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The Florida Keys

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The Florida Keys are one of the country's most unique areas offering a completelydifferent kind of lifestyle and some of the best beach bars in Florida. Traveling to the Keys is like crossing the border into a different country. The Keys are laid back and attract people with different interests including; fishermen, scuba divers, nature lovers, and, of course, bar hoppers. So, it’s perfectly natural that the last thing you seebefore you leave the mainland for the Keys is the Last Chance Saloon.

In the 1980’s the Last Chance Saloon doubled as a U.S. Customs station. It was during that time custom officials decided that anyone traveling from the Keys to the mainland should go through Customs before crossing this imaginary border. This “roadblock” made it look like Keys residents were not U.S. citizens. Residents and businesses thought this was a pretty dumb idea arguing that the Florida Keys are part of the United States. But the government got its way.


  Conch attack  
  Key West Florida | Conch Republic Independence Celebration – Each year Key West locals celebrate Conch Republic Independence Day. The U.S. Coast Guard and Conchs re-enact the battle with water cannon fights in the harbor. The Conch Republic Air Force drops rolls of toilet paper on defending Coast Guard Boats.  


Conch RepublicAfter losing a battle in Federal Court, on April 23rd, 1982 the Florida Keys seceded from the United States of America and called the resulting country the Conch Republic. Then, the Conch Republic immediately declared war on the United States by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. Without delay, Conch Republic Prime Minister Wardlow turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West and surrendered. He then demanded one billion dollars in foreign aid.

The money was never collected. But to this day, by act of Congress, residents hold dual citizenship as Conchs and Americans. You can even get a Conch Republic passport.

The Keys are a string of Islands connected by bridges and a roadway (US 1) stretching from the Mainland in the north to Key West at the southern tip. Key West is just 90 miles from Cuba. It is home to hotels, resorts, tourist attractions, fishing villages, and beach bars. The Keys aren't all that beachy, but there are plenty of waterways, inlets, and marinas. Florida beach bars here are almost all on the water.

You can make the drive down the Keys on U.S. Highway 1 and if you want a true "keysi" experience, you must drive it once. If you do drive, leave some time for a few stops along the way. And here is an important tip. They don't use street addresses so much on the Keys. Locations are referenced by mile markers on U.S.1. You'll find Key West at Mile Marker 0. The moment you arrive on the Keys you know you are someplace different and special. It's a whole different kind of lifestyle and a good one, if you like laidback and friendly.

Key Largo
Just before you cross over the bridge onto Key Largo, take the exit at the sign that says Business Access Road. Follow the road to the end, and you will arrive at Gilbert’s Resort. Gilbert's has been around since 1903 and is one of the Florida Keys oldest spots. Gilbert's was once a fishing camp, but today it is a great place to hang out and enjoy the Keysi lifestyle. Gilbert's has its own beach and a nearby swimming pool. Relax on the beach or in the pool and listen to the live bands. Rent a jet ski, dock your boat, and stay awhile. Gilbert's accommodates all wishes.

The northernmost island of the Florida Keys island chain is Key Largo, the diving capital of the world because of an offshore, living coral reef. This attracts many scuba divers and fishermen. At the northern end of the island is Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill Restaurant. It is located on the west or Gulf side. It is located on the water and owned by Jimmy Johnson, well-known former NFL coach. It is at mile marker 104. Next door to the Big Chill is the Caribbean Club. In the forties, a number of the scenes from the movie "Key Largo," with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, were shot here.


  Conch attack  
  Caribbean Club | Key LargoNot so much a beach bar, the Carribean Club is more like a bar that you would find in the movie Key Largo with Boggie and Becall. In fact it is that bar. Scenes from that movie Key Largo were shot right here.  


Key Largo is the home the Turtles at Snapper's Waterfront Restaurant, voted a 2011 TOP 10 Beach Bar on FloridaBeachBar.com. Snappers is located just off US 1 mile at marker 94.5 and is on the Atlantic or east side Conch attackof the Keys. It is located on the water. Turtles is one of the coolest beach bars on the Keys. Come by boat, if you like. There are plenty of docks. The bar has boat captain chairs for bar stools and live bands play every night. It is a favorite of both locals and tourists.

In 1991 Howard Kohlbenheyer, Snapper’s owner, was reading about events of 1982 and he decided it was a great excuse for a party. Pretty much everything is a good excuse for a party in the Keys. It started at Snappers with a symbolic ‘Blowing up of the Bridge’ to celebrate the Conch Republic’s separation from the Mainland. In 2009 the Upper Keys Business Group expanded the party to include other restaurants and bar locations. Today the celebration spans 5 days in the 'Northernmost Territories' of the Conch Republic.

Other Key Largo Florida Beach Bars include: Mandalay Oceanfront Grill, Sharkey's Pub & Gallery, and Alabama Jacks. Alabama Jacks is way off the beaten path on Card Sound Road which is an alternative route to the mainland in or out of Key Largo. There’s nothing on this road except one toll bridge that doesn't accept SunPass, by the way. Once you pay the toll of $1, or just before you pay depending on your direction, you are at Alabama Jacks.


  Lorelei Cabana Bar  
  Alabama Jacks | Key Largo – This place is a favorite of Kathy Lee Gifford. It has been around for over 50 years attracting the locals, bikers, retirees, families, and just about anyone looking for a good time.  


This place is a favorite of Kathy Lee Gifford. It has been around for over 50 years attracting the locals, bikers, retirees, families, and just about anyone looking for a good time. On weekends the entertainment starts at 2:00 pm, and it is lively and fun. Come to watch the crowd and enjoy the music. You might even catch sight of an alligator. We were told the place closes by 7:00 PM “cause of all the skeeters”.


Islamorada (isle-a-morada)
Traveling south on U.S. 1 you will arrive at the Islamorada, Village of Islands. Just the name itself is enticing. It is the fishing capital of the world. Here you'll find a place called the Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina at Holiday Isle. It used to be Holiday Isle now it is the Postcard Inn. It's a "Keysi" resort that has tiki bars at both ends of the property and two other Florida beach bars at the south end. Keysi is a colloquialism that is used to describe a place or a thing that has characteristics reflecting the laid back look and lifestyle of the Florida Keys. That description certainly applies to the Postcard Inn.

Postcard Inn’s Rumrunners is a three story tiki bar perfectly located right on the beach complete with a nearby volley ball net. The world famous Postcard Inn Tiki Bar is a mere 2 story tiki bar. It is world famous because it is here that the original Rumrunner drink was created. The combination of the beach, a number of beach bars, and the Keysi atmosphere makes the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle not just a beach resort, but a beach bar resort.


  Lorelei Cabana Bar  
  Lorelei Cabana Bar | Islamorada Arrive by boat or car and enjoy sunset at theLorelei Cabana Bar. Sit in the large swings or pull a chair up to the waters beach on the Lorelei beach.  


Islamorada is also home to Lorelei Cabana Bar, a must visit beach bar. It is located on the bayside of the island at mile marker 82. There are tables and chairs on a small beach where you can put your toes in the sand, enjoy your favorite food or beverage, and get a front row seat to the sunset. This little beach even has its own tiki bar. Enjoy live music 7 nights a week. And one side note. If you like sliders, those small hamburgers, Lorelei’s are pretty darn good.

Key Colony Beach
Key Colony Beach is located in the Heart of the Florida Keys at mile marker 53.5. Tucked away in this city, called "The Gem of the Florida Keys", is Sparky's Landing. Just turn off US1 and to find this gem of a Florida beach located at the Key Colony Beach Marina. Sparky's Landing will cook your catch for you too. So, if you have been out fishing all day, bring them your catch and let them prepare it your way for your dinner.

Marathon Key
Midway down the Keys is Marathon Key, and if you are headed to Key West, you are half way there. At its southernmost point is the 7 Mile Bridge. It is approximately 7 miles long. That worked out pretty good. But before you go 7 miles, you might want to stop at the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar. It is one very large tiki hut that houses a restaurant and a bar, both with a great view of the 7 mile bridge. There is music every night in season and has a giant outdoor TV screen when Sunday night football is on the air. And they have a swimming pool.


  Sunset Grille and Raw Bar | Marathon Key  
  Sunset Grille and Raw Bar | Marathon Key - One very large tiki hut that houses a restaurant and a bar, both with a great view of the 7 mile bridge and, of course, the sunset.  


The Sunset Grille is on the Atlantic side of the Island just north of the 7 mile the bridge. If you are traveling from the north, don't miss it! Turning around won't happen for, yes, you guessed it, 7 miles. Burdines Waterfront Chikitiki, Porky's Bayside, and Salty's Waterfront Grill are all located on Marathon Key. Burdines Waterfront Chikitiki is at the end of 15th Street. This old style Florida beach bar serves up fish any way you want it. You can also order a Green Chile Cheeseburger, any way you want it.

Porky's Bayside is located right on the Overseas Highway and identifiable by the wooden cutout of pigs on the front rail.. There is a smoker sitting right out front which draws you in. Try the Fall Off The Bones Spare Ribs. Salty's Waterfront Grill is located at MM 47.5 and hard to miss as you travel south in Marathon towards the 7 Mile Bridge. There is a 2 story tiki hut and a third story which is great for viewing the sunsets. You can come by boat or car.

Once you leave Marathon Key you’ll notice that running parallel to the newer 7 mile bridge is the one that it replaced. This older bridge is the one that was used in the movie “True Lies”. In the scene, “Arnold” is reaching from a helicopter to rescue Jamie Lee Curtis from a speeding car that is about to run off the bridge.

Stock Island
Stock Island is immediately east of Key West sand separated by 75 yard wide Cow Key Channel. It is said to be named for herds of livestock formerly kept there, but some local historians suggest it may be named for an early settler. Stock Island has two Florida Beach Bars.

The Hurricane Hole beckons back to a time when life was simpler. Take a seat on the dock and relax. For entertainment, you can play darts or Wii. Some nights you might catch some live musical entertainment, but if not, you can enjoy a quaint location with fresh fish and cold drinks.

  Hogfish Bar and Grill | Stock Island  
  Hogfish Bar and Grill | Stock Island – This is one of Key West's best kept secrets and is located at Safe Harbor Marina on the docks. With an old Key West feel to it, you will love this open air restaurant and their specialty, Hog Fish.  


Hogfish Bar and Grill is off the beaten path and can be challenging to find. Once you are there, you will have discovered one of Key West's best kept secrets. It is located at Safe Harbor Marina on the docks. With an old Key West feel to it, you will love this open air restaurant and its food. Hog Fish is their specialty. And special it is. This just may be the best fish sandwich we have ever eaten, and we have eaten quite a few. Hogfish says it is the best fish sandwich on The Keys. We think it may be the best anywhere.

Next to the restaurant is a bar that is more like a corner bar than a beach bar. But the setting keeps reminding you that you are in the Keys. There’s music on weekends, plenty of parking, and it is accessible by boat.

Key West
Although there is plenty to see and do, up and down the Keys, when it comes to bars of any kind, Key West is the place to be. Most of the bars in Key West are not on the water and one might argue that some are not technically beach bars. But most bars in Key West have live music all day into the wee hours of the morning. Much of the music is trop rock. And, it was here that the whole trop rock thing got started with Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville.

There are several ways to get to Key West. Take your boat or buy a ride on the Key West Express leaving from Fort Myers or Marco Island. The boats feature sundecks, snack bar, cocktails and big-screen TVs. We can tell you from experience that the party starts on the boat and ends on the boat. There is also a small airport in Key West and one on Marathon Key.

  Duval Street  
  Duval Street | Key West – The main drag in Key West is Duval Street stretching from coast to coast with bars up and down this main thoroughfare. The long list of bars includes Sloppy Joe's, Rick's, Irish Kevin’s, and of course, Margaritaville.  


The main drag in Key West is Duval Street that runs north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Coast to coast may sound like a long way, but Duval street is just a little over a mile long.

Duval street is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. The long list of bars includes Sloppy Joe's, Rick's, Irish Kevin’s, and of course, Margaritaville. While these bars are not on the beach, they set the spirit and attitude for all beach bars. Other famous favorites like Hog's Breath Saloon and Captain Tony's are just off the main drag. The party starts early in the morning and ends very early in the morning.


  Captain Tony's Saloon‎  
  Captain Tony's | Key West Captain Tony' was the original Sloppy Joes. Key West' original hanging tree grows through a ceiling that is covered with what must be the largest collection of bras.  


Hemmingway used to hang out at Sloppy Joe’s, but at that time Sloppy Joe’s was at the current site of Captain Tony’s. Captain Tony’s still has Hemingway’s original bar stool. Captain Tony Tarracino, now deceased, bought the bar in 1958. Here is a guy who with $18.00 in his pocket, hitched a ride to Key West in a milk truck. A favorite bar owner in Key West, he once served as Key West’s mayor. Growing up through its ceiling is Key West’s first hanging tree. Be careful not to hang around too long. Today, this ceiling is adorned with thousands of bras. According to the Captain Tony web site, Captain Tony once said, “All you need in life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego. Brains don’t mean shit.”

Everyone has their favorite Key West Bar. Since it’s easy enough to walk to most, your best bet is to visit as many as you can and make your own decision. Sloppy Joe’s is “A Key West Tradition!" that serves, you guessed it, Sloppy Joe sandwiches. Sloppy Joe's located at the corner of Greene and Duval and has been located there since 1937.
Southernmost Point
There are those that think Irish Kevin’s is the number 1 bar in Key West. Others may disagree, but it certainly has to be a top pick on St. Patrick’s Day. Irish Kevin’s engages the audience in what is best described as one big drinking party. Pick your pleasure and, when you need a change of pace, move onto the next bar.

Some bars are off the beaten path. At the south end of is U.S. Highway 1, mile marker 0. It is the location of the southernmost point in the United States. There is a very tall marker buoy there to mark the spot. It's just 90 miles from Cuba. If you have been there, you have a picture just like the one shown here. If not, wait in line and the next person in line waiting behind you will take your picture.

A short block away is the Southernmost Beach Cafe. It is a perfect place to kick back and relax on the beach. So if you were ever looking for the beach bar that is located furthest south in the U.S., this would be it. It is located right on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Sit at the bar and watch the action on the beach or just enjoy the view.


  Southernmost Beach Cafe | Key West  
  Southernmost Beach Cafe | Key West A perfect place to kick back and relax on the beach. So if you were ever looking for the beach bar that is located furthest south in the U.S., this would be it. It is located right on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  


Near the north end of Duval Street is Mallory Square and the Key West Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk. Mallory square is a block west of Duval Street. The seaport and harbor walk is just to the east.

The Key West Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk follows the Key West coastline from Front Street to Margaret Street on the Gulfside of the island. This working marina is lined with shops, restaurants, and is home to Schooner Wharf, a very popular Key West bar. Schooner Wharf personifies life on the Keys. It is filled with the most varied group of people you may ever see in one place from locals to international tourists. It has been voted Best Local's Bar six years in a row and featured in publications including the New York Times and Aqua magazine.

As you mosey your way through Harbor Walk, you may stumble upon a small, one story inconspicuous white building with no signs or markings. It has no windows, looks a bit out of place, but not out of the ordinary. It is Jimmy Buffett's recording studio, Shrimp Boat Sound Studio. A number of artists, such as Kenny Chesney and REM have, and still do, record here.

  Schooner Wharf Bar  
  Schooner Wharf | Key West Schooner Wharf has been voted Best Local's Bar six years in a row and featured in publications including the New York Times and Aqua magazine.  


At sunset, join the crowd at Mallory Square. It's not your typical sunset where people stand around waiting for the sun to sizzle into the water. The Square is filled with street performers that include jugglers, musicians, acrobats, and even a bagpipe player. At one special event we bought a slice of the world's largest key lime pie. My oh my. The Square at sunset is typically filled with thousands of people.


  Mallory Square  
  Mallory Square | Key West As the sun sets in Key West, street performers and visitors gather at Mallory Square. Acrobats, musicians, jugglers, and more provide the entertainment. Mother Nature provides the spectacular sunsets.  

Mile Marker 0
There are plenty of happenings in Key West. Among other things, Key West hosts the annual "Meeting of the Minds" Parrothead gathering, Fantasy Fest, Red Ribbon Bed Race, and the Conch Republic Independence Celebration. The people of Key West have a way of turning anything into a party. So if you head on down to the Keys, do your research before you go; chances are that some event will be happening while you are there. By the way, head south another 90 miles and you are in Cuba. We hear they have good cigars.




References

About.com, The Florida Keys: Key Largo First Among the Florida Keys, by Dawn Henthorn,
http://goflorida.about.com/cs/floridakeys/a/keys_keylargo.htm
Key largo Conch Days,http://www.keylargoconchrepublicdays.com/
Stock Island - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_Island
Duval Street -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duval_Street







 
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