- By Susan Welsh
Palms, Pirates and A Little Pearl
Key West is more than a destination. Being there, is entering an altered consciousness with a soundtrack by Jimmy Buffett, water so intensely aqua you feel like your eyes have gone HD, and stories, old and new, popping in every direction. Steeped in piracy and renegade antics, the juxtaposition of honky-tonk and yacht-set elan is stark and also a bit disconcerting.
The aroma of Cuban coffee and cigar smoke hang in the subtropical air. Caterwauling, laughter and human cacophony build in volume, directly proportional to the passing hours that approach evening. By nightfall, in the crowded area around Duval, there’s an ever-present din, though easily escaped by walking a mere block or two north, where you’ll find lovely restaurants like the Marquesa Cafe. This is a culinary oasis, both haven and heaven for foodies like us. Chefs Graham Dailey and Jon Mitchell are impressive on every level. Dailey's creds include Iron Chef America and training under Anthony Bourdain. Sous chef Jon Mitchell made a tableside visit, graciously pouring a perfectly seasoned curry sauce over the incredibly fresh and perfectly crisped soft-shell crab I ordered.
For my birthday we found another oasis of quiet at the lovely, Little Pearl on the corner of Olivia and Elizabeth Streets in Old Town. Romantic and stylish, with a terrific wine list and cool casualness, this is an authentic neighborhood spot with lots of easy conversation between patrons plus pitch perfect attentiveness and service. It was the perfect place for my birthday dinner.
Literary nourishment is plentiful here. Like the Spanish Moss on the tree-lined streets, it's dangling everywhere. Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and Carson McCullers, are just a few of the dozens of literary illuminati that have saturated this town with some kind of Southern Gothic, poetic, or legendary bardic charm. The best place to soak it all up is on the shevles of Books and Books-- an exquisite, not-for-profit indie bookstore co-founded by none other than my first and "forever" favorite writer, Judy Blume.
From Mel Fisher's recovery of $400 million worth of treasure from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha that sank in 1622, to Diana Nyad's 2013 record-setting marathon swim from Cuba without a shark cage, the stories of adventurers, treasure hunters and altogether odd stories abound in Key West.
We'll be back for the funky, quirky everything--but mostly for the magnificent weather, the majestic palms, and the Margaritas.