A Toast to the Keys

Andrea Gross | Apr 4, 2012, 11:38 a.m.
Key West Sunset Irv Green


Juried craftspeople line the pier during the Sunset Celebration.

The festive feel persists on Duval Street. Many people are shopping, intrigued by the mix of high-end crafts, mid-range souvenirs and fine Cuban cigars. But most are simply ambling and listening to the music that blares from the restaurants and bars.

The next morning, hoping to catch some inspiration, we tour Key West’s literary haunts. This is the place where Tennessee Williams wrote his first draft of A Streetcar Named Desire, Robert Frost wrote The Gift Outright and Ernest Hemingway wrote parts of Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Williams’ and Frost’s former homes are closed to the public, but we go into Hemingway’s, where we’re greeted by many of the 44 cats that roam the property, all direct descendants or close relatives of a cat given to Hemingway during his 10-year stay on the island. A guide regales us with tales of Hemingway’s escapades, some of which involved writing, many of which involved fishing, drinking and romancing.

Equally fascinating is the old naval residence that served as a Little White House for Harry Truman, who spent 175 days of his presidency in Key West. Truman’s writings were of another sort. They included memos that dealt with the use of nuclear weapons and post-World War II reconstruction as well as frequent love letters to Bess.

We end our stay in Key West at a decadent dessert lounge enticingly named “Better than Sex.” Sitting in a lounge so dimly lit that patrons are given flashlights to see the menu and sipping cabernet from a glass rimmed in chocolate, we feel as if we’re miles away — not only from the mainland, but from reality itself.


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