The Story: I can’t remember exactly when I met Sarah-Marie, but it was a few years ago and she was working for an experiential marketing company creating and executing really cool and outlandish programs for major national brands.
For about a year she was living in Manhattan where she planned, built, opened and ran a store selling Pure Dark, a luxury chocolate brand by Mars. The next year, she was living in Chicago where she planned, built, opened and ran something called Make A Mess, an art studio where kids could make serious messes without parents having to worry about cleaning them up. That project was sponsored by Bounty.
Interestingly, I saw her a lot more while she was living in New York and Chicago than I do when she’s living down the street in Manchester. I took a trip to New York to visit Michael and Kimmi one time and we connected with Sarah-Marie for a fun night at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and some drinks in Chelsea.
The year she was in Chicago, we were both lamenting the severity of winter in our respective locations when she mentioned that her dad had bought a condo in the Florida Keys and suggested that we meet down there for a few days. She reasoned that we could work from the condo for at least half days and then go play in the Keys. It sounded like a great idea to me and so we booked it.
We did manage to “work” for at least a few hours each of the mornings we were there but we definitely found time for things like a glass-bottom boat tour in one of the state parks.
As we pulled into the state park, a ranger instructed us to pull down the road and park, and that’s where we’d find the boat. She asked if we went to the right or the left at the end of the road and the ranger said, “well, if you take a right, you’ll end up in the ocean and then we’ll all laugh at you.” We were a little taken aback at her response, initially. However, at the bottom of the road, it was clear that the parking lot was on the left and there was nothing but water on the right, you just couldn’t see any of it from the ranger station. By then, we were mightily amused by the ranger’s response. I suppose when you get asked the same thing 40 times a day, you’ve got to come up with an answer that doesn’t want to make you poke out your own eye.
Key West is one of my favorite places to go on the planet. I just love the vibe, the atmosphere and the scenery. SMC’s dad’s place was about halfway down the Keys and, since we had made our flight reservations, I kept mentioning that my favorite breakfast on the planet was in Key West and that we should try to make it down there. She yeah-yeah-yeah’d me (probably because I sounded like a broken record, much as I thought I was being clever about dropping my hints) and finally acquiesced to making the drive on the Saturday of our stay.
Blue Heaven is a totally funky-cool restaurant out behind a house in a fenced-in yard just on the edge of Bahama Village in Key West. I’ve had dinner there a few times, but their breakfast is literally worth driving all the way down Route 1 for.
The wait is gonna be an hour, minimum, but don’t worry, you can hang out at the outside bar and savor (or gulp) mimosas or key lime martinis while you wait. Some days they’ll have coconut bowling set up behind the bar to pass the time. Really, though, your best bet is to spend the time taking in the scene.
The restaurant used to be inside the house. Now, there’s just a little shop and the kitchen operation inside. All the tables are out in the yard. Hundred-year-old trees suspend old sails to form a canopy of sorts over the yard. Roosters and chickens roam free in the yard (and around a good bit of Key West). There are really interesting and unique decorations-cum-art-installations hung from the fences and around the yard – the kind of stuff you want to just absorb.
By the time you sit down, you’re a little boozy, chilled out and ready for some breakfast. That’s when you want to order the house special. You can look at the menu; there’s some really stellar stuff on it and, if you come back a few days in a row (as I’ve done), you can try some stuff off the menu. If you’re only there for one morning, though, do yourself a favor – put down the menu and order the special: lobster and asparagus eggs benedict with key lime hollandaise. Let me say that again: lobster and asparagus eggs benedict with key lime hollandaise sauce.
Now I’m not a big fan of hollandaise; I think it something that’s really easy to do poorly and average hollandaise sauce is neither worth the calories nor the cholesterol. However! The pure perfection and scrumdiddlyumtptiosness of key lime hollandaise sauce is quite simply sublime. (Get it? Lime?)
After only a few bites of her breakfast, Sarah was ready to agree that the breakfast was well worth the two-hour drive we made to get it.
We spent the rest of the day in Key West and hit most of my greatest hits. After breakfast, you’re so full that you’ve got to walk around and Duval Street is the perfect place to do that. By the time you get to a little place called Rick’s Tree House, you’re ready for a break and Rick’s is the place to do it.
Catty corner from Sloppy Joe’s Café, the tourist mecca once allegedly frequented by Papa Hemingway himself, is an eight-seat outdoor bar – my favorite in town. When you sit at the bar, you’re faced with an adequate selection of booze on three tiers and an industrial-sized juicer bolted to the bar, above which hangs a three-tiered wire basket of fresh citrus fruit. You choose a booze and your fruit and Barbara – a fixture behind Key West bars for three decades – will make you something so delicious you’ll hardly be able to comprehend it. My recommendation is vanilla vodka and orange juice.
Our two seats at the bar were next to a lovely older gentleman who chatted amiably with Barbara. They clearly knew each other so we knew he wasn’t a tourist. In fact, he turned out to be a local celebrity: Denis Wardlow, the former mayor of Key West and the Prime Minister of the Conch Republic! We spent the next couple of hours chatting with him and listening to his stories.
After Rick’s, and hanging with the prime minister, it was time to eat again so we ambled over to B.O.’s Fish Wagon for conch fritters. A few years earlier, Deb, a friend from high school turned me on to the dilapidated, overgrown shamble of a shack that serves up amazing fritters.
We finished our day with the Sunset Festival at Mallory Square and headed back to Isla Morada to pack and gird ourselves for our imminent return to our respective winters.
The trip was fantastic and I was really jazzed to share some of my favorite spots with Sarah.
The Drink: When I originally mentioned the idea of The 40 Drinks Project to Sarah, she thought I should do the 40 drinks in 40 days, which sounded outrageous at first and then I realized how much work it would be and how it would limit me to only the people in close proximity to me at that point in time.
Then, she thought that our drink together ought to be 40 drinks in 40 hours. She said we could accomplish it in a weekend if we started on Friday night after work. She had it all planned out with rules that said that we could have people do a certain number of our drinks for us as our proxy and ways we could “earn” a small number of hours to sleep. Had I been turning 24, I would not have even blinked my eyes at the idea. In fact, I’m sure that I did that weekend a number of times in my 20s. However, being 40, and having slowed down a little and (grudgingly) turned in my professional-drinker badge, I practically had a hangover by the time she was done outlining the adventure.
But, never one to do anything small, Sarah planned her birthday party to be our drink together. She invited 31 people and we did 31 shots to celebrate her 31st birthday and my 40th together. My shot was a kamikaze, garnished with the traditional lime slice – a reminder of our wonderful key lime breakfast.