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