Key West, Florida, ninety miles from Cuba, slight overcast, seventy-five degrees. I’m trying to get into Hemingway mode. Be concise. Straight forward. Where’s the bar?
The cats here have too many toes. The abundance of bars begins to make up for it, however. My goal is to achieve a connection with the ghost of the late writer and raconteur, Ernest Hemingway, aka “Papa” (he was not a fan of his first name). The plan is to wander among his old watering holes, avoid his polydactylic felines, and consume copious amounts of adult beverages.
Nobody told me about the roosters and chickens. Key West is loaded with ‘em. They compete with the pigeons, but the baby chicks are way cuter. And, I must say, the adult chicks I’ve seen wandering around are pretty darned cute, too. Sadly, for my male friends, they’re typically accompanied by hunky guys. But for sightseers, there’s someone for everyone!
According to Hemingway, one should “Never delay kissing a pretty girl or opening a bottle of whiskey.” If my lovely bride and the mini bottles we brought along count, I’m on pretty solid ground here. That said, I found it slightly confusing after hearing the above quote and then running into the Hemingway Rum Distillery. Could the man not make up his mind? Rum or whiskey? C’mon Papa, geez. But back to the distillery. Fine folk work there, and they offer a dandy tour. Alas, we were running slightly behind and couldn’t squeeze it in. Next trip, for sure. (As if we needed an excuse for a return trip!)
While pondering the whole rum vs. whiskey thing, I stumbled across a bit of local lore which settled the issue of Hemingway’s favorite adult beverage. It seems he started with a Daiquiri from El Florida and had various elements eliminated until what remained amounted to a double shot of rum and a twist of lime. (I haven’t tried one yet. I’m quite fond of all the stuff that got left out.)
But Papa’s grizzled old spirit surely pervades this place. Everyone we saw seemed happy, except for one overly excited adolescent who berated her poor mother at the top of her lungs. Sadly, the only muzzles we saw were designed for canines. (There’s a joke in there, somewhere, involving the “B” word, but I’ll leave that for readers to find.)
Another quote, allegedly from the man: “I drink to make other people more interesting.” Whoa. Head shake. Now I’m wondering if I want to spend any time with this jerk’s ghost. We’re walking; we’re walking. The restaurants are awesome here. We stopped at two, ate and drank at both. The Pina Coladas in Key West are to die for. If Hemingway eschewed them, then he was more idiot than savant.
Two more pieces of Hemingway advice caught my ear. Both make excellent sense and restored my temporary loss of faith in him. To wit: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” Keep in mind folks, that came from the man who, when asked for the key to his best work, told the interviewer he always worked standing up. Shortly thereafter, he laughed all the way to the bar.
Oh, and the other quote: “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings, or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in one of its bars.” Sadly, our boat departed right around sundown, so a night in a Key West bar wasn’t an option. Leastwise, not on this trip. So, now there’s a second good reason to come back!
Okay, I’m putting this to bed as there’s a Pina Colada calling my name, and if I can’t connect, I can always dial up a Manhattan.