Arts & Entertainment

April 29, 2005

Volume 33,
Issue 17

Sat, Feb 27, 2016


by Albert Rodriguez SGN A&E Writer

The first thing you should know about Key West as a Gay traveler is that it wants you. It really wants you. Unlike any other place I’ve been to, this tropical destination does everything possible to woo Gay vacationers. And it succeeds. From Gay-operated trolley rides to pay-what-you-can internet service at its LGBT center, from a steamy nightclub scene to very friendly guest houses, and from Gay-owned boutiques to scorching temperatures perfect for that new Speedo, Key West is truly a Gay traveler’s paradise.

Local Gays are in love with their town, which is often referred to as the “Conch Republic”. They boast of Key West’s open-minded, let loose attitude and it’s year-round welcome mat to the Gay community. They smile widely when telling you that it was their town that unfurled the Sea-to-Sea Rainbow 25 Flag during PrideFest 2003. And they’re honored to assist in recommending a restaurant, tour activity or a cool spot to absorb Key West’s energy and snack on a scoop of homemade ice cream.

If planning a trip to Key West in the foreseeable future, contact the Gay & Lesbian Visitor Information Center at (305) 294-4603/ or try the Naked Concierge at (305) 292-7712/ Or, feel free to contact me at the Seattle Gay News ( and I will gladly pass on any information or recommendations to make your trip a memorable one.


With Seattle as your departure city, traveling to/from Key West is an all-day affair. Several airlines offer non-stop flights to/from Miami, though they are often pricey. Cheaper fares are available, but require a one to two-hour layover at various cities. I flew from Seattle-to-Dallas and Dallas-to-Miami on American Airlines, with Chicago as my connecting point on the return trip. Getting to Key West from Miami is much easier and quicker. Smaller carriers, like American Eagle, provide travelers with a large number of daily flights between the two locations. Airtime is about 40 minutes and the flight is very scenic, gliding past Miami’s skyline and directly over the Atlantic Ocean.

If you’d rather see The Florida Keys on a slower journey, ask for shuttle service at the Miami International Airport or schedule it in advance with your travel agent. Add another four hours of travel time to your itinerary. If weather is rainy and/or stormy in Florida, expect flight delays. I traveled during a thunderstorm and it wasn’t pretty. Next time, I’ll stay the night in Miami and catch a morning flight to Key West.


Like any tourist hotspot, there’s no shortage of hotels to stay at in Key West. Highly recommended are the Wyndham Casa Marina and Wyndham Reach Resort, a pair of beachfront properties that cater wonderfully to the Gay traveler. Wyndham was the first major hotel chain to offer same-sex wedding packages through advertisements in national Gay publications. And they stand firm on their commitment of welcoming the Gay community with open arms. Each hotel is gorgeous beyond words, but the Casa Marina takes the cake. The property has 311 guest rooms, including 71 suites with private balconies. The usual amenities are included, plus two fabulous pools with sexy swimmers getting in and out of the water at all times of the day. Massage service under swaying palm trees and tennis courts across the street are worth noting, and the convenience to rent water sporting equipment (jet skis, snorkel gear), bicycles and motor scooters on the premises will save you a lot of time.

You don’t have to travel far for good food. Sun-Sun, an open-air eatery located on the premises, offers deli/diner selections like burgers, sandwiches, fresh salads and a local favorite, conch fritters. Flaglers, a fancier indoor restaurant also on-site, cooks up delicious steaks, seafood and buffet-style breakfasts. Many A-list celebrities and MTV-related events take advantage of the picturesque Wyndham Casa Marina and Reach Resort for overnight stays or private socials. The daughter of a world famous classical violinist held her Gay ceremony and reception at these properties too. For fares and reservations, call (800) 442-3727 or visit www.wyndhamcasamarinaresort and

Of course, Key West is known for its liberal-minded guesthouses in which travelers can socialize freely with other tourists. The atmosphere is friendly and perfect for solo vacationers. The best little guesthouse in town for Gay men is Island House, an enclosed private compound with fully-equipped gym, steam room and sauna, erotic video room, poolside bar and café, expansive sundeck with misting, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, clothing-optional environment and bodies of all shapes and sizes to look at year-round. For fares and reservation, contact Island House at (800) 890-6284 / Other Gay-run properties are the Oasis Guesthouse & Coral Tree Inn (800) 362-7477 and Atlantic Shores (800) 526-3559. For the ladies, Pearl’s Rainbow is where you want to be. The Lesbian-operated mini resort provides its clientele with rooms and suites in several historic buildings, and includes heated swimming pools, two outdoor hot tubs, daily complimentary continental breakfast, sun decks and an on-site bar & grill. To check on fares or make reservations, contact Pearl’s Rainbow at (800) 749-6696 /


Bars in Key West are usually packed with a fine selection of locals and out of towners, from Latin hotties to military boys to meaty jocks. The Bourbon Street Complex (bourbonstreetcomplex.cox) is a great spot to get your groove on, housing two highly popular bars, Bourbon Street Pub and Bourbon Street Bar. Nightly entertainment includes dancing studs and drag queen performances. The dancers are young and beautiful, unlike other stripper-type clubs where the meat is past its expiration date or tweaking on “tina.” A backyard patio bar provides terrific views of men bathing in the pool that belongs to the complex’s guest quarters, The New Orleans House. There is never a cover and happy hour specials are divine. Nearby is Aqua (, a smaller nightclub with an attractive, in-shape clientele, dancers, drag queens and booming dance music. Tuesday dollar draft nights ($1 until the keg empties) and Sunday’s pre-tea party are worth putting on your itinerary. The Bourbon Street Complex and Aqua are within walking distance of Key West’s premier hotels and guesthouses.


One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my thirtysomething existence was at Shula’s On The Beach. Named after its father-son owners who gained fame as respectable NFL team coaches, Shula’s is heaven for steak lovers. The 22 oz. “cowboy steak” was out of this world, thick and mouthwatering juicy. My dining guests equally devoured their meals and were startled by the large portions. The sides were terrific: double-baked potato, fresh asparagus spears, creamed spinach and just-like-Mom’s mashed potatoes. We barely had room for dessert, but squeezed in as much as we could. We went gaga over Shula’s homemade apple cobbler a la mode and the warm chocolate soufflé served with freshly whipped cream. A local favorite, Key Lime Pie, lived up to its hype. Sweet and tart at the same time, and cool going down. The prices may not fit everyone’s budget, but if you want one really nice meal while in Key West, this is the place to have it at. Shula’s On The Beach is located inside the Wyndham Reach Resort and information can be found on the restaurant franchise’s website

Another recommended eating spot is Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill & Brewery, owned and run by actress Kelly McGillis (Top Gun). The exciting menu features the area’s fresh seafood and tropical fruit. The Caribbean Apple Chicken and Pescado Negra will blow you away, and I suggest washing these down with an authentic mojito or Kelly’s homebrewed Sunset Punch. Watch out though, the liquor creeps up on you and can cause the sky to spin in rapid motion. Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill & Brewery is huddled on a street corner, not far from the Gay scene and information can be found on the restaurant’s website


Besides partying, soaking up the sun, jetskiing, parasailing or renting a moped, here’s some other options to consider, or not consider, while in Key West.

Gay & Lesbian Trolley Tour – The Gayest time you’re likely to have in Key West, at least on wheels, is on the Gay-owned and supported trolley tour that departs and arrives in the town’s center. The conductor has a funny way with words, so expect plenty of naughtiness and Gay cultural references with your ride. The trolley travels through every imaginable street in the new and old parts of Key West, including a drive by Tennessee Williams’ house and to the actual “Southernmost point” of the continental USA. It’s a jolly good time, and the straights often hop on board for all the fun that comes complete with disco and pop-diva tunes. Our tour kicked off with a clanging bell and the sounds of Judy Garland. I would’ve opted for Nirvana, but once in a while you gotta be totally Gay and let it all hang out. Tour admission is $20 for adults. (

Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory – Strongly suggested for your to-do list is a visit to this eye-popping conservatory that is home to hundreds of butterflies and its friendly neighbors, lush varieties of flowers and plants, pet quails and a pair of iguanas. It’s so peaceful inside and remarkably educational for the infrequent naturist. A hatching area, showing the progression from egg to full butterfly, is uniquely enjoyable. Butterflies from all over the world will literally land on your shoulder or fly in front of you. It’s truly wonderful. A gift shop, where Cher once purchased goodies, has expensive and inexpensive keepsakes. Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (M-F), the cost of admission is $10 for adults. (

Ernest Hemingway House & Museum – The Key West residence where Ernest Hemingway lived and penned some of his most noted work is recommended for literature and history buffs. Tour guides detail information about the property and its late famous owner, but you can easily guide yourself through the two-story house and detached work loft. The tour takes no longer than 20 minutes and costs $11 for adults. A visit to this museum is something to squeeze into an afternoon stroll. (

The Original Ghost Tours – If you like your ghost tours spooky and scary, don’t bother with this one. I was extremely excited at the start of our ghostly expedition, due to Key West’s known history of the dark side, but I was very bored by the end of it. Tour guides tell legendary stories and show you weird photographs to offer proof that ghosts once lived in many of the town’s now-converted businesses and guesthouses. I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t expect to see any ghosts during our tour, though I did think it would give me a nice chill. Instead, like my company that night, I couldn’t wait to make up for lost time. If you’d rather decide for yourself, tours begin at 8:00 and 9:00 nightly in front of the “haunted” La Concha Hotel. Current admission prices not available. (

Leslie Robinson

Madelyn Arnold

Paula Martinac