Intern Karolina soaks up the brilliance in Key West.
Forget the heavenly beaches, adorable colorful homes, or even a slice of homemade key lime pie—the thing I was most excited about while visiting the Florida Keys was to do the Hemingway Tour. When I was just a couple of years old, I decided that my new name was Natalia—I liked it better—and my grandfather decided that my new last name was Hemingway, because that was the only American last name he knew. Apparently that’s how I introduced myself for several years after. The retelling of this story piqued my interest in Ernest Hemingway when I was older, and I read several of his books. My favorites are The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. On family vacations, I made it a point to visit Hemingway’s favorite bars in Paris, France and Ronda, Spain. That’s why my first thought upon visiting the Eden-like Key West was to follow Hemingway’s footsteps.
Walking down the quiet neighborhood streets in balmy weather, the houses nestled amid tropical plants, and a view of the ocean across the street, it’s no wonder why someone would want to live in Key West, Florida. Ernest Hemingway moved to Key West with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, in December of 1928, and spent time there on and off until 1939 when he moved to Cuba with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. While in Key West, he frequented a bar, which he renamed Sloppy Joe’s, and kept a six-toed cat named Snowball.
During my self-planned Hemingway Tour of Key West, I had breakfast at the Six-Toed Cat Café, a tribute to Hemingway’s polydactyl felines; visited the Hemingway home; had a drink at Sloppy Joe’s and the bar that was its original location; and ate at Blue Heaven, a local restaurant where Hemingway used to bet on cockfights (which they no longer hold).
My first stop was Captain Tony’s Saloon, a bar I stumbled into on my first night on Greene Street, which boasts that it was the original location of Hemingway’s favorite, Sloppy Joe’s, from 1933 to 1937. The bar itself was dimly lit with no door, just an opening into the street. A live musician strummed beach tunes to the crowd sitting at the dark wood bar. I enjoyed myself there, though unlike Hemingway, did not order any of the hard stuff.
The next day, I started off the morning with breakfast at the Six-Toed Cat Café, right next to the Hemingway house on Whitehead Street, where I ate at a table shaped like a six-toed paw. While this place didn’t exist during Hemingway’s heyday in the Keys, I enjoyed the tribute to his six-toed furry friends and a delicious breakfast. After that, I went to the Hemingway Home and Museum, where I tagged along on the house tour and learned from a lively tour guide (and incidentally, Hemingway-look-alike) everything about Hemingway’s from his wild love life and extensive travelling to his disciplined writing and the bipolar disorder that eventually killed him.
The house was beautiful and fairly large. Sunlight and a quiet tropical breeze passed through the many large windows of the house. A balcony wrapped around the entire second floor. A different chandelier made of hand-blown Venetian glass decorated each of the main rooms. And, of course, one or two of the forty to fifty cats (descendants of Snowball) could be found in each room. Just across from the rear of the house was the carriage house, the second story of which was long ago converted into Hemingway’s writing studio. Rumor has it, to be able to get there faster in the morning, a plank was set up from the house’s balcony to the top steps of the studio so that Hemingway could simply cross over instead of going through the house and garden. The studio was blocked off from public entrance with a gate, though after a peek in at the open windows with a view of the garden, well-stocked bookshelves, and simple desk with a typewriter, it’s no surprise that Hemingway produced some great work while in the Keys.
In the evening, I went to Sloppy Joe’s for a specialty Sloppy-Rita and a chance to listen to some live jazz. The place was large and crowded, but well worth the trip—the band was amazing on the piano and trumpet and certainly set the mood. After a long day, I enjoyed a quiet dinner at Blue Heaven, in their large outdoor patio—lights strung up between the palm trees—presumably just where the cockfights used to be.
Besides soaking up the local haunts of one of the most famous American authors, I got to soak up some sun at the Keys, too. Overall, it was a great trip, and it’s understandable why Hemingway would have frequented this little slice of paradise for so many years. Though I didn’t buy any souvenirs, hopefully while I was there, I picked up a bit of the brilliance that inspired Hemingway during his lifetime.