We’d planned to celebrate our friend Dave’s birthday in Key West so Dave and Sharon drove down from Dunedin. It’s nice that people of his advanced age still want to celebrate their birthdays! Another friend, Bob, drove down from Miami to join the celebration.
We kicked off birthday day by going to an old haunt, Blue Heaven, for brunch (older people need to sleep in). I don’t often name restaurants in this blog, but I’ll make an exception for this one. It’s a funky open-air restaurant with absolutely fabulous food. The setting is the (large) yard of a house; there’s a stage for live music, an area for artists to show their art, and a bar as well as the dining area. The “Key West Gypsy Chickens” walk around the floor of the restaurant. This is one of those places that always has a long wait, but it is absolutely worth it.
Where did the chickens come from? It’s thought that they have been in Key West for over 175 years, but their numbers grew in the 1950s when thousands of Cubans fled the revolution and came to Key West to support a booming cigar industry. Some brought their chickens with them for meat and eggs, but the roosters were prized for their beauty and prowess for cockfighting. Over time, many escaped or were released by their owners.
They are self-sufficient and are protected by the city. However, Key West’s residents are split between chicken lovers and chicken haters. The chicken haters complain that the chickens scratch their yards, poop on their cars and crow loudly at all hours and the chicken lovers believe that the chickens are a part of Key West’s history and character. Either way, there sure are some handsome roosters wandering around Key West!
We started with some Bloody Marys at the bar and moved on to Lobster Eggs Benedict and other goodies. One of the best brunches ever, with fresh air, good company and roosters, hens and little chicks running about.
Later that afternoon, we continued the celebration by taking a sunset cruise. This group all love sailboats and sailing, and there’s something about sunsets and Key West. We chose the Schooner Western Union for our cruise; it is the official flagship of Key West and, as of 2012, also the official flagship of the State of Florida.
The Schooner Western Union was built in 1939 and served for 35 years as a cable vessel for the Western Union Telegraph Company, repairing and maintaining undersea telegraph cable throughout Key West, Cuba and the Caribbean. She was involved in a standoff with Cuban gunboats, participated in the Mariel Boat Lift and also served as a training vessel for troubled youths for the “Vision Quest Group”. She is now back in Key West and is the last remaining working coastal sailing vessel from Florida’s great maritime history and one of the oldest working wooden schooners in the U.S.
It was a clear, though slightly chilly evening. The cruise was lovely, with an open bar and some good old Key West conch chowder. The crew invites the passengers to help raise the sails, and, at a point along the way, there is a mock “battle” with another sailboat during which they exchange cannon fire (thankfully no actual cannonballs are launched). Another beautiful sunset over Key West. And we sailed back into the harbor under a clear starlit evening. Must be a good omen for many more birthdays to come.
There are lots of arts and crafts exhibitors and street performers to keep everyone entertained and the crowd includes people from all over the world who come to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration.
So, when Hector’s mom and brother visited us briefly here in Key West, we took them to Mallory Square to partake in this great ritual. What a great idea to create a space for celebrating the sunset each and every day.
We had another opportunity to go on another sunset cruise with some newfound friends from our campground on their boat. Our host Flipper took us on a cruise to “danger reef” which sounded ominous until we got the joke. The reef is named after the buoy that marks it which is clearly labeled “Danger … Reef”. Hah!