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The Florida Series: Chapter 7

A little over two years ago, Phil Ganz (my son-in-law), another friend, and I were headed for the Super Bowl being held in Miami. Due to the bankruptcy of the online travel agency we had used, we arrived at the hotel to find that our hotel reservations were non-existent. Intent on making lemonade from a lemon, we opted for a luxury resort in Key Largo.

After a typically great dinner at Joe's Stone Crab on South Beach, we headed for the Playa Largo Resort. We had a superb time there, sampling many of the great restaurants and bars in the Upper Keys. Phil had been to Key West a number of times, but had never been to Key Largo, and was impressed! Though only an hour's drive from the metropolis of Miami and Miami Beach, this northernmost Key is like entering a new world. Those folks who were born and raised in the Keys call themselves "Conchs," and they really love to live the laid-back lifestyle.

When driving South from Miami, one can take a left off Route One to the Card Sound Bridge, which is the preferred route to the ultra-luxurious- and private- Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo, where one must be either a member, or invited guest, to gain entrance. I owned a condo and boat slip there for ten years and cannot possibly say enough good things about Ocean Reef. Real estate prices there are now astronomical, and the whole place is not for the "financially faint of heart;” however, there is really nothing quite like it in all the country. It is like a municipality unto itself, totally self-contained with its own marina, airport, medical center, police and fire departments, schools, shopping, and world class restaurants. The FBI considers it to be one of the safest communities in America. Unfortunate circumstances forced me to leave in the 1990's, but I am planning to return! Although I understand the advantages of living permanently in such a place, I grew to savor the routine of leaving and returning, always enjoying the anticipation of coming back. I guess that goes for any vacation spot that one loves.

Palm trees on a tropical sandy beach in Key West Florida Keys

Just past the Card Sound Bridge sits an infamous watering hole, Alabama Jacks, where one can sit next to Ocean Reef millionaires on one side, and leather clad bikers on the other, their Harleys lined up nicely outside. This place serves up great casual food, enough rum and other spirits to float a boat, and often live bands, to boot. Just sit there by the water and listen for the sound of your blood pressure falling. Of course, it is wise to take precautions against an unpleasant run-in with the law, when leaving such establishments after, uh, having that "last one for the road." The best solution is to have a driver who isn't drinking, as boring as his/her company may seem at the time.

On one such occasion, my buddy was said driver, but that didn't stop the other three of us from ripping it up. I guess he must have weaved a little while fiddling with the radio, so we got pulled over by a State Trooper. Judging by the three loaded and loud passengers, she must have thought we were all drunk, so she made Stu get out and walk a straight-line line, touch his nose, etc, all tests which he passed. Meanwhile, we were yelling at the trooper, telling her, "He's the designated driver, you dummy," etc. We were smart enough, at least, to stay in the car, so she couldn't do anything to us. She did call for backup, which led to a whole new round of amusement and insults from us revelers. One of the arriving troopers was a sergeant, who actually commended Stu for being a stone sober driver, and instructed him to "take these idiots home!" Point is, it was a good thing we did it the right way, or we all would have had a trip to the pokey. Florida, like most other states, is serious about nabbing drunk drivers- for good reason- so I cannot too highly recommend being ultra-cautious.

Panorama of Road US1 to Key West over Florida keys

No, it wasn't always that way. Many years ago, cops would look the other way, and even escort a drunk kid back to his house, but no more. Too many crashes and deaths. Now, it's way better to do your drinking somewhere within walking distance, or with a solid alternative to driving yourself home. Especially on trooper laden Route One in the Florida Keys!

Another classic Keys bar is Key Largo's Caribbean Club, there since 1938. Parts of the Bogart/Bacall/Robinson movie, "Key Largo," were filmed there, as well as many scenes from the contemporary TV series "Bloodline." True to its own advertising, it is a dive bar, loaded with local characters for the visitor to chat up, or just get a kick out of observing. It's not hard to imagine Bogey sitting at that bar, draining a bottle of dark rum.

I think Phil's idea to open a brokerage office there may have been seeded during our trip to Key Largo, and to even take up personal residence. Believe me, the Keys is a totally alluring place, be it for a visit, a second home, or a primary residence. Perhaps not for everyone, but worth exploring to find out. Much more on this to come.

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