Key West Nightlife & Bars
The nightlife scene in Key West is certainly in keeping with the island’s laidback atmosphere, though it’s much more than Jimmy Buffett tunes and Caribbean steel drums. In fact, the vast array of talented local musicians is what makes a night out on the town in Key West so memorable.
There’s no better example of live music done right than the Green Parrot, a longtime locals’ hangout where its history is found in the eccentric décor that adorns the walls. The centerpiece of this open-air spot with a Bahamian vibe is the bar, the perfect spot to catch the live musical acts on the adjacent stage. When the bands aren’t playing, the bar’s legendary jukebox is sure to please music fans with its classic rock, blues and funk selections. This corner saloon has been around since 1890. Before becoming the Green Parrot in the 1970s, it was a grocery store and the Brown Derby Bar, which was popular with submarine sailors stationed in Key West.
Another great spot for live local music is the Hog’s Breath Saloon, established in 1976. Hog’s Breath owner Art Levine boasts that they host three musical acts daily, which adds up to 1,100 musical acts a year. It’s impossible to stroll by this drinking establishment and not recognize the iconic hog logo that graces the entrance and their T-shirts. This is certainly the place to go for a rowdy good time.
A new kid on the block in the live music scene is the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon. The compound sits in the 200 block of Duval at 4 Charles Street. With so many singer/songwriters performing at the Smokin’ Tuna, it has been named the host site for the annual Key West Songwriter’s Festival, which is held every May.
For something a bit more high energy, Key West’s nightspot Aqua Bar and Nightclub is reminiscent of clubs found on Miami’s famed South Beach. A highlight at Aqua, which welcomes the gay and straight crowds, is the nightly “Reality is a Drag” show. It has attracted more than a few celebrities, including tennis great Martina Navratilova, actor Christian Slater and singers/songwriters the Indigo Girls. On Monday nights, the nightclub features dueling bartenders a la “Cocktail” and dancing following the 11 p.m. drag show.
Hip-shaking action with a Latin beat takes place at El Meson de Pepe, the Cuban restaurant next to Mallory Square. Every night at sunset, the salsa band Caribe of Key West performs on El Meson’s outdoor patio, bringing their saucy, percussion-heavy sounds to the crowds that gather there. Mojitos in hand, couples take to the cobblestone area, which becomes their dance floor, and begin the hip-swiveling celebration that is salsa dancing.
Some of the most sophisticated nightlife in Key West is found at Virgilio’s Martini Bar, which owner Bill Lay describes as “the last of the speakeasies – very sexy, very swanky.” The bar features live music seven nights a week, mixing it up with Latin, jazz, blues, rock, funk and even country acts. They’ve devised their own signature drink – the “Special” Martini, made with top-shelf Vanilla Stoli vodka, real espresso and three olives. Lay says it’s their homage to Key West’s Cuban roots. On Sunday nights, the club features interactive entertainment with audience participation.