BY: JANET STEINBERG
Key West, Florida is many things to many people.
This Southernmost Point in the continental United States (only 90-miles
from Cuba) is a place where pirates once preyed and presidents once
played. It is a place where straight meets gay, where drunk
drinks with sober. lt is Caribbean and continental,
traditional and avant garde. It is Mallory Square Pier where the
local Conch people, the visitor, the juggler, the belly dancer, and
the mime, all gather for nature’s nightly spectacular…a fiery sunset when that
great orange ball seems to drop off the edge of the universe.
But for me, Key West is best remembered for three salty characters that
made a permanent place in the city’s history…a saloon keeper…a
writer…and a president.
THE SALOON KEEPER: Joe Russell is a name you may not recognize, but I’m
sure you’ve heard of “Sloppy Joe’s”, a bar that was born on December
5, 1933, the day prohibition ended.
Joe Russell was the original proprietor of a bar named the “Blind Pig”,
located in a rundown building that Russell leased for three dollars a
week. Upon addition of a dance floor, the name was changed to
the “Silver Slipper”. It was a shabby, uncomfortable saloon
where good friends gathered for gambling, fifteen-cent whiskey, and
ten-cent shots of gin.
Ernest Hemingway, Joe’s friend and a favorite patron of Russell’s bar,
suggested that Joe change the name of the bar to Sloppy
Joe’s. The new name was adopted from Jose Garcia’s Rio Havana
Club that sold liquor and iced seafood. Because the floor was always
wet with melted ice, his patrons taunted this Spanish Joe with running a
sloppy place…and the name stuck.
SLOPPY JOE’S BAR
Sloppy Joe’s is by no means sloppy. It is a well-oiled operation that
gives humongous portions of food and drink at
acceptable prices. Our order of Havana Nachos (tortilla
chips, topped with jalapenos, tomatoes, black olives, black
beans, cheddar and jack cheese, served with sour cream, salsa and Sloppy
Joe mix was meant to be an appetizer. One order turned out
to be lunch for two.
SINGLE ORDER OF HAVANA NACHOS…ENOUGH FOR TWO
Florida) or a “Frozen Pain in the Ass”. I don’t know what that Rum
Runner and Pina Colada drink tastes like, but its name intrigues me.
RITA…FLORIDA’S BEST MARGARITA
THE WRITER: “Papa” Hemingway, the first important writer to
discover and make Key West his home, arrived there in 1928 when he
was working on “A Farewell to Arms”. lt was in Key West that he
penned most of his great novels including “For Whom the
Bell Tolls”, “To Have and Have Not” and “The
Today, visitors can tour the National Historic Landmark that was the home
Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Hemingway. Several items of the property are
particular note. A replica of the ceramic cat sculpture, given to the
“Papa” Hemingway by his friend Picasso, sits atop a chest.
A discarded Sloppy Joe’s urinal, given to Hemingway by his good friend
Russell (owner of Hemingway’s hang-out joint “Sloppy Joes”), was
what must be the most famous feline watering hole in the world. An old
olive jar forms the top of the fountain. The trough that forms the base of
fountain is the above-mentioned urinal. Hemingway’s then-wife
surrounded the trough with colorful tiles in an attempt to disguise its
Also noteworthy is a penny embedded in the poolside patio. Having
$20,OOO for the first swimming pool built in Key West (in the late
Hemingway took a penny from his pocket, pressed it into the wet cement of
surrounding patio. Hemingway then told his wife: “Well, you might as
well take my last cent.” The wife, Hemingway’s second of four, was
The poolside penny remains.
A living memorial to the late author has also been preserved at his
colonial mansion. Approximately 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats,
of the nearly 50 cats who lived there with “Papa”, still call
907 Whitehead Street
places in South Florida, initially served as the command headquarters
during the Spanish American War. In 1890, the
U.S. Navy built an 8700-square-foot home on the waterfront to house
the base commander and paymaster.
S. TRUMAN’S LITTLE WHITE HOUSE
1946 to 1952, this country’s 33rd president Harry S. Truman used the house
175 days as both a retreat and functioning White House. It
was while at the Little White House that President Truman enacted a
Civil Rights Executive Order. In addition to Truman, the
Little White House also served as a Presidential retreat for U.S.
Presidents Taft, Eisenhower, Carter, Kennedy, and Clinton. Today, the
Harry S. Truman Little White House is one of our county’s most significant
historical sites and Florida’s only Presidential Museum.
When you step inside this comfy, unpretentious, wooden two-story home, you
feel as if you are an invited guest, coming to share a meal, listen
to a great fishing story, play a game of poker at the round rattan
poker table, or hear about the important events impacting
|PRESIDENT TRUMAN’S POKER TABLE|
The furnishings in the home are largely the original furnishings used by
Harry, Bess, and Margaret Truman. The presidential crystal, the red
chintzy fabrics, and the upright piano are still there. On the
wall is one display of White House Christmas Ornaments and another is
a display with photos of Key West’s #1 Tourist. And on that famous
mahogany desk is a large green blotter, an ink pen and inkwell, and that
famous sign “The BUCK STOPS here!”
TRUMAN’S MEMORABLE QUOTE
JANET STElNBERG is the winner of 38 national Travel Writer Awards and an
lnternational Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority
in Mariemont, Ohio