As we walked to the Key West Eco Discovery Center Tuesday morning, we passed by a lush shaded courtyard that looked very inviting with a menu posted by the gate. We made note to return to the restaurant for lunch.
Key West Eco Discovery Center is free, interesting and air-conditioned! Among the many cool things to see are a 2500 gallon reef tank with tropical fish and coral, life-size wetland ecology exhibit and an an interesting short movie about the flora & fauna of Key West on land and underwater. The center also exhibited beautifully strange photo art prints depicting an underwater world that looked like a high concept fashion advertising campaign by artist, Andreas Frank, as part of his The Sinking World series.
Chad and I walked through the Truman Annex and by the Little White House after we left the Eco Discovery Center. It's interesting that the Little White House was the winter White House for President Truman, and that important federal business happened there. These days the Truman Annex is mostly prime real estate garden homes and rental homes in a gated community with the Little White House as the anchor property.
We didn't forget about going to lunch at Blue Heaven! We sat in chairs on a covered porch for only about five minutes to wait for a table. A few resident cats sauntered past us to get to their food bowls. We watched roosters, hens and chicks scratching in the giant planted areas. There was an outdoor shower stall with a funny sign that said, "$1 to shower. $2 to watch." Despite the super-casual, relaxed ambiance, the food was great. I had the loaded black bean bowl served with amazing cornbread - so good, hearty and vegetarian! Chad had one of the Blue Heaven Benedicts, and loved it. (Breakfast is served until 2:00 PM daily.) On our way out we spied a game yard with a ping-pong table. I dragged Chad into the cute gift shop so I could buy a t-shirt and a Key Lime Pie scented candle. I love Blue Heaven!
Once again, we returned to the hotel for reading, rest and relaxing in the air-conditioning. Chad took a dip in the pool, but I didn't want to redo hair and makeup. It's a whole thing.
We looked at online reviews for vegetarian-friendly restaurants when deciding where to go later in the evening for dinner. The Cafe billed itself as a mostly vegetarian place with seafood. I had an unimaginative veggie sandwich served with a side of bean salad swimming in too much vinegar. Chad's crab cakes looked really dense sitting atop a bed of soggy lettuce. The ambiance of The Cafe felt weighted a little more towards cruddy than towards charming. (Regular readers know that I'm a fan of charmingly cruddy places and design schemes.) In my non-foodie, very humble opinion, it was our only bad meal in Key West. Maybe the chef was having a bad night? The Cafe is enclosed with good air-conditioning. It had good reviews on tripadvisor.
We made the mistake of stepping into a fancy looking art gallery on Duval Street after dinner. We were just lookie loos wanting to catch a few minutes of air-conditioning. A gallery representative greeted us at the front door, followed us all over the place and explained each piece to us. We tried to smile and nod politely. I think after we made a complete lap of the gallery, and we weren't asking for art to be shipped to our home while handing over the Amex Black credit card, the gallery representative was exasperated with us. He spat out the words, "that piece is worth half a million dollars", when we didn't look dually impressed with a messy painting by the exit door. That's great, dude. Thanks. Bye.
As the sun started to set, we started a mini Duval Street pub crawl. When in Rome, right? The general vibe of the Duval Street bars felt far from celebratory, fun or indulgent. Instead, the vibe felt sad, defeated and unhealthy. I won't name bar names. We chatted with two of the bartenders from our three pub crawl. The first bartender, a young lady, is a very recent transplant from Michigan who drove down with a friend to move to Key West on a whim. She arrived in Key West only ten days before, but already had three jobs to be able to make ends meet. She told us that she hears good things about Austin, and wants to go to a music festival in Austin. The second bartender we talked with is a man close to our age from the Martha's Vineyard area. He is an eight year veteran of Key West, and explained that we were there for the tail end of the high season in Key West. He said that most restaurant and bar employees work 80 hours a week during high season, then spend a lot more time at the beach during the low tourist season. He half-joked that he probably has carpal tunnel syndrome from chopping limes and muddling mint for all the mojitos he prepares.
Living and working in a tourist town seems difficult. Most jobs tend to be service sector, and most rents/real estate prices seem to be sky-high. We met a few cab drivers and hotel employees who were retired from their longtime careers in other places. Two of the people told us they live on houseboats. They think of Key West as paradise. I wish them all the best.
Tune in tomorrow for a final account of the Key West travelogue featuring kayaking among the mangrove trees.