Photos (3) in order: Getty Images (2); Justin Ocean (2)
Story by Justin Ocean
Listening to NPR while crossing the Seven Mile Bridge on the way from Miami to Key West, the nation is abuzz with gossip of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s high-class prostitute’s Girls Gone Wild past. Feeling more than mere schadenfreude, I can’t help but get pumped up by the reports for my own version of collegiate -- or in this case, well past post-collegiate -- debauchery during the second annual incarnation of Gay Spring Break.
This year, except for a week's worth (March 22nd-30th) of sponsored pool parties, nightclub events and underwear sunset sails from The Out Traveler’s sister website Gay.com, the festival grew at a more individual pace, with each bar/club/resort urged by the Key West Business Guild to schedule its own offerings under the two-month marketing umbrella of “Gay Spring Break.” The link throughout: college IDs, even in our case law school ones, were golden.
Flash forward three days -- and a convenience store’s worth of mini-bar-made Jell-o shots -- and although my and my law school friends’ collective fantasies of student bodies never quite materialized, much like last year’s laid-back start, this year’s fest was as riotously inspiring and wholly relaxing as any sand, sun and tropically-climed destination with exquisite examples of plantation-style architecture should be.
For those college kids who made the trek (perhaps even for those committing to their closet bromances in frat land at the more “ straight” end of Duvall Street), you could tell by their wicked grins that just having a place to simply let loose amid sun and open container laws -- not to mention resoundingly live-and-let-live queer, if not gay gay gay, locals -- was reason to vacation enough.
When not out and about, we contented ourselves with lazing around the well-located and pristine Lighthouse Court guesthouse, just around the corner from gay Duvall Street’s
fruit loop. What the resort lacked in the seediness of its gay
glory(hole) days, the new management made up for with renovated rooms,
meticulous gardens and a family-friendly atmosphere that avoided
cloying PC-ness with a poolside bar and a warren of private sunny
It was also conveniently located across the street from the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum and just blocks from the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory,
where petting six-toed pussies and dodging fluttering Technicolor
bullets were strangely relaxing and cultural ways to sweat out nights
spent trolling the full-frontal strippers of Kwest (705 Duvall Street ) and the drink-for-drink competitions with an Ohio State duo -- the belles of the clothing-optional jacuzzi at the Bourbon Street Complex. (Who needs a swimsuit when you have sheer white boxer briefs? One–way ticket to Columbus, please!)
If you ever find yourself worked into a state of hunger after spending a day with a twinkriffic trio who roadtripped it from Atlanta to settle in around the pool and gym areas at classy guesthouse-cum-bathhouse The Island House, also recently renovated and winner of PlanetOut’s 2007 award for Best Gay Resort, count yourself lucky that Key West doesn’t skimp when it comes to delicious, divey seafood (sublimation much?)
The stalwart yet touristy (read: on-site merchandise shop) Half Shell Raw Bar
dishes up thick and spicy conch chowder (a local version of Manhattan
clam chowder), succulent peel-and-eat shrimp and eponymous way-salty
oysters at decidedly un-touristy prices and portions. A fried Florida
lobster po’boy with melted muenster cheese was nothing less than
calorific excellence, rivaling even the fried soft-shell crab sandwich
with tangy key lime mayonnaise at nearby Bo’s Fish Wagon (801 Caroline
St.). Yet the latter’s conch fritters -- mixing corn meal, chopped
conch and cumin-laced Indian spices in molten hot balls of rightly
oiled deliciousness -- served with a deep well of homemade cocktail
sauce took the prize as the best appetizer of the weekend.
The brilliantly divey lean-to, what I’d imagine as a cross between
hurricane-battered fisherman’s shed and an Applebee’s -- if the chain
it lost its lease, took to the streets and hid its disheveledness with
a kitschy hording disorder, cracked wooden tables and extremely limited
chalkboard menus -- was perfectly manned by a sassy, yet friendly
counter crew who won’t hesitate to mess with customers who question
what exactly a “fish nut sandwich” is. (It’s not balls, people!)
Also not to be missed, the Banana Café (1211 Duvall St.) now serves a French bistro dinner as well as crepes and coffee for brunch a Parisian would cream over.
There's about a week left of Gay Spring Break to enjoy, but whether
you’re a college student, have a college mentality or left those days
long behind, there are 365 days a year beyond that to sample the ample
charms of Key West.
Check out our Key West Travel Guide to plan.