By Steve Siciliano
The first thing you notice when you step onto the tarmac at Key West International Airport is a big red-lettered sign above the entrance to the terminal welcoming you to the Conch Republic. Within minutes of landing my wife Barb and I were climbing into a taxi. “The La Concha Hotel,” I said to the driver.
The La Concha is located on upper Duval Street about six blocks away from Sloppy Joe’s bar, arguably the epicenter of Key West’s alcohol-fueled craziness. The La Concha opened in 1926 as one of the area’s first luxury hotels and Harry Truman, Al Capone, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams were some of its notable guests.
“It’s supposed to be haunted,” Barb told me shortly after she booked our reservation.
“That’s cool,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind running into a ghost.”
“One of them supposedly hangs out in the elevators.”
“Well, we’ll have to keep our eyes open,” I replied.
While my wife was taking care of the checking in paperwork I looked around and visualized a hulking Hemingway bellied up with a Papa Doble at the lobby bar. We walked to the elevators and as soon as the doors opened Barb leaned forward and took a quick peek inside. “No ghosts,” she proclaimed, sounding a tad disappointed. I smiled and imagined how my wife would react if she ever did see a ghost.
If you like hanging out in saloons, Key West is your kind of town. If you’re walking down Duval or around Key West Bight or the vicinity of Mallory Square you can’t go twenty yards without coming across a watering hole. Barb and I avoid the overtly touristy ones. Sloppy Joe’s is perpetually packed but it’s not our type of joint. It touts itself as Hemingway’s favorite bar but in reality the famous rum-loving writer never tossed back a drink there. The original Sloppy Joe’s where he did drink his daily double Daiquiris was about a block away on Greene Street. The owner moved the bar to its present Duval location in 1938 when the landlord raised the rent. Papa was long gone by then, having moved his writing and drinking ninety miles south to Cuba.