Key West…No, you can’t really see Cuba from here


Sarah Palin, in the 2008 presidential campaign was Alaska’s governor. Most people thought she actually said, “I can see Russia from my house.” She never said that; it was Tina Fey.

The “Saturday Night Live” comedian could have been standing in Key West at the southernmost point in the United States and saying, “I can see Cuba from here.” Well, she really couldn’t have because it’s 90 miles away and that would be difficult even on one of the Key’s beautifully clear days.

Southernmost Point is one of the more popular spots to visit in Key West. There’s nothing to do there but stand in a long line on a hot day and wait your turn to have your picture taken in front of the colorful concrete buoy telling you that you are at the southernmost point in the U.S. But that’s part of the fun.

Aside from the “selfie” value, the Point has little else to offer. There are a couple of souvenir shops nearby but nothing else. Don’t even think of driving there because you’ll never find a place to park.

In fact, that holds true for almost all of Key West. The little island is a throwback to days when the well-heeled came there to take in the sun and salt air. Today the narrow streets are decidedly not car-friendly.

One of the big businesses on the key is scooter rentals, not the Jazzy-type for the physically challenged, but the Vespa-type. Rentals are reasonable and pretty much the same no matter where they are rented. While traffic is heavy throughout the Key, it generally moves slowly and isn’t a danger except to those who’ve spent the day or night at one or more of the local watering holes. Scooters can fit in to park almost anywhere, but if you haven’t been on a two-wheeled vehicle since that Schwinn you got as a 10-year-old for Christmas, consider a taxi or walking.

While Southernmost Point (and that really is its name) is very popular, arguably the most popular spot in Key West is Mallory Square at sunset. The square fills with a host of entertainers as the sun sinks lost towards the horizon. There are jugglers, some of whom juggle flaming torches, and several artists and jewelry tables. All of it is informal and a lot of fun.

There is no seating at Mallory Square except for the concrete walls lining the waterfront. If you don’t get there early, you’ll stand and more than likely look over the top of heads to see the sunset.

To the left of Mallory Square is the Westin Hotel, just yards from the water’s edge. In front of the hotel is a fenced area open to the public with tables and chairs. Sit there, relax, order a Cuba Libre (rum, Coke and a slice of lime) or anything that suits your taste. You’ll have an excellent view of the setting sun.

If you watch the sun closely enough as it sinks below the horizon, you may see something very few people ever get to witness. At the instant it sinks below the horizon, there is a green flash. But you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss it. Most people blink and before their eyelids open, the flash has come and gone. It really is that fast.

After the sun dips below the horizon, the crowd thins like the eighth inning of a lopsided baseball game. Some remain to see the last pitch while others rush to beat the traffic. Mallory Square is much the same. Diehards remain to soak in the atmosphere, watch the juggler toss flaming mini-torches in the air, pretend to be interested in the jewelry tables and show even less interest in the decorated conch shells.

The crowds begin to take a slow walk through the narrow streets with some checking into the numerous bars. Arguably the most famous on the Key is the Hog’s Breath Saloon. The watering hole’s motto is “Hog’s Breath is better than no breath at all.” Okay — if it’s a choice of suffocating or breathing in hog’s breath, the motto holds true.

Anyone entering the saloon quickly understands the meaning. The place is so crowded you can barely breathe. Yogi Berra once famously said: “The place is so crowded no one goes there anymore.” He might have been standing in Hog’s Breath. The best thing to do is walk in the entrance and out the exit just so you can say you were there.

You might also want to stop in the ubiquitous gift shop and buy some Hog’s Breath BBQ rub, another item you’ll end up putting in a closet or a shirt with the name and logo. Interestingly, unlike the usual gift shop, this place is not very over-priced and the quality of the shirts is excellent.

Had dinner already and in the mood for some interesting dessert” Head on over to 926 Simonton Street for a dessert-only place called “Better than Sex.” Call ahead for a reservation (305-296-8102), or you could end up on a line reaching into the street with couples waiting to find out what is better than sex.

The place is dark and cozy, but the name belies the activity. This isn’t a brothel that dispenses food on the side. It’s a strictly after-dinner stopover, mostly for visitors looking for something different.

The offerings are not inexpensive. Glasses of wine approach $11, beer is $9 and coffee is almost $10. Drink slowly, my friends. Dessert offerings are aptly named for the place: Sex Appeal, ice cream with “sex” written on top in chocolate sauce, and Man Candy.

They are all excellent choices and will delight the palate. But understand that the name of the place is a misnomer. The dishes are great but they will never be better than sex.

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