By Kurt Epps—the PubScout
Readers of this blog know of my penchant for good beer, good bars and my motorcycle. So when Debbie Wevers, Organizer Extraordinaire of the Central Jersey Motorcycle Riders Group, concocted a trip from NJ to Cayo Hueso (that's Key West, gringo), I was intrigued. Long trip to be sure, especially on two wheels and subject to the whims of Mother Nature, but I had the time—and most importantly—the hankering to make a trip like this sometime before I die. (I had the same feeling before my first –and only--skydiving adventure.) Hopefully, like the skydiving, it would not be just before I died. So I signed on.
The plan—painstakingly crafted and perfectly executed by the aforementioned Debbie Wevers-- called for a departure point at the famous Clinton Diner in Clinton, NJ. From there we'd ride to pick up a fellow traveler in Carlisle, PA. Four of us then rode I-81 to our first stop of the ride at Dublin, VA, where we added two more bikers to the group. A dinner of Cajun Shrimp was accompanied superbly by a Sierra Nevada Torpedo.
Our six soon turned to five as one of the party broke off for Nashville the following morning, but soon became six again as we met Martin Wevers, Debbie's husband, in SC on I-26. We stopped in Georgia off I-95 for the night, and at a nearby Ruby Tuesday's, in addition to a Sam Adams Boston Lager, I had a pretty darned good beer called Dr. Sweetwater's 420, made in Atlanta. An easy-drinking, well-balanced beer, it will make a good session beer if you can get it.
Six of us rode I-95 to FL where another broke off for a quick visit to his parents, and shortly after that, two broke off for a short visit to family members in Port. St. Lucie, FL. Martin, Debbie and I continued to the nice little town of Hollywood Beach, FL, and after checking into our efficiency apartments at The Atlantic Sands (very spacious, clean and comfortable), Martin and I walked a half-block to the Broadwalk (yep, that's how they spell it) and hit a place called Nick's Bar. As it was late afternoon, the outside seating area was pretty full, but we walked up to the service area and ordered a couple of beers. Mine was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, for me an always-reliable thirst quencher, and after almost eight hours in the saddle, my thirst needed quenching like my backside need cool air.
Anyway, Nick's was supposedly where a scene from the movie Marley and Me was shot, though in the movie it was supposed to be somewhere else in FL. No matter to me, as long as the SN was cold and good. And it was.
After a day layover in Hollywood Beach, we headed for The Conch Republic. Sometime in the early afternoon we were poised in front of that famous buoy which says that you're actually closer to a foreign country than you are to the nearest Wal-Mart. After a few pics, we headed two blocks up Duval St. to our residence for the next four days, a neat, quirky—and exceptionally clean—place called the Speakeasy Inn. Once again, the rigmarole of check-in was followed by a seat at the bar where affable Bahama Bob Leonard was in charge. I ordered up a Magic Hat #9—which I would later come to learn was probably the best selling craft beer in Key West—and started chatting. Bahama Bob, it turns out is an expert on rums of the world, and has a FB page where he shares his love of the stuff. I knew he was hard-core when I told him my favorite rum was Mt. Gay, and his response was, "Which one?"
Seated at the bar next to me was another rumophile named Mike Streeter. He caught my attention by putting ice in his Miller Lite. But when he learned he was chatting with the PubScout he apologized profusely for the sacrilege. I told him not to worry. Putting ice in Miller Lite wouldn't hurt it a bit. We're now friends on FB.
Before heading South, I had established that there were a few beer bars I had to visit. One of them was the Smallest Bar in Key West, a closet, essentially, on Duval St. which was indeed so small you had to step outside to change your mind. Another was Kelly's, billed as the "Southernmost Brewpub" in the US. They're big on that "Southernmost" business in Key West. There's a "Southernmost House" and even a "Southernmost Southernmost House adjacent to it—and, of course, south of it.
I got to chat briefly with Tomas, the brewer's assistant, but as he was busy, I said I'd come back another time. In the interim, I learned that Kelly's was once owned by movie starlet Kelly McGillis and her husband, but when they divorced, she no longer had a hand in operations. The name, however, stuck.
The two beers available this day were a Red and a Gold, with the Gold being far the better brew. The Red was simply so-so, and even the gold, which was advertised as an IPA, didn't really come close to the style, but it had fullness, body, flavor and balance enough that I'd recommend it as a good session beer. And I never did get back to chat with Tomas.
Another bar that was a must-visit was a place called The Porch. If you love craft beer in all its diversity, do not miss this place. It's in a former mansion called the Porter mansion. Be forewarned, however, that you'll need to acquire your victual elsewhere, as there is no food served here. Chris Shultz, the amiable, free-spirited owner, didn't want the hassles of staff, kitchen regs, etc. He simply dreamed of opening a bar that had the finest beers available, and that he has done exceptionally well. A glance at some of the photos on the right will attest to the wide range of offerings. On my visit I opted for DogFish head's My Antonia. Two, to be precise. And I drank them seated next to a lovely young couple named Chris and Taylor. Taylor, a stunning beauty, initially drank wine, but I browbeat and embarrassed her sufficiently that she went the beer route after one glass. When I asked Chris which beer was his best seller, he answered emphatically, "Magic Hat #9, without question."
Of course, the bar everyone wants to visit while in Key West is Sloppy Joe's, the emporium which was supposedly the favorite haunt of one Ernest Hemingway, a drinker who had a writing problem. Hemingway's house, located a few blocks away, is situated across from the Key West Lighthouse, and legend has it that the light from that imposing structure helped to guide the Nobel Prize winner home on many a night when he was "in his cups." Also according to legend, there were few times he was not in that condition at Sloppy Joe's and elsewhere. I had a Key West Sunset Beer from the tap that was unremarkable beyond the fact that it helped me down my chili-cheese dog ($4.50), which was quite remarkable. After a few choruses from the house band of "You Can't Drink on Stage in Maine, But You Can F—k a Moose," it was time to go.
Another interesting and unique bar is the Green Parrot. It has a nice beer selection—and Magic Hat #9 is included. I don't know why, but MH#9 did taste exceptionally good to me in Key West. Must be something cosmological. The Parrot has the distinction of being both the last—and thus the first—bar on US Rt. 1. Those of us from NJ who see US Rt. 1 as an often-clogged, traffic light and accident-beset highway can't help but be surprised at its rather humble and ignominious terminus/genesis.
There was one other bar that I had planned to "experience" but upon entering the top floor of the Garden of Eden in the afternoon, a "clothing optional" bar, there was little visual stimulus to pique my interest. I guess all the nude patrons come out at night, and I had heard that many are aging baby boomers who don body paint. For sure, I wasn't going in there when it was dark, no matter what beer was available.
For The PubScout's money, I'd have to say that The Porch should be on every beerlover's "Must-Visit" list for the simple reason that the quality and selection of beers is astounding, and the ambience is excellent. But side trips to the other places—and ones I did not get to—can bring memorable rewards, too. The weather in early May is delightful, but I'm guessing July/August is a whole different meteorological model. That may alter your beer habits substantially.
You may even wind up putting ice in your Miller Lite like Mike Streeter.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
©Kurt Epps 2011 All rights reserved