Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Aqua nightclub Key West

Inga on the stage at Aqua nightclub Key West
9pm at Aqua bar and nightclub on Duval Street in Key West is showtime when the Aquanettes hit the stage with their drag show called Reality is a Drag. It's $15 entrance (no drinks included in this price): get there for the 9pm show and, if you like it, you can stay through the next show for free (which is at 11pm Friday and Saturday). This is a great show, good fun, not for the easily offended and highly recommended.
For more pictures of the show and the performers click below…

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pier House Resort Key West

Pier House hotel and private beach
The Pier House Resort hotel is currently the best luxury hotel in Key West with its fantastic rooms, top ocean views and private beach as the real clinchers putting it slightly above the other contenders. It's a luxury, expensive, four star hotel (there are no 5 star hotels in Key West) located just off Duval Street. If you can afford their very expensive magnificent ocean view rooms I highly recommend the Pier House. Beware the city facing and garden facing rooms with car lot or dark garden views - these really are not as good and I would not stay in one.

Here's a bit more detail on why Pier House is the best:
  • Ocean View Rooms. This hotel has the very best ocean view rooms on Key West: the Dockside Suites. It also has the largest number of most direct view (i.e. totally non-obscured) ocean view rooms of any hotel. You will pay the price, but take a look at the picture below and tell me this room doesn't look brilliant. In December 2014, this room is $530 per night, excl taxes and resort charges etc.
The Dockside Suites at the Pier House Resort in Key West - floating on the water with nothing between you and the ocean
  • Its private beach. 5 of the big 6 have attempted some "beach" / sand feature - several man made. They are all small, including Pier House. The biggest (apart from Casa Marina - see below) is Pier House.
The small beach area at Pier House resort. It's private, for hotel guests only. Beach bar to the left of the picture.
  • The resort's size. It's Key West, a small finite sized island so nothing is going to be large. But Pier House occupies the largest area and feels less crammed in than the others.
All the different bars and restaurants at the Pier House Resort
  • The bars. It's almost a real resort with three, quite different in nature bars, 2 of them on the water. One a posh cocktail bar with piano. I like them.
However, a word of warning. The ocean view rooms are great. But there are many rooms with city / Duval Street view / car lot view which are bad. And also many which face into the lush, small, tropical garden in the middle of the resort. This might sound ok but the vegetation is mature in this garden so the view of the ocean is zero and it's quite dark. See below for pictures of this issue.

Other options

For luxury or high end, you have 5 other choices. I have written a guide to Key West hotels - click here

If you are looking for a little more economy, I have written a post here on cheap Key West hotels and guesthouses

When is the best time to visit Key West?

Picture tour of Pier House hotel

Here's many pictures of Pier House, all taken by me.
The Chart Bar entrance, Pier House resort.  I've never been in, as I didn't like the look of the place and they allow smoking in here!
The other thing the Pier House is known for is the Chart Bar, hangout in the old days of the rich and famous.  However, every time I passed by in the last few years it's been smoky, stinking and full of rowdy looking drunks.  Don't get me wrong, I like drunks but not the overly rowdy type.  I prefer the Piano bar at the end of the pier/"beach" in the hotel - and it has views of the ocean.

Piano bar in the Pier House Resort.  Good view.  

Dockside Suites from below - The best rooms at the Pier House resort in Key West, overlooking the ocean

It's all change at the Pier House Resort and Caribbean spa hotel, the best hotel in Key West.  It was announced in May 2013 that the property has been bought by the Ashford Hospitality Trust for $90m in cash.  So what does this mean for this popular and excellent Key West hotel?

Well the new owner, Ashford Trust, is a real estate investment company so they have an interest in making sure the property continues to be run well.  The day to day management will be by Remington Lodging, which already runs 4 other top hotels in Key West.  They are a capable management company.

However, all the staff were apparently fired as part of the sale process. There will be a job fair to hire many of them back.  I only know a few of the staff at the hotel but they are fantastic and make the place notable. 

Not much will change I expect.  The staff will be hired back.  The property is already priced as a premium and so it's unlikely prices for the 142 room hotel will increase.  The hotel itself is in good sate of repair after a recent $12m refit.  

What we really need it a really eccentric hotel with bags of character.  But we just seem to be getting more corporate places in Key West as part of Key West's transformation to away from the ramshackle good old days and to normalization - which I have written about before.  But now I need to stop;  I'm sounding like a conch!

I have written a guide to Key West hotels - click here

When is the best time to visit Key West?

Here are the Lanai rooms in the background....

..and here is the view you get from the Lanai rooms

The Harbour rooms at the Pier House - they look good and total 100% view of the ocean

Harbour rooms
View from the Harbour Rooms towards the restaurant and bar and Dockside suites at the Pier House resort. The private hotel beach in the front

The pool at the Pier House. Modest, so it must get very busy peak season

View of the ocean through the tropical garden - ie, no view!

The Traditional Room, quaintly named, view of the car park at the Pier House hotel. Not good.

Pier House resort reception. Large car park and at $20 per day very good value for Key West

The Harbour View Cafe and cocktail bar at the Pier House resort. Jazz and live music some nights.
Wine Gallery Piano bar at Pier House hotel. Good bar and cocktails.

The Harbour rooms at Pier House

I have written a guide to Key West hotels - click here

When is the best time to visit Key West?

All vacations, and blog posts, come to an end

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gay hotels in Key West

There are nine gay hotels and gay guesthouses in Key West. My partner and I have been staying at gay guesthouses and hotels in Key West for over 14 years and so I've got an informed view on where's best. In this article I cover all types of gay accommodation: resorts, guesthouses, inns, B&Bs, hotels. 

Here's what this blog post covers:

1. Background
2. The best gay accommodation 
3. Review of other gay places to stay
4. "Gay hotels"
5. Key West on a tight budget

1. Background

Gay hotels
Even though I have called this post gay hotels, there is only 1 gay hotel in Key West! (La Te Da hotel, and even that is not exclusively gay - see below). So be prepared to widen your accommodation search to gay guesthouses and B&Bs. 

How necessary is it to stay in a mostly gay guesthouse?
Not at all necessary in KW - most places are very gay friendly in Key West, so it depends on your own personal preference. There are lots of good gay friendly places to stay, and many are cheaper than the gay places. Personally, as there is a good choice of high quality gay owned/run guesthouses, I've only ever stayed at gay places in KW.

9 gay hotels and guesthouses
How'd I get that number? I've added up all the gay owned accommodations plus places which are straight owned but known to attract exclusively or predominately gay guests. It's an arbitrary number, lots of other hotels are gay friendly and have gay people working there.

What area of Key West is it best to stay?
Key West is small and compact.  The gay accommodations are all in Old Town and none are more than 20 minutes gentle walk from Duval Street (i.e. the gay bar area). There are mainstream chain hotels outside Old Town which are on the outskirts of Key West island (and they will be cheaper) but it could take you an hour to walk in from there so I don't recommend you stay there.

The gay scene
There are "only" 5 gay bars and 9 gay hotels/gueshouses so don't come here just for a hardcore gay holiday. But I guess you knew this already. The gay scene epicentre is located on Duval Street, around the junction with Petronia Street. Read more about the gay bars, clubs, shops, and saunas here.

Does this mean Key West is not very gay?
Not at all. Key West is very gay. Lots of gay people live in Key West. Gay has been assimilated into the mainstream here. It's very gay friendly. Even though not exclusively gay, most hotels and guest houses are very gay friendly. 

Key West is an expensive place to stay, gay or straight
Yep, the room rates (per square foot) in Key West are second only to New York City. There is one solution to this, if you want hotels cheaper come in the Key West off season which is May through December inclusive, with the very cheapest month being August. There are 2 big downsides to visiting in the off season: it's very humid, and the gay scene is not that busy at all. I recommend you stick to the peak season (January through April).

It really matters when you decide to visit
I covered it in the point above, but it's worth making this point twice: You can divide Key West into two seasons - busy and quiet. Busy is January to April. The gay scene is also quiet during the off season. This doesn't mean you should not come (I like it in off season!) but you'll have a different type of vacation. 

2. The best gay places to stay

Depends on what you want. To cut a long story short:

  • Very lively, lots of sex: Island House (sauna and hotel in one)
  • Medium trashy, and medium sex: Equator Resort, or New Orleans House
  • Low trash, high cost, low sex: Alexander's guest house

The best gay and lesbian place to stay in Key West at the moment is: Alexander's Guesthouse

For the last 5 years, the best gay accommodation on the island is a guesthouse, albeit a luxury, incredibly well maintained and run, spotlessly clean and very friendly guest house: it's called Alexander's and it's up the top end of Fleming Street. I've stayed here many times and it's always been great. Don't expect sexy/dirty/cruisy - that you get over the road (literally,  Island House sauna).

The best things about Alexander's:
  • the staff are second to none. they really make you feel at home and are incredibly friendly
  • the place is kept spotless with a fantastic attention to detail.
  • little extras - like very social happy hour every afternoon
  • fellow guests are great!

***I've done a huge and super long review of the place...For my full review on Alexander's guesthouse see here. Video, pics, every room reviewed. 

The best (and only) place to stay if you want it noisy and very raunchy: Island House
Key West's only gay sauna.  It's male only and it is very raunchy. Many people choose not to stay here but buy a day pass and visit for the day, or night.

3. Reviews of other gay places to stay

The Cabana Inn (formerly Big Ruby's)
If you want to be closest to the gay bars on Duval Street then you have 2 gay options: Cababa Inn or La Ti Da hotel. It's 5 minutes walk to the gay block from either place with Cabana Inn being marginally closer.

Cabana Inn was called Big Ruby's and is on Appelrouth Lane, half a block away from bars on Duval Street so it does get a little noisy here. I used to stay here for years (it was the premier gay place to stay by a mile) but stopped several years ago when the quality of the staff and the guesthouse generally went downhill.

As of August 2013 Big Ruby's was sold and during the latter half of 2014 has undergone some changes. The new name, new manager, some renovations, and it is no longer exclusively gay male only. It is adult only. The early reviews are positive but if you were expecting the gay days of Big Ruby's past, stay somewhere else.

Time will tell about how gay this place works out to be. If it turns out to only be minority gay then I will remove it from these listings. (Last updated: January 2014).

La Te Da hotel and complex
Laid back, quite small for a hotel, and friendly are the words most used to describe La Te Da. However, the hotel needs refurbishment around the property and in the rooms.

Also it's right on Duval and the rooms are built around the pool and bars/restaurant. There are 2 bars which get busy and so this place is not quiet and relaxing. If you like a really busy, lively hotel - this place is exacly for you. The pool does not get much sun and is really run down (peeling paint in the pool, etc). I love La Te Da bars, customers and staff; I'd just never stay here.

Update: January 2014 La Te Da ownership changed hands. It's now owned by the people that used to own Antonia's restaurant. You can definitely tell signs of real improvement around the property.

Oasis/Coral Tree Inn/Coconut Grove = now called Equator Resort
Property changed hands in 2012 and has been refurbished. Was quite gay but now targeting a more general demographic. From online reviews seems like some of the (gay) regulars have deserted this place now. This is the biggest gay property on the island - is seems to be on the up and the owner is making a good go at making this place great again.

Pearl's Guesthouse
A few years ago on this blog I referred to Pearl's as women only. But I was contacted by the nice people at Pearl's and corrected: they are now both gay-friendly and straight-friendly. This is a tricky change to make: from the reviews on the TripAdvisor this seems to have pissed off some straights (who think it's too gay) and some ex-regular gays (who think they've sold out and that it's too straight). Most people seem to be happy but some issues with wear and tear. Great location.

The Grand Guesthouse, Grinnell Street
Gay owned. Seems to have gotten great review on TripAdvisor.

Caribbean House, Petronia Street
Gay owned. Good reviews. Close to gay bars.

New Orleans House

Above Key West's leading gay pub: the Bourbon Street Pub in the middle of gay central Duval Street. I love this pub but would never, never stay here. The hotel is noisy until 4am when the pub / nightclub closes. Unless you want to party until 4am every night and be very friendly with the pub goers then stay further away from Duval Street and here.

4. "Gay Hotels"

Apart from La Te Da (see above), there are no other gay owned hotels in Key West, only guesthouses. Most big brand hotels are gay friendly, and many gay locals are employed in them.  Key West's spirit of diversity and respect ("One Human Family" is the city motto) means you are unlikely to have gay hassle anywhere in regards to Key West accommodation.  I'd not recommend any gay person to stay at a big hotel in Key West because the guest houses are so good, much more gay and better run.

If you really want to stay in a hotel, then I review the best in another post, here.

No single hotel sticks out as being the gay-est big hotel on Key West, so pick the one you like the look of the most. Which is a shame. I am still waiting for the Hyatt or Pier House toy contact me about their gay credentials…. I might be waiting a long time! Let me know if you've had a good experience at these "straight" hotels in Key West.

5. Gay Key West on a tight budget

I'd recommend still staying in one of the gay guesthouses listed above, but do the following:
  • be prepared to stay in a small room. And by small, I mean SMALL. Key West guesthouse rooms are generally small anyway, but the smaller rooms ones are really small!  But cheap(er).
  • come in the shoulder or off season (May through December, with the cheapest time being August and September). It's much less busy, as I metioned above, during this time so be careful. 
  • contact the guesthouse directly to negotiate a better rate. You can often get an extra 10% or 15% off the already reduced online prices. This will ONLY work in the off season, you'll get a polite no if you try this during peak season.
  • It's worth noting that many restaurants offer very discounted, or hurricane, special menus/set meals during off season, making eating out much more affordable too at this time of year

Friday, June 14, 2013

Before dawn Key West

Before dawn in Old Town Key West is a mystical time, full of surprises even at this unearthly hour.  Roosters are Key West's mobile alarm clocks, heralds of the new day, urging us to rise. The fish are still asleep, the traffic is quiet(ish), the final party goers stumble home, debris lines Duval Street an ugly reminder of the indulgence of the night before.  Today's Citizen is mysteriously already in the vending machine, the first customers order their first drink of the day at Schooner Wharf bar.    

In the midst of all this it's easy to miss the gently unfolding, spectacular sunrise. Why does everyone rave about the Key West sunset, what's wrong (or different?) with the Key West sunrise?
Old Town Bakery on Eaton Street is a hive of activity just before dawn.
A posh yacht with a funky lighting rig

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Key Lime Drizzle Cake - Key West style

In Key West you can't move for Key Lime pie so here's an alternative: Key lime Drizzle Cake, Key West style.   Or to give my dish its full name: "David's Delicious Key West Key Lime extra moist Drizzle Cake with a twist".

I am the world's worst chef as I explained in the last post.  But regardless of this, let's press on to the recipe, in a handy step by step style:

Step 1: Pour yourself a big glass of good wine
You can't cook properly without wine in the chef.  Today's plonk is a very nice indeed.
Today's wine is a Gew├╝rztraminer, which is a challenge to get your mouth round even before a drink.  It's from New Zealand and it's bottled by Waimea - floral and excellent.
Step 2: 

Monday, May 27, 2013

World's Worst Cook and a Key West blog

Despite being the world's worst cook, I've decided to have a little fun and try to make some stuff.  At the same time I want to diversify this blog, just a little, and so to kill two birds with one stone I'm going to write up my cooking as a post.  Whatever I cook shall cook have some, albeit tenuous, link to Key West!  For example, my first recipe on this blog will be my special Key Lime drizzle cake - with a twist.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

White Street pier

Get off the island and get away from it all: Take a walk down the White Street pier in Key West!  Jutting out a few hundred yards into the Atlantic Ocean surround yourself with water, wind and open vistas of the south side of Key West.  The pier is hard, minimalist, brutalist concrete; the views from the end of the pier are panoramic.

And if you're very lucky, as I was for a short while, you'll be Alone on White Street Pier.
White Street Pier in Key West.  The distinctive combination of white concrete and black lights.
The end (inverted L-shaped bit) of White Street pier.  Alone on the pier.  Unusual not to see fishermen here.
Human sundial: KeyWestDavid is the gnomon, White Street pier is the sundial.  Can you work out what time it is?
One sailing boat, one bench.
My video - me and a seagull, and the fantastic views from the pier....

Snooze with a view.  Doesn't he look peaceful?
Looking north west from its pier along the length of White Street.
Compass rose painted on the concrete floor at the end of White Street pier.  The M is a W (West)
Not the Southernmost point.
Arty view along the wall of the White Street pier.  In the background a water sports hire center at Smathers beach.
You're never truly alone on the White Street pier!
Frequent sight from the pier - an American Eagle flight from Miami just about to land at Key West "International" airport

You can see the control tower of the airport, and on the right the bricks of the Fort East Martello Museum
Superzoom from the White Street pier looking towards Old Town.  In the foreground the broken pier legs of Higgs Beach pier.  In the far background the yellow accommodation of the Southermost Hotel and the end of Simonton Street, where Atlantic Shores used to be.
Clear shallow water, taken from White Street pier on a calm day.  This is about the best clear / shallow water you'll get anywhere in Key West.
Smathers beach from White Street pier
Looking south south east as far as the eye can see from White Street pier.  Can you see Cuba in the distance? (the answer is no as it's 90 miles away but if you sail this way, you'll hit it!)