Sunday, November 29, 2009

What's the strategy?

It was fascinating to read the Option page of today's Citizen about the forthcoming vote on CityView trolley tours. Key West does not seem to have a strategy (=direction) on development and tourism.

No one seems to get that Key West's charm is in its natural,authentic state. Modern day impositions like real estate development and modernity dilute the Key West 'real thing.'

For Pete's sake, there are enough trolley tours already. Too many actually. Tourists should walk more! (You'd think all those visitors straight off the ships would want to stretch their sea legs not get right into a confined trolley tour!).

I always think one of Key West's usp's is that you can walk everywhere you need to in old town. Why more trolleys then? Madness prevails.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The battle of Fleming Street - Green Republic vs Help Yourself!

In the last few months, Fleming Street has become a battle ground between competing veggie cafes.

Today we went into both veggie restaurants on Fleming Street:

Green Republic

('be lean, be green')
just off Duval
Opened a few months
All veggie but not organic
kitchen: total separation between front of house and kitchen, cannot see good being made
design: Minimalist, high design interior, lots of open wait space inside, air conditioned
Green Republic website

Help Yourself!

('delicious, nutritious, natural food')
a few more blocks north - but not that far (Margaret Street)
Opened just before Fantasy Fest 2008 (so almost a year) - was Bubba's (but no relation)
kitchen: right there by the till, watch your food being made
design: busy, carrots, experiential, wait space outside (shaded)
Help Yourself website

As you can read from the above they are quite different in style and menu (bearing in mind they are both veggie and after the same market).

Also both have set their sights on 'world veggie domination' with both having expansion plans for the future - although in both cases, Key West is currently their only outpost.

I really want both businesses to succeed, and have purchased from both this week (and there is no reason why they cannot as it's Key West after all - a diverse and busy eating out market).

But this week one of them has really annoyed me so time to get off sitting on the fence....

Green Republic

Fascinating menu
Really great 'chicken' (=i.e. veggie) nuggets
BUT... we asked on 3 different days for 'chicken' Marinara and they were out of it on every single occasion!!

I can deal with frustration in restaurants. Once. But this was 3 times!! And the third time there was no 'chicken' at all, knocking out several options.

And, worst really, the staff did not seem too bothered by the continued lack of this option.

Either have it, or remove it from the menu. It's all about expectation management!

Help Yourself!

So, unsatisfied and without purchase, we wandered up Fleming to Help Yourself!

We ordered pasta and a salad. Watched it being cooked in front of us by Charlie. Chatted to the new co-partner Annie who (is lovely and) has only been part of the partnership for a few days. Everything was fresh and delicious. It's more hectic experience (I liked at!) and the ladies are great folks, are committed to both the food and the community.

And the food was great.

End of round one: winners were....... Help Yourself!

But Green Republic will be strong competitors in the future I am sure.

My advice would be:

Green Rep: Guys...Be able to deliver what your menus says you can.

Help Yourself!: Ladies.. Slightly easier to navigate menu would be good and also have some things on the menu that are a bit naughty - remember that lots of your visitors are tourists and so don't care too much about being mega healthy.

Good luck to both!

(and, finally, how will they stand the test of time against that old timer, the Veggie Cafe?)

Here's Help Yourself's scarily good juice selection:

People of Key West - are you Happy?

I read an article in Newsweek about happiness and our current obsession with it.

According to Psychology Today, in 2000 50 books were written about happiness. In 2008 that number was a staggering 4,000.

I am reading one of those 4,000 books at the moment: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. It's original, well written and very insightful.

He brings together in the book some of the thousands of studies and experiments done on happiness (the modern work as well as old theories, quoting Edgar Allen Poe, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, the Bible, and Stephen Hawking amongst others).

This got me thinking: are the people of Key West happier than average?

Or: if you move to Key West, on average will it make you happier?

To quote various section from the book:

Buddha preached... happiness comes from within, and it cannot be found from making the world conform to your desires. Buddhism teaches that attachment leads inevitably to suffering and offers tools for breaking attachments. Focus only on what you can fully control...which means primarily your own thoughts and reactions.


Let go, stop striving, and choose a new path.


A main determinant of happiness is the voluntary activities we do. The author recommends reducing noise and reducing commuting, being able to control your life and creating lots of time to devote to your main relationship.

The achievement of weath does not make people significantly more happy.

Nor does the acjivement of big career goals and other achievements.

It's the journey toewards goals (any goals, bot just big career goals) that is far, far more important that the achieement if that goal.

So, for all of that, I guess Key West is well placed to he a happy place.

Drop out = feel good.

My bigest take out from the book was about how we set outselves very high personal objectives and targets in this modern world. We have very high expectations of ourselves. The author describes how destructive this is.

My favourite quote is from wheelchair bound motor nurone disease-sufferer Stephen Hawking (the author of the best selling science book of all time):

How does he keep his spirits up?

'My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.'

If Key West was a person would you like them?

What makes the tiny, tropical island of Key West both:


and also


#1 - OLD

Just old enough to be fascinating but not past it's prime. Key West has so much accumulated history to be staggering...

Heat, mosquitoes, swaps and mangroves; the Navy; cigars, Cuba; turtles; sponges; wreckers, Captains and widows; wrecks, treasures and divers; nature and architecture; artists and tourists.


It's beautiful (but so is Palm Beach, St Augustine, Sannibel or much of California). What makes Key West's beauty so great and different is its genuineness - reflecyed both in its nature and buildings but also its people. Are there so many artists here because they are trying to capture the beauty of the place or its people?


Many places have community. What is different about Key West's community is that it's built on diversity. So much of humanity is represented here. When you walk down a street towards Duval count how many times you can say 'hello' to your passing pedestrians.

#4 - "un-AMERICAN"

I mean this in the nicest way.... The sun reduces the energy levels. Even the biggest houses or gardens are small. It's a rebellious liberal town in conservative Florida. Bycicles are decorated by Fantasy Fest beads and boas. There are few cars and many people walk (this makes a big difference). Drop outs and failure are accepted and loved rather then rejected and cast out.


On an island 2 miles by 4 miles you just can't escape it. The ocean has a pervasive influence on Key West's past and present. And that's just great. Just like salt water its influence seeps into and corrupts everything about the island. You just can't fight it so go with the flow.

For me all this is true.

But is Key West getting less different or more different?

Key West is changing... but for the worse or better based on these criteria?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Touchdown Key West

We are here!

We've hit a heatwave with near record highs during the day and night at the moment. But it doesn't matter, we're back and it's great!

Even though we visit very often, even in the 3 days we have been here we've found two things to do which we've not visited before (the aquarium and Mel Fisher museum - isn't it strange that Mel's surname is Fisher which, in many respects, is what he did most of this life?!).

Mel Fisher's museum was great - it's a pity the museum does not devote more of its story to the man, rather than his find (the $450m of silver and gold on the bottom of the sea bed that he found on July 20 1985 after 16 years of full time searching).

His own personal story I found fascinating. How one man can be so obsessed and driven to hunt for 16 years, through great personal adversity, for something that he might never have found.

He was a true leader to keep him self and his team driven for all those years.

Here is the sign outside his office - his famous catchphrase which he used every day for those 16 years.

So what's changed about Key West in the 6 months since we've been away?

Well there are more closed, boarded up shops than I can every recall in the past confirming that Key West is suffering too.

But everyone seems as happy and friendly as ever though so there must be some vaccine in the air in KW protecting folks against the recession negativity.

Not too much else has changed much really. Which is a good thing. Positive to see no further horrendous condos or other building work. It will be interesting to see what the new mayor has in mind for the seafront development.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Key West - 3 weeks and counting

We'll be flying to Florida three weeks today, spending 4 days in Lauderdale and then returning to Key West for 10 days, staying at Alexander's as usual.

I like the Lauderdale-Key West combo.

I like that Lauderdale is not as isolated as Key West and, of course, need to do some serious shopping.

And there is a great restaurant in Lauderdale, Sublime, which we love. The owner is usually on site all evening, mad as a box of frogs, sipping away at her drink. She is great.

But Lauderdale is far more normal than Key West, easier to live in, but I'm not sure if I wouldn't get bored living there all the time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Service in Key West

I visit Germany regularly for my job and can't help noticing the level of service for visitors like me.

Generally it's good, certainly much better than my home town of London.

Munich is very pretty and lots of tourists are bombarding the city right now.

I can't help drawing comparisons with Key West (not now, but in the peak season).

Key West service is ok. Some places are good, some are not so good. (Again, much better than London.)

A recent article in the Citizen proposed locals become more tourist-friendly and be more accommodating to tourists.

I don't know if this is the answer. It's good for desirable locations to retain a degree of superiority and character. The cookie cutter mentality is all to prevalent in the rest of Florida. Let's keep a republic frame of mind.

Finally, just to prove Germans do it differently, here's a picture of Munich airport - airside. It's got it's own sex shop complete with vibrators on display. Even Fairvilla is not that brave!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Help yourself Buffet

I'm going to come out of the closet.

I'm proud to say it. I like Jimmy Buffet. So for fellow Parrotheads here's a great quote from Jimmy [the image I've taken from a book on Key West by Shultz and Sloan].

Here's some other blog thoughts on Jimmy's popularity.

Remember: we need more fruitcakes in this world!

And while I'm on the subject of great quotes, here's another.

I'm a big fan of cocktails. The best cocktails in the world are made in Key West: at Virgilio's Martini Bar on Duval Street.

Here's the cocktail napkin that I took from another legendary bar, the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Theater of the Sea

We stopped off on the drive down the keys last year and I took this pic at the Theater of the Sea marine park. This was during the dolphin show - I am very pleased with the pic!

They are at MM 84.5 and we love it there. We've been half a dozen times. They have parrots, dolphins, sea lions and an excellent marine walk.

It's all done as a guided show - very well done by the resident staff experts. And it's pretty environmentally aware.

Well worth a visit.

Amazingly, they say they are open 365 days a year - fancy going on Christmas Day?!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ibiza and Key West

This Friday evening one of the Swedish House Mafia, Steve Angello, played a fantastic live DJ set on Pete Tong's weekly 'Start the Weekend' radio show. It was live from the Ibiza Rocks Hotel in Ibiza. It was brilliant 10 minutes of highly creative and sophisticated house music - wicked!

I love islands and have been intimately associated with three of them - the UK (lived for nearly 15 years, current home), Guernsey (grew up, 15 year) and Key West. As well as various others, notably Herm and Mykonos.

I got thinking how island evolve in the short term (15 year or so). How quickly they change even over this time period. And how different they become and why.

So, for example, Ibiza and Key West. Lots of gay people. Hippies. Same weather (i.e. hot and sunny). Why so different?

An idea a day keeps the doctor away

It's great to have ideas.

Not innovations - that'll be too scientific for me. Not even ideas that are new to the world. Just thoughts that are genuniely new to you.

My ideas for today.

I want to rennovate 730 Southard Street.

You can't tell from this photo but the property is really run down and needs to be totally restored like so many grand Key West homes have been. I'd love to devote the next 10 years to this project. It's a crying shame. But with an asking price of $1,490,000 is stuff of fantasy for me.

Here's what the realtor has to say:


Right in the heart of Old Town Key West sits this jewel of an original Conch home built in the 1800's awaiting your special touch. The history behind this home spans several generations of just one family. The rooms are large, the ceilings are high and everything is original in this two story home including Dade County pine throughout. There's over 2800 square feet of living space including the large master and guest bedrooms upstairs plus the living room, den, study, dining room and kitchen downstairs. The standup attic runs the length of the building with access to the widows walk allowing for a bird's eye view of Old Town. All this plus room for a pool in the back."


Yes, it's a fantasy. So what about fantastic ideas? Does the ability to dream about total fantasy mark us out as a superior (no other species can do this, apparently) or does it mean we are destined for disappointment and failure?

On an individual level, is it good to have fantastic ideas or is a pointless waste of time or, at worse, dangerous to our mental health?

Avoid boredom at all costs

Went to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical at the opulent Palace Theatre last night in London. Phil and I were in row B on the aisle (second row from the stage, bang in the middle) and so were so very close to the stage we got the spit and sweat from all the performers, including Jason Donovan who was camping it up like there was no "The Face" magazine... (although to be fair he is holding up well).

Well worth seeing the musical, very uplifting, but as we all know the film so well, not exactly a surprise night out. The most enticing story of the night I read in the programme - about the writer, Stephan Elloitt. He is a crazy and interesting guy and I think he'd fit right in if he lived in Key West.

I wondered what Priscilla Queen of the Desert would look like if it was set in Key West instead of the Australian outback. Priscilla (the bus) would obviously become a boat. Maybe Priscilla Queen of the Everglades! Or Priscilla Queen of Stock Island!

Al Clark (the producer of the musical) was guided by a quote from the Spanish director Luis Bunuel: 'You can argue forever about the content of a film, its aesthetic, its style, even its moral posture - but the crucial imperative is to avoid boredom at all costs.'

It's a cool quote. And if you remove 'the content of a film' and replace it with 'life in Key West' - it still works!

Kew West - glass half empty or full?

A lot of people knock Key West.

Read the Key West Citizen almost any day and in Citizens' Voice you'll see some Conch saying that Key West isn't what it used to be.

Vagrants, too many tourists, too few tourists, the wrong type of tourists, mosquitoes, property development, house prices too high, house prices falling too fast, and even beaches with naked people on them. (On this last one - is this really Key West?)

Well I have two views.

First, things do change. Even Key West changes.

Second, it might be worse (maybe) than it was but it's still sunny, packed full of beautiful nature and laid back. And thousands of people's fantasy is to live where you live. So it could be much worse, right?

I'm only a regular but occasional visitor to Key West but over the last 10 years I have noticed change. I miss lots of things and one of them is Atlantic Shores.

Apart from the fact it was a brilliant venue and location, and it had a iconic, much missed logo I had some fantastic evenings and nights at the (dare I say 'legendary') tea dance on a Sunday. (Where at the end of one drunken evening one person in my party was called by a random stranger 'The Best Dancer in Key West'!).

Yes, it's true, some things change for the worse and we'll never get them back.

But the present Key West ain't that bad!

A Key West Blog

It might be 94 miles to Cuba and 160 miles to Miami but it's 4,565 miles from Duval Street, Key West to my house, London, UK!

I live in London so I have a pretty easterly view of Key West and its goings on. That's what this blog is about - Key West from afar.

I've been visiting for over 10 years, sometimes several times a year.

I'm a certified Key West-o-phile. An addict of the southernmost city. A lover of the Conch Republic. And I'd much rather be there than here; but I'm not.

I'm in cold, rainy London (and right now it's summer!).
So, for now, this blog is my appreciation of Key West.