Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Keys and The Southernmost Beach Hotel...

We’ve just experienced what might be one of the best vacation destinations anywhere. Certainly the Southernmost Beachside Hotel in Key West, owned by my old friend Robyn and her husband Dale, (our new friend), is situated on one of the most desirable pieces of real estate in North America - on the southernmost point of the US, bordered by clear and colorful ocean.

The 279 units are pretty well split evenly between two parts: The Southernmost Hotel occupies the property across the road and the Southernmost Beachfront Hotel, with two classic homes that have been refurbished and made into bed & breakfasts occupy the waterfront side of the road. It’s luxurious, casual, comfortable and welcoming, and the location is nothing less than spectacular. Key West is the southernmost place in the US and the hotel occupies the southernmost piece of land in Key West.
Pictured are some random shots of the Southernmost Beachside Hotel, including the restaurant, the pool at night and views from our room..

Five minutes after we were introduced, Dale said, “Let’s go have lunch in the restaurant.” It seemed less a question than an order. Crossing through the huge pool area, we approached the El Fresco style restaurant, which is exactly what you'd wish for in the tropics. It has a roof but the rest is pretty well open air. Dale recommended that everybody try a cup of the new seafood chowder before lunch, which was all exceptional.

It didn’t take but a few minutes observing our surroundings, and talking to our hosts, to realize that we were immersed in a real going concern. The restaurant was bustling, the staff were hustling but attentive and a lot of people were enjoying themselves at the beach, around the pool, in the restaurant, at the pool bar and generally lazing around the property. Dale is very focused on business. Our first impression was that he was a very intelligent businessman, but we were a little concerned that his focus might be so intent as to make him uninteresting to us, and vice versa.

Dale went back to work for the afternoon so Robyn took us to our room, which was one of the nicest rooms in the hotel, with it’s own deck overlooking the water and the pool area. The hotel is at the quiet end of the mile-long strip called Duval Street, where restaurants, bars, galleries, gift shops and night clubs abound. Robyn took us for a guided tour. The World Cup Power Boat races were on and we could see them racing around the harbour from the cruise ship pier. We passed the home of Ernest Hemingway and then stopped for a Margarita at the Blue Heaven Bar, which Hemingway frequented, and where, from time to time, he reportedly engaged in an old fashioned punch-up.

Pictured is the Blue Heaven Bar. The back is open air, where we had our Margaritas at the bar, under the Banyan trees.

Janice and I went back to our room to enjoy the sunset from our deck, showered, and then met Dale, Robyn and another friend of theirs from Aspen, Eddie, at the poolside bar for a drink before we all headed back to the restaurant for dinner. Dale paid the bar bill. Again, guided by Dales’ suggestion, we all had the Yellow-Tailed Snapper which is indigenous to The Keys and rarely found anywhere else. Delicious. Dale wouldn’t even let us leave the tip.

It turns out the eighty-three-year-old Eddie, who looks more like he’s seventy-three, is a retired women’s casual wear manufacturer from New York City. He and Dale are championship Bridge players who travel the country to various tournaments.

Pictured are the sunset and the moon from our room.

Dale and Robyn are young for their ages. They go about their rotuines and activities with vigor and pleasure. Dale pointed out that he turned sixty-eight-and-a-half the first day we were there, while Robyn is three years younger than I am, but looks more like fifty. Later, when I asked if she had any grey hair she said, “Sure, lots. But I have a living will. If I’m ever in a coma, or otherwise indisposed, my hair is to be colored at least every two weeks.” Their full-time home is in Aspen, Colorado, but they also have a deluxe suite in the hotel for the winter months.

They travel the world extensively and are eyeing a trip to New Zealand next. Dale started out as a lawyer but became a hotelier when he was sent to lawyer the sale of the hotel and decided he should buy in. While Dale works, Robyn recreates. When we first got back in contact, after Big D’s death, I asked Robyn what she did and her reply was, “I’m a professional recreator.” It might sound trite but they both have children from previous marriages, a new grandchild, and I know that Robyn's also involved with organizing a lot of philanthropic causes and events in Aspen.

Janice and I went for a long bike ride in the morning while Dale worked and Robyn attended her Zoomba class before working out in the on-site gym.

Pictured are the hotel property from the seawall and another shot of the water near there.

We found out later that Dale and Eddie spent the afternoon playing in a Bridge tournament where they placed third out of eleven teams - something about the way Eddie played a pair of threes. Dale didn’t miss the opportunity to harass him about the play later.

Robyn met us at the pool and, after lounging for a bit, she invited us to try Paddle Boarding. Juan, who runs the beach operations for them, gave us a quick demonstration before we headed out to sea. We caught on pretty quickly so we decided to paddle for the point where we could get a view of the cruise ships at dock. We turned around and that’s when we discovered that a pretty brisk headwind had developed. It took us at least a half hour of hard paddling to get back to the hotel. A lot of fun though, and none of us even got wet.

Back at the pool we had a dunk and a round of Mojitos before Janice and I went back to watch the sunset and shower before meeting everybody back at Dale and Robyn's suite for dinner, which turned out to be a feast that started with Stone Crab (my new favourite kind of crab), served cold with a sweet mustard sauce, and followed by steamed asparagus and sautéed lobster. All accompanied by cold white wine.

It was great to get re-acquainted with Robyn and to make a new friend in Dale, who, while very much focused on "Putting heads in beds", is also interesting, funny and engaging. They have a great life together.

Pictured are: Janice and Robyn, Dale, on the left, and Eddie serving up some lobster. The Stone Crab, which indigenous to the area, are harvested by trapping them, removing one claw and throwing them back to re-grow the claw.

After dinner, when we took leave of our hosts, Janice and I decided to take a walk up the strip. There's a vibrant music scene in Key West and we half expected Jimmy Buffet to appear from behind every corner. Not half a block from the hotel we heard some cool music coming from the deck of a big house which had been converted into the Cork & Stogie. The music was being provided by a young singer-songwriter named Kevin Bowes. He had a large following of young, hippyish, locals and some of his more memorable tunes were Rasta Pasta and and You Make The Money. We had had several glasses of wine under our belts so Janice asked the operators if it would be alright for me to accompany him on Cajon. They agreed and so I kind of insinuated myself on Kevin, who was a little apprehensive. It was near the end of the night so I only got to play a few tunes with him but the audience was appreciative and he was very complimentary when we were done. On his way out he gave me one of his CD's.

In the morning we Janice got up early to take a picture of the sunrise from the hotel pier.

Dale and Robyn had invited us to stay another day or two if we wanted, but this was one welcome we didn't want to wear out. I’m not often envious of people, but wow…

We figured we might stave off the shock of actually having to drive North by stopping halfway up the keys at Bahia Honda State Park. We couldn't camp because the park is booked months in advance, but we did spend another idyllic afternoon swimming and snorkelling.

Pictured is Bahia Honda State Park, another one that has won The Best State Park in America a couple of times.

Next stop: The Everglades...


  1. Hi Tim, my mom Lois has turned me onto your blog, it's amazing. I love blogging when I am traveling so I appreciate yours. Hope your trip is everything you want it to be. Regards to cousin Janice.

  2. some of us dream of 'living the dream' while others are just 'living it'.

    I suppose the moral might be to never over-look and old friend.