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Key West, Fl
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
February 8,2008
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When you’ve gotta get out of Dodge and leave the glam-slam of Miami behind, why not ferry down to Key West?  The four-hour Key West Express catamaran leaves before ten am from the Miami Seaquarium—and zips over the waves at 40 mph.  With a sun deck and full galley and bar, and no less than four plasma televisions showcasing Hollywood’s latest trash, the 155-foot Big Cat Express assures that you’re in a nearly catatonic state upon landing in Key West—just in time for lunch.

Ever since 2005, when MTV filmed the 17th season of Real World on the southernmost part of the mainland, there’s even more of a spring break mentality in Key West, and particularly in the environs of Sloppy Joe’s— which makes it necessary not only to watch out for the Conch Train loaded with tourists from the heartland, but also the makings of a rowdy frat party along several blocks of Duval.

Nonetheless, the unofficial motto of Key West (as evinced by numerous bumper stickers and window placards) is One Human Family—an understandable objective in a place where scores of fanny-packing day trippers share the sidewalks with free-roaming roosters and chickens, as well as cats by the dozen skittering along the white picket fences. 

Basically, as another sticker has it, this town is an Attitude-Free Zone, which doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s nothing that doesn’t merit an attitude.  Take 915, for example, the restaurant at 915 Duval, located in the more civilized nether regions of Duval, and situated in a two-story Victorian mansion evoking Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly, Last Summer.  Inside, a wine bar straight out of Austin Powers leads to the upstairs porch, where palm fronds brush the railings as you chow down on food more often associated with world capitals than cruise ship port o’calls.  After a meal at 915, it’s not surprising that you find yourself staring into realtor windows, imagining this convivial—and yes, very cool—restaurant as your local hang. 

Back at Poorhouse Lane (where once there was an actual poorhouse, and where now there are cats and their glistening night eyes to light the way home), the nights are quiet—until the cocks commence at four am.  Key West is a bicycle town, and it’s possible that bikes outnumber automobiles—for a pleasant change and an acoustic break.  Park yours in front of Pepe’s Café on Caroline, the oldest eatery in Key West, and kick back with a Bloody Mary as you wait for a table.  A chicken house, seemingly crammed with every last artifact the family farmhouse could no longer hold, Pepe’s has been open since 1909—and this year is celebrating its centennial.  For breakfast, the celebration continues with eggs, grits, toasted Key lime bread, and Chock Full O’Nuts coffee—for old times.  In a town overdosing on local character, Pepe’s earns its reputation with food as winning as its charms—which, in the end, of course, is what Key West does best.

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