Saturday, March 2, 2013

Is Key West still gay?

Key West was NOT in the Advocate magazine's recent survey of America's gayest cities, but don't worry, here are 5 reasons Key West still has its gay mojo.
Key West's gay scene is still open for business and a fun place to go
First, let's clear up why Key West was out of the Advocate's list. It was due to the criteria which The Advocate used in 2012 which favors large cities. For example, Key West does not have a dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop. But this is because it's a very small city, not because it's not a very gay city (the gay book selection in Key West Island Books on Fleming Street has a good gay selection).

Gay mojo #1:  Six gay bars and a drag show
Leading gay bar, 801 Bourbon, bang in the middle of Duval Street and in the 'gay block'. 
Well, although it's not as gay as the good old gay days of the 70s and 80s, 6 bars are not bad for a small city of only 5 square miles, in the middle of the ocean, with only 25,000 permanent residents.
The girls at Aqua being friendly pre-show. 
Gay mojo #2: Don't forget the sauna
10 minutes walk from Duval Street and you're at Island House, exclusively for gay men (or curious/adventurous men). It's quite raunchy.

Gay mojo #3: Tolerance and respect (for everyone) is in the DNA
Key West's official motto is One Human Family (full version: All people are created equal members of one human family).  Its taken seriously here in Key West, it's not just a string of words, it's a real philosophy. Certainly not a marketing line from the tourist office; it was thought up in the year 2000, and by a local.
This acceptance, I guess, started way before that, from the fact that Key West has always taken in and embraced people from different cultures - sea captains and wreckers from far flung places, workmen building Flagler's railroad, Cubans making cigars, etc.
Key West has always welcomed and seen many different folks coming and going. Here Eduardo H. Gato from the Key West Memorial Sculpture Garden. Gato was a leading businessman in the cigar making industry in the 1880s.  He came to Key West from Cuba and was embraced by this island.

Also the gay heritage runs deep here. Key West was home to Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote. Now PrideFest and a number of other LGBT celebrations.

The gay residents and visitors of today's Key West are fully part of Key West. This strong group of people is one reason Key West is such a powerful and wonderful community. 

But nothing stays the same: Key West's center of gravity has changed in the last 10 years. Gay Institutions from the 80s such as Copa disco (now the Wyland gallery on Duval),  the original tea dance at Atlantic Shores have (long) gone. Some gays have moved out of town further north into mainland Florida - maybe this has something to do with the real estate price increases in Key West.  Key West gay visitors tend to be older scene. Walking along Duval Street from Front Street you'd not know that Key West was in any way gay for many blocks (until just after Margaritaville). Key West is 'normalizing'.  Gay guest houses have all gone 'mixed' apart from Island House.

Summary: it's still gay enough, but not as much as it used to be years ago.

Gay mojo #4: The weekly Key West gay trolley tour
To see how much gays have contributed to Key West over the years there's a 70-minute weekly gay trolley tour with excellent commentary provided by a knowledgeable gay guide. Currently the trolley tour is every Saturday at just before 11am (updated: January 2015 - but this time/day has changed in the past - worth checking - see below). Recommended.

More info: It's run by the Gay Business Guild of Key West. Inexplicably they currently don't have anything useful (like the time or pictures) about the tour on their website. They have a small office just off Duval so visit them or ring to check the time of the tour. It's worth the effort!
Gay trolley tour of Key West 
Gay mojo #5:  Stay gay
The standard of bed and breakfast/guest house accommodation is excellent here and it makes staying in KW a real pleasure.  Several of these are gay run/mainly gay guest houses.  Better run guest houses, with their happy hours and focus on the guests, are a better way (than hotels) of meeting interesting people.

So much else to do
OK, so this one is not a gay thing but, in addition to the gay scene, there's so many fascinating, historic, and beautiful things to do on this island. And of course the great weather / blue skies.

So, Key West remains a top gay destination right up there with San Francisco, Provincetown and Palm Springs.

Other gay stuff on my blog that I hope you'll like...

For more on  Key West gay bars and drag shows - see here.

Key West gay hotels

Crazy Key West - behind the beauty, there is the crazy.  (It's the heat that does it...)

Key West best cocktail bars (oh, and they are gooood!)

Please leave a comment, I'd love to hear your view.