TVs and wireless access. All bathrooms feature travertine marble floors and Aveda toiletries. Azul is a non-smoking property.
Location: Convenient; rooms: 11; nude sunbathing: no; sexual temperature: low; clientele: 95% straight; meals: FB
Mermaid and the Alligator (729 Truman Ave.; 800-773-1894 or 305-294-1894; $128-$258) An unexpected oasis on a traffic-heavy street, the Mermaid is an intimate eight-room Victorian bed & breakfast providing a quiet, upscale environment to a primarily straight clientele (although the gay owners live on site). Its detached cottage is popular with couples and heterosexual newlyweds in particular. Several of the uniquely styled rooms contain step-up, four-poster king-size beds fit for the most hedonistic queen. The splendid, eclectic art from the owners' personal collection is worth a visit, as are the magical gardens -- containing hundreds of plant, bird and fish species -- created by one of the owners, a locally renowned botanist. Any room you choose -- all are done spectacularly in lush fabrics and beautiful ceramic tiles -- is a guaranteed winner. With a larger pool (it only has a "plunge pool"), it'd be perfection.
Location: Convenient; rooms: 9; nude sunbathing: rarely; sexual temperature: low; clientele: 75% straight; meals: FB/p.m. wine
Oasis Guesthouse (823 Fleming St.; 800-362-7477 or 305-296-2131, fax 350-296-9171; $119-$239) Associated with the more reserved Coral Tree across the street the Oasis is a perennially popular choice with its extensive sun decks, two pools and 24-man hot tub. Rooms are attractively furnished, and service is very good. New guests receive a complimentary bottle of decent white wine and a bowl of snacks upon arrival. The Oasis offers attractively decorated and upgraded rooms. The Oasis and Coral Tree Inn purchased the Coconut Grove guesthouse in July 2003, making it the largest male guesthouse on the island.
Location: convenient; rooms: 20; nude sunbathing: yes; sexual temperature: high; clientele: EG/100%M; meals: ECB/C
Pearl's Rainbow (525 United St.; 800-749-6696 or 305-292-1450; $99-$369) Pearl's Rainbow is a 38-room, two-pool, two-hot tub mega-inn -- and still the only exclusively women's guesthouse on the island. The property consists of five historic buildings: an 1889 cigar factory, the "Surf Motel" built in 1950 and three former cigar makers' cottages. The current owners have earned awards for their ongoing restoration efforts. The exterior received a much-needed facelift; the outdoor decks were rebuilt and new ones added; and the rooms were updated with tropical flair. There are six suites, the pools are attractive, and there is plenty of shaded area for those wishing to avoid the sun. One deluxe poolside suite is wheelchair accessible. Two rooms are designated as pet-friendly. The staff, a.k.a. "Pearl's Girls," is welcoming and very attentive to guests' needs. Although the clientele consists predominantly of couples (75 to 80% they estimate) who come here for a man-free, clothing-optional, romantic getaway, singles are warmly welcomed. In fact, Pearl's Patio (www.pearlspatio.com), a shaded bar and caf?, provides the only nightlife option just for women on the island, and happy hour usually draws a lively crowd. Inside the main house, Pearl's onsite chef whips up delectable dishes for daily breakfast service and dinners on special occasions; the cozy dining area is open to non-guests as well. Have an even more relaxing vacation and avail of massages in one of the courtyards. A true tropical oasis for women.
Location: Atlantic; rooms: 38; nude sunbathing: permitted; sexual temperature: moderate; clientele: 100%W; meals: ECB
Pier House (One Duval St.; 800-327-8340 or 305-296-4600; fax 305-296-9085; $229-$3,000) is the only large hotel with a true gay following. The staff is very gay-friendly, but the resort is not as involved in the community as it once was. This property does have a small sandy beach -- a rarity on Key West. There is a full-service spa, three restaurants and four bars, and while the hotel is a bit non-Key West and more like a convention hotel, the rooms have a brilliant Colonial/Caribbean feel. Ask for a room in the Caribbean Spa Building.
Location: Gulf; rooms: 142; nude sunbathing: no; sexual temperature: low; clientele: 85% straight; meals: none
Pilot House (414 Simonton St.; 800-648-3780 or 305-293-6600, fax 305-294-9298; $115-$265) The Pilot House's location is quiet yet near enough to the action on Duval. The decor is quaint and romantic. All rooms have at least kitchenettes (some have full kitchens), and the poolside cabana rooms have in-room Jacuzzis and wet bars. The pool and deck are small but pretty. The six-person, clothing-optional hot tub is in a private, enclosed corner of the property for those wet, romantic moments. The staff is very friendly. The gay population now accounts for about 30 percent of the business, compared to 25 percent a few years ago; during our recent visit it seemed awfully straight -- albeit naked.
Location: Old Town; rooms: 14; nude sunbathing: permitted; sexual temperature: low; clientele: 70% straight; meals: none
Simonton Court (320 Simonton St.; 800-944-2687 or 305-294-6386, fax 305-293-8446; $145-$515) This large complex of cottages, an inn, townhouse, manor and mansion has three smallish pools and one large one (featuring real coral built into the walls and floor) and trellised brick walkways. Originally built in 1880 as a Cuban cigar factory (overseen by the owner's imposing mansion), the property has been painstakingly restored. The gardens, porches and many comfortable nooks evoke a Key West of yesteryear. This is a very romantic property, especially at night, thanks to the recessed lighting and the moon peeping through the 100-year-old rustling palm trees. Lesbian couples have been coming here more in the past year or so and account for an increasing percentage of the gay clientele. Management is very professional and friendly. Cottages have more amenities (kitchenettes, some private Jacuzzis and a few private patios) but less charm than rooms in the main building (some have private balconies) Some cottages can accommodate up to six people. All rooms are light, airy and very comfortable and come furnished with at least one private phone.
Location: Old Town; rooms: 29; nude sunbathing: no; sexual temperature: low; clientele: 65% straight; meals: ECB