It seems like everyone I told about leaving for Key West had already been there at least one time before, but this was my first trip to the Keys. I had always envisioned the area through songs like “Kokomo” or “Margaritaville.” Upon driving the extensive Seven Mile Bridge, seeing the original abandoned Knights Key Bridge, my husband and I made it to town and drove down Duval Street. The streets were quaint, filled with rows of shops and restaurants in historic conch style buildings. I became easily intrigued with all the Key Lime Pie Factory store locations as well.
July in Key West meant that we were already feeling overheated upon our arrival and it was barely noon. We checked into El Patio Motel on Washington Street which was only a few blocks away from the water and beach access. We noticed the lovely hotel pool tucked away by palm trees, and made our first priority to jump in and cool off before doing anything else.
By mid-afternoon, we were ready to explore the city on foot. Since mojitos are synonymous with Ernest Hemingway and Key West, it became my quest to find the absolute best concoction on the island. We walked along Duval Street looking for some lunch. Upon passing by several souvenir shops and FURY kiosks, we came across a trendy little place called Martini’s. There was one party sitting on the patio eating lunch and sipping wine. As we gazed over the menu, they told us it was excellent and convinced us to come in.
The waiter greeted us and although it was steamy hot outside, we sat out under the ceiling fans while free hanging drapes blew in the breeze above us. The place was decorated with dark wicker couches with lime-colored cushions along with sprays of palm branches and white flowers. The menu consisted of several choices of martinis, but we were on the prowl for a refreshing mojito.
Cooling down under fans, our waiter brought us two sparkling mojitos. My first sip through the straw was crisp and absolutely thirst-quenching. The bubbles from the soda burst onto my tongue and blended perfectly together with the sweetness of the rum and the freshness of the mint. We sipped on luscious minty drinks in the summer of July as I started to think about how Ernest Hemingway used to live and write in this city.
The next stop had to be at the famous writer’s house. Our waiter mentioned that we were positively close, as his backyard fence was right across the way from where we were sitting. What better way to start our tour in Key West than with a fresh lime mojito and a tour of Hemingway’s house?
We walked one block down and few over, passing by Michigan-style summer cottage homes until we reached the stone wall that protected the yard. The clandestine house is surrounded by tall jungle-like trees. The front of the two-story Florida house is white with green shutters and the largest home on the island. After entering, it felt like a tranquil garden with a flowing little fountain and shady palm trees.
You can walk anywhere in the house and on the grounds until the tour starts, which was a great perk. With fans blowing and no air-conditioning, the ambience of the 1930s experience was definitely felt throughout the house. It was inspiring to see the hallway library of books that inspired him and the photos of him in Michigan (where I grew up) and the beautiful Spanish-style mosaic tiles in and around the kitchen.
Looking up to his writing studio was surreal, thinking about all the books he wrote there on his typewriter many years ago. Peering through the protective bars at the deer head mountings, furniture, cats and souvenirs felt more like his space than the house, as it featured various crystals and chandeliers from his wife at the time. There were plenty of cats to see lounging around the grounds, too; an overall great experience.
We walked most every night from our hotel on Washington down Duval Street. Friday night we made our way through endless crowds until we saw people standing around performers in the street like on London’s Covent Garden streets. Sloppy Joe’s was on the list for dinner, then scrumptious key lime pie at Key Lime-N-More.
Sloppy Joe’s is on the corner of Duval and Greene Street and was very busy for the weekend. We grabbed a table near the stage where a blues band was playing. This restaurant featured pictures of Hemingway on the walls, a large mounted swordfish, and plenty of people at the bar, which seemed like the kind of place that is always full.
Passing by the Speakeasy Inn several times during our long weekend there, we were finally able to stop at a small bar called the Rum Bar, which is located on the main floor of a wooden cottage house. This is where I found my Key West Hemingway mojito, with the perfect blend of mint, sugar, lime and rum, sitting out on the porch under the stars, sipping tropical drinks melting in my hand.