THE CONCH REPUBLIC
"I'm a little drunk now," Nick said. "You aren't drunk," Bill said... Bill poured the glass half full of whiskey. "There's just one more shot." "Got any more?" Nick asked. "There's plenty more, but Dad only likes me to drink what's open." "Sure," said Nick. "He says opening bottles is what makes drunkards," Bill explained. "That's right," said Nick. He was impressed. He had never thought of that before. He always thought it was solitary drinking that made drunkards. From “The Three-Day Blow,” by Ernest Hemingway.
If there’s a better time to visit America’s southern-most point than fabled “Hemingway Days,” it would be when the bridge connecting this small town with Cuba is finally built. American railroad visionary Henry Flagler, who did build the Breakers Palm Beach, had drawings and plans made to build a railroad bridge from here to Havana, but hurricanes and other uncertainties kept the drawings on a wall, exhibited today in the Fort Lauderdale Museum.
For now, this festival celebrating the life of one of this tropical island’s most beloved denizens will remain a must visit for those who love a party with purpose. “Papa,” as Ernest Hemingway was called affectionately, lived, partied and wrote here here and his home is one of the best museums in North America.
During his stay he wrote or worked on Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls,The Snows of Kilamanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. He used Depression-era Key West as the setting for To Have and to Have Not, his only novel set in the United States. The more than 60 descendants of Hemingway’s unusual six-toed cats inhabit the grounds, sporting names like Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Audrey Hepburn and Pablo Picasso.
Hemingway is associated with any number of cocktails, but none more so than the Mojito. The drink was invented for him at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway drank them with celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, Erroll Flynn, and countless others. Another drink inspired by Hemingway is the Daiquiri. La Floridita Daiquire or Papa Doble came from the bar in Havana in the hotel Papa frequented just as he did in Key West’s watering holes.
Another important giant of the island’s literary and drinking tradition is playwright Tennessee Williams. Key West is the only place in America where the Mississippi-born playwright owned a home. Like Hemingway, the slow pace and open society was appealing and inspired creativity. Tennessee Williams first became a regular visitor to Key West in 1941 and is said to have written the first draft of A Streetcar Named Desire while at the La Concha Hotel.
Williams favorite cocktail was the Ramos Gin Fizz, a drink fashioned in New Orleans.
Another Key West legend was President Harry Truman whose Little White House is another popular spot for tourists. Mr. Truman’s drink of choice was good Bourbon, the Kentucky staple, I. W. Harper. He had one ounce every morning after his walk.
|Ernest Hemingway aboard The Pilar|
Hemingway and his friends became known as the "The Key West Mob," noted for fishing and drinking in the Dry Tortugas, Bimini, and Cuba for days and weeks at a time in pursuit of giant tuna and marlin. Hemingway's Key West was filled with interesting people from the well to do to the down-on-their-luck fishermen. Hemingway used many of these people as characters in his novel To Have and Have Not, which is about Key West.
Little has really changed here. Locals call it the Conch Republic and a few old Cubans still call the island Stella Mara, star of the sea. It’s crazy, Bohemian, somewhere between Jack Keorac and Jack Kennedy. It’s perfect year round and remains the most romantic destination in the Sunshine State.