Best cocktails and martinis in Key West

One of the few things I do well is drink martinis. And Key West is a town for strong martinis. But, actually, there are only a few places in Key West that make good cocktails. 

After arduous research over the last 16 years of visiting Key West I can bring you (totally sober as I write this) my highly personal view of the best frozen concoctions in Key West and where to consume them (last updated November 2016, after yet another visit involving gallons of martini!).

To make this list, bars and drinks must:
  • First and foremost, taste excellent
  • Served in a large, solid, ice cold martini glass
  • Made by a quality bartender - I often ask to go off menu and see if this causes an outbreak of sweat (bad) or great pleasure in being able to do something different to the normal fare 
  • Strong. Obviously
  • From a list that has a choice of several (or many) different types of martini
  • Be creative, interesting, innovative, different in the martini composition - for example, French martinis (or with different names for martinis which in fact are French martinis) are boring, boring, boring. Right?
Martini in Key West.
Marks are out of 50 for the place (ambiance, location, view, quality of fellow drinkers and service). Another 50 marks for the cocktail menu choices and creativity, ability to go off menu and the drink quality itself. So the total is out of 100.

The verdict. The best cocktail bar in Key West is.......

#1 - Virgilio's (on Duval Street)
Place - 40
Martini - 46
Total - 86

Yep, so there is not much between the top two. Basically, if you like it outside and little more informal: La Te Da is best. If you are a martini purist, prefer to sit inside, or it's later at night: head for Virgilio's.

(Of course, I know, you will try both places!)

At Virgilio's... the staff don't change much - which is a very good sign. Over the 16 years I have been visiting Erin and Cathy were a fantastic team. Cathy is sorely missed.  Erin left in 2014. The ladies behind the bar are now the wonderful Tiffany and a new face to me in 2016, Carrie. She may be new but my Chocolate Raspberry bomb yesterday was maybe the best I have had (and I have had dozens here).

The martini here is served in a very large martini glass, and it's strong, very strong. At $12 for all martinis (as of November 2016) it's the best and the best value in Key West. 

This is a fabulous place and this could easily take first place in my ranking, there is so little in it. These are the best martinis in town, and definitely the strongest in town, if your only priority is the drink itself.

This place is purist: it's called a martini bar, it has the largest martini menu on the island, it feels and looks like a martini bar and the only cocktails they serve are martinis (unless you ask very nicely!).

I would also, and do, eat here regularly, often at the bar. I even have a loyalty card! Food is great. Many locals come here so it's a good place to chat.

The best place to sit is on the left as you enter the bar area. Wedge yourself along the glass window and that'll give you front row (air conditioned) seat right on Duval Street.

My recommendation is Raspberry Chocolate Bomb. We've had 3 of these before in one sitting and I stumbled out, almost out for the count! They are super strong! Here's the wonderfully extensive martini menu....
Virgilio's martini menu is the longest and best in town by a big margin. Starting with the menu, this place is high quality.
Our seat most times is just by the bar with the window view out to Duval Street.
Two Virgilio's raspberry chocolate bomb martinis.  Very strong and tasty. La Trattoria is the attached restaurant.
The view of the madness of Duval Street from a bar stool at Virgilio's martini bar is very entertaining.
Virgilio martinis - the strongest in town.  They look really good, right? Mango martini and Milky Way 
Apart from the martini the other entertainment comes from the fellow drinkers and eaters. It's very local oriented place and I have met some incredibly strange and fantastic people in there over the years. It's also very good place to eat, either at the bar or in the restaurant.

#2 - La Te Da Terrace Bar in Key West
Place - 35
Martini - 35
Total - 70

Demoted to second place in November 2016, this place is still great. This terrace is right on Duval so it's fantastic for people watching. And you are outside in the fresh air and sunshine!

The martini menu is good (but not brilliant, they could extend the range a bit), the drinks are almost as strong as Virgilio's - plus, its the only place I know in Key West where you get a side car for a (ice cold) second helping. I recently went "off menu", and had a magnificent blueberry martini.

Fellow drinkers are more often than not local, interesting and eclectic. A well deserved first place.
La Te Da is also a restaurant and hotel.  It's a historic and fine looking building.
It's a lovely bar at La Te Da. You can either sit at the bar or just behind me is the terrace with a Duval Street view
The Ta Te Da martini and cocktail menu.  The chocolate martini and apple martini come recommended.
First martini of (this particular) night at La Te Da.  Key Lime martini and a Cosmo.  In the foreground is the vitally important side cars which come with every martini and serve to prolong the pleasure! 
Blueberry martini.  I went off menu and they served this - it looked and tasted absolutely brilliant!  And it was really strong too.  Note the very generous side car.
The view of the bustle of Duval Street from the terrace. There is often live music in the inside bar.

3 - Blue Heaven
Place - 39
Drink - 15
Total - 54

The bar in Blue Heaven restaurant in Key West.  Like most of the restaurant it's outside and Caribbean rustic!
Not a big selection of martinis but the Key Lime pie martini very good indeed - by far the best Key Lime martini on the island (a lot of places do them).
Blue Heaven's Bloody Mary is famous and they must serve more than anywhere else on Key West. Especially on Sunday mornings.
Blue Heaven is the place for long, rum cocktails and they are very good.

But the best thing about this "bar" is that it's outside, at Blue Heaven (the famous, "only in Key West restaurant"), it's crazy different and soooooo cool!

Great place to eat too, so don't just come to drink at the cute bar!

4 - Casa Marina hotel - beach bar
Place - 40
Martini - 5
Total - 45

The good is great. The bad is dreadful....

I like to come here for a martini at sunset on the private, hotel pier because it's wonderful, magical.

The bad? The beach bar was a let down. The two bartenders did the best they could but it's understaffed and I had to wait ages. Surely at these prices the management need to put more staff on?  The drinks menu is poor and the drinks not much better. And very expensive, even for a hotel bar.

So the ordeal is getting the drink from the beach bar. Once achieved, move away from the bar and onto a secluded bit of the private, hotel beach or onto one of the Casa Marina's two piers. What a place to watch the sea, the boats, and see the sun set.
Casa Marina beach bar martini menu
Martini glass at Casa Marina!

The sea view is the best, the hotel majestic; the service and drinks bad; but all in all, worth it!

5 - Margaritaville, Key West
Place - 20
Drink - 21
Total - 41

An institution. Where else do you get tropical vibe, a great margarita and Jimmy Buffett, all from  one bar stool? Seriously, the margaritas are excellent and the place is very famous so well worth it.

The bar tenders are friendly and the most efficient in town.

Margartitaville Key West - Booze in the Blender
3 margaritas each later - and here's the evidence to prove it

#6 - Mangoes restaurant and bar, Key West
Place - 33
Martini - 13
Total - 46
 A very tasty mango martini at Mangoes - from a few years back (2008) when this place was good.  It's really gone downhill for martinis unfortunately.
This place excelled in the past and especially in September 2011.  But the martinis have totally gone downhill and the place slips - from 1st to 6th in a few years.  The best thing here is no longer the drinks: it's the people watching you can do from the bar looking up and down Duval Street from your barstool.  The bar staff change regularly here, unlike both the 2 bars above, and I'm afraid the bar tenders this time were not up to making good martinis!

They have changed the menus and hardly any martinis are left on.  Their excellent mango martinis have mysteriously disappeared.  I went off menu and had a blueberry martini and got back blueberry vodka in a martini glass.  Strong but not very interesting!

Mangoes Key West drinks menu - where have the interesting drinks and martinis gone? 
My blueberry martini.  Which was actually just blueberry flavored vodka in a glass.
The bar at Mangoes.The main redeeming factor is the the outdoor view of Duval Street.  This is the best place of all to catch the Key West/Duval Street buzz.  

Here's a November 2010 video of the view from the barstool:

Here's a panoramic view from the bar, right onto Duval Street:

The view from the bar at Mangoes of Aqua night club drag show - its a great vantage point.

7 - Martin's on Duval
Place - 5
Martini - 14
Total - 19

"Best martinis in Key West" they proclaim on a big sign you can see when you pass.  They are not!  The martini menu is poor, the service was fine, the drink was average but there is no bar to sit at so you sit on sofas in a boxed off area in the middle of everything.  No view.  Not very nice ambiance.

Don't bother.

Martini list in Martin's in Key West.  Plastic list and rather boring and traditional.
Really strange drinking area.  Not very nice.
Martin's Duval Street entrance.
Best Martinis in Key West. Or so they claim.  I'd disagree and they come last in my 2012 survey.

Other Key West things you might like on this site....
Key West hotels - where to stay?  best hotels? what area of Key West to be in?

Things to do in Key West - best of list, with lots of pictures and reviews

Hello martini lovers! I am constantly surprised - and delighted - about how many hits this page gets (i.e. a lot!). Key West visitors are obviously thirsty! I would love it if you could leave a comment in the comments section below as to your cocktail requirements, expectations or findings in Key West. Cheers!