Me & Den in Key West, Part III
Gettin’ Down at the Doggie Bar


We trolled for another hour with no strikes, no sighting of birds. Mario gestured to Manuel to bring the lines in. Me and Den each took a rod and began winding. We de-rig the rods and set them in the overhead “rocket launcher,” then help Manuel shape up the cockpit as Capt. Mario swings the bow of “Reel Teaser” to the west and we head in. Meanwhile, from deep in the “water, sodas, Señor” cooler Manuel discovers cold beer. “Water, sodas Señor, changes to “Cerveza Señors. Por Favor.” “Whoa” did they taste good. Nothing quite like a good cold beer end of a hot fishing day with “blood in the boat.”

Forty-five minute run and we were back in Garrison Bight, fish burgees streamed off the starboard outrigger telling all who were interested, fish buyers, onlookers, perspective clients, and the like we’d caught fish that day. Mario and Manuel standing tall. Successful day of fishing.

Fish are property of the boat after sports are given what they wanted. Some of the local restaurants would prepare caught fish for fishermen, but there is no way anyone on vacation would want the pounds of fish landed at Garrison Bight on an almost daily basis. Pictures were more order of the day. Bragging rights to be hung on living room walls, in studies or at the office for memories of days like this. Fish were sold to restaurants, fish dealers, and locals lining up, as fish are gutted and cleaned. Fish heads and racks from cleaned fish are also highly sought after. Inexpensive protein yielding elegant fish stews in family “Conch” houses, the small wooden structures still lining the back streets of Key West.

Me and Den stood back. Watched the scene unfold. Looked for next day’s boat, still out, and tipped the good mate, Manuel. Any other town we’d have looked out of place with our flannel shirts tied over tee shirts and cords still rolled up. But Key West is a place of characters, wannabes and real. We fit right in.

Walking back to our hotel, we stop at Sunset restaurant for beer and sandwiches. Beginning to idle down, we slide into that layed back, delightful slow motion mode which to locals is what Key West is really about. We carry on conversations with surrounding tables, chat with the bar tender and waitress, find out what places are hot, then wend our way back to the hotel and no luggage. Whereabouts still unknown. Instead of two chaise lounges by the pool, it’s a shopping trip. We find a small consignment shop down the street where we outfit in shorts, outlandish tropical shirts and straw hats soon curled western style. Local drug store supplies requisite shaving gear and toothbrushes as we walk back to catch the last rays of the long Key day and a snooze.

By seven we’re rested, showered, shaved and out the door. Taxi hailed, we head for downtown. First stop Telegraph Wharf for a bar commonly known to locals as the “Doggie Bar.” Addressed accordingly due to number of dogs accompanied by patrons. Every shape and size. Danes down to Labs and Shitzus. Good thing dogs don’t drink. Waitstaff couldn’t keep up..

“We’ll have two margaritas”, Den says after his eyeballs are safely back in their sockets having bounced off the scantily clad waitresses. “Ah.. perhaps you’d better make that “four”.

We laugh. Evening is underway. We’re joined by two guys we’d met at the hotel from Buffalo, New York, also on the four-star deal. We swap stories of blizzards, fishing and hunting trips, ogle the scantily clads and enjoy a few more drinks. Den has begun to wander and table hop. Straw hat pushed back, he looks and acts like he’s lived here for years. Giveaway is sunburned face, arms, and a white line around his knees where new shorts fail to cover from rolled cords of day’s fishing.

Key West is a place of characters, wannabes and real. We fit right in.

Sufficient libation attended, fierce hunger building, decide a good meal was in order. I collar Den, collect Roger and Joe, our new best friends, and head off down the dock and across parking lot to Zane’s Place with it’s weathered, wood paneled walls. Zane’s, a Key West icon is noted for great steaks where size and taste are order of the day. Shipped in weekly, sides are dry cured for four weeks in temperature controlled refrigeration and then can literally be cut with the proverbial “fork.” We order pound and a quarter New York Strips, seared crisp, rare, along with baked Russet potatoes, sour cream on the side, Caesar salad mixed at the table and a dozen oysters on half shell, accompanied by bottles of Pinot Noir, slightly cooled. I add a straight-up Stoli martini, olives, dirty rocks on the side.

Conversation courses through the day’s events as Den tries to explain in detail our “Teaser” episode with available chairs and two willing patrons semi- pantomiming the scene. He does a crazy good job with half the dining room watching before the grand finale, him bringing in the last fish. I was convinced by then he’d handled the entire cockpit and I was watching from the bridge. We all cheered and someone actually sent over a bottle of wine. Food was serving as Den would eat a bit, get up and table hop some more. He’d come back, eat, then make the rounds again. We’d begun to wear down the steaks when he finally sat and allowed some of these folks would like to join us, that is, if we wanted to make a tactical move onto Duval Street after dinner. Accord unanimous, we were soon moving slowly in that direction, introductions being made all round.

We turned onto Duval, past the “Half Shell Raw Bar” and “Dirty Harry’s” then up the famous old street. Couple of the guys stopped to buy hand-wrapped cigars to which one wife made the pointed remark, “You’re not smoking that tonight are you, DEAR.” This followed by a “Yes Dear, no.” Difficult to not light up with such rich fragrance from other smokers flowing by.

Height of winter season in Key West. Streets were loaded with folks on cruise ships, tourists, blue water sailors, snow birds on vacation, and ever present and colorful locals. All looking for a good time, all out to capture the party spirit of Key West. Building memories for down times.

Group had grown to somewhere in mid-teens as we found tables in “Willie T’s” bar where a trio was holding forth with good country and Buffet mix. Music not so so loud we could talk without shouting. Den was soon off and holding court again, telling of other adventures we’d made, all the while acting to waves of laughter. Trio finally realizes they’ve some serious competition and the leader calls over and asks Den if he’d like to come up on stage and bring his act with him. Den, with a sweep of his straw hat, bows, “Be right there. Don’t ya move a Goddamned inch.”

With barely discernable waver in his step, Den makes his way through the crowd onto stage, takes mike from lead guitar, adjusts it down and says, “Now I’m here to tell you folks this is one fine group of “strummahs.” But I’m gonna just help them along for a number tonight so you folks can go back home and tell your kids and other relatives that you danced to the all time greatest in this fair land of ours.”

Place had quieted down to an expectant hush. Den covers mike, talks with trio for a moment, and picks up a spare guitar. He plays about any instrument, can’t, he’ll make it up. Puts strap around his neck, pushes the old straw hat back on his head, flicks a couple of chords and launches into “Rootin Scootin Boogie.”

What are you gonna do? What’s anyone gonna do when Brookes and Dunn’s masterpiece of toe tappin’ music fills a crowded room of people having a good time? Gotta dance! Dance we did. Place started rockin’. Couldn’t sit down. Every soul in the place that could move was up. Small dance area was packed. Chairs slid under tables to make more room. Male to female partners didn’t seem to make a difference. People just stood and flailed to the beat. Times the band started to slow, crowd would call for more. “Rootin Scootin” would keep on rollin.’

Finally, in that mysterious way of jamming musicians, they strum to a halt. Lead guy waves a bow at Den and off comes the straw hat. Grinning he sweeps low. Looks like he’s about to lose his balance then gives a quick two step stagger, puts his arm around the lead guy, laughs, lifts his guitar, and waves. Crowd comes back with another roar for more, but Den decides that’s enough and makes his way back to the table through a gauntlet of laughter and back slapping. Drinks from the crowd start appearing on the table. We stay and talk with our group, now interrupted by the crowd trying to shake Den’s hand. He’s well on his way to being Duval’s “celebrity for the night.” Time to move along. Someone, old Key West hand, suggests a gay bar show at one of the night clubs further up the street, Duval being unofficially separated with lower street “straight” and upper half “gay.”

We leave, drinks in hand, and move on up the crowded street, deftly maneuvering away from any men or women wearing the blue. Official policy is “no drinks on the street.” However, if they’re “out of sight” no one seems to get excited over mere rules. This is a party town and it’s reputation is ever at stake.

• R E C I P E •

Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are quite possibly hundreds of recipes for one of our most important, National Icon, cookies. However, when I sampled this one by Maine native, ex Lifeflight nurse and “pan rattler extraordinaire”, Carol Jordan, I realized I’d sampled CCC heaven. Lucky for us FV readers, Carol agreed to share the recipe:

MIX: 1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

ADD: 2 cups Crisco
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon water

Mix all above ingredients well.

ADD: 4 eggs...1 at a time and mix well after each egg.

ADD in 4 ¾ cups flour, 1 cup at a time mixing well after each cup.

ADD and blend one 12-oz. pkg chocolate chips (can be half and half white and brown)

Bake at 400 deg. 9 ½ minutes.

Makes over 3 doz. cookies which will freeze well. Recipe can be successfully halved.

Fair Winds and Good Roads
– Lee Wilbur