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Friday, March 03, 2017

Key West • U.S.’s Tippy Bottom

Written by  David Placher
Revelers sleep, too! Key West’s Duval Street on a quiet night. Revelers sleep, too! Key West’s Duval Street on a quiet night.

Key West, Florida, is the southernmost point in the U.S. – and is known as one of its gayest places. It’s a small island surrounded by other islands about 160 miles south of Miami and 100 miles north of Havana, Cuba. You can fly to Key West, but driving from Miami is better because you can enjoy the picturesque scenes. Key West has a tropical climate with fresh easterly winds and sea breezes that – especially coming from winter in Baltimore – can make you feel like you’re in utopia. Bicycles are favored for getting around, but free-roaming chickens and beautiful sunsets can be distractions. With Key West’s awesome role in American history, its thriving gay culture, and its annual festivities, visiting this tiny island often helps you recharge your spirit.

Fort Jefferson, located about 70 miles from Key West on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, served after the Civil War as the prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd, convicted of conspiracy for fixing the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. If you visit this historic fort, the sidewalk on the outside offers a person a peaceful walk around the fort.

The “Little White House,” named for President Harry S. Truman, who spent 175 days during 11 visits, is credited for restoring his vigor. The house was built in 1890 on a military base and was the first officer’s quarters. In 1911 the home was converted into a single-family dwelling to house the base commandant. The first president to visit the site was William Howard Taft in December 1912. In 1948, James Forrestal met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to hammer out the “Key West Agreement,” which created the Department of Defense. In 1948 and 1949, President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the Little White House, and in March 1961, President John F. Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan held a summit there.

In addition, Key West is home to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, which was the residence of famous author. It is the house where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works, including classics “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and the non-fiction “Green Hills of Africa.”

When Tennessee Williams, a famous American playwright, visited Key West in 1941, he lured other artists and writers there, many of whom were gay, to extend stays on the island. Since then, gay accommodations have thrived. Alexander’s Guesthouse, located a few blocks from Duval Street, is gay-owed. Its swimming pool becomes a packed gay scene during happy hour. Equator Resort is a popular resort for men only and is located in the heart of the gay district on historic Fleming Street. There’s a clothing-optional pool deck. Island House, another place for men only, has been mentioned in the Travel Channel UK and Passport magazine. This clothing-optional resort has been called the best gay resort in the world.

There are several gay bars and clubs, including Bourbon Street Pub, which has amazing dancers, friendly bar tenders, and awesome music; 801 Bourbon Bar, which has a mix of drag shows, bingo, and karaoke; and Aqua Nightclub, which also has drag shows and great music. There are several other gay clubs and gay friendly bars.

Key West has several annual events that are either gay or very gay friendly. Since 1979, the Key West Tourist Development Association started Fantasy Fest, which brings tourists around Halloween. Fantasy Fest regularly attracts approximately 80,000 people to the island and people are free to dress and behave as they want. Moreover, PrideFest is seven days of events in June, where people come from all over the world to celebrate gay pride.

Key West is also active in keeping gay history. In June 2006, the Key West Gay & Lesbian Museum & Archive opened at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Some of the exhibits include a Tennessee Williams typewriter as well as an extensive collection of memorabilia and papers of Richard A. Heyman, who was one of the nation’s first openly gay mayors.

With everything that Key West has to offer, it should be a place on your bucket list for 2017. Southwest Airlines flies to Fort Lauderdale for around $200 round trip. Renting a car is cheap and the long drive is memorable.

Although hotel prices vary depending on the dates, shop around (Priceline.com or Hotels.com, etc.) to find the cheapest dates.

Key West beckons you to drop on in!

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