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Key West in Florida is one of the world's favourite gay retreats, especially among travellers looking to spend a week or two at a self-contained, gay-exclusive resort, writes OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan.

Key West showing Mallory Square

Key West is the US mainland’s southernmost point, and the westernmost pearl in a string of islands that starts curling out down towards Cuba at Key Largo - itself just forty miles below Miami. There’s only one road, skimming across the water between an Ocean and a Gulf and it ends here: in a blossom-covered village brimming with whitewashed Victorian homes, set off against a warm, clear turquoise sea.

Just two by four miles in size, if you don’t cycle around Key West, you walk - about the Old Town and Fleming Street where many of the gay guest houses are, or along Duval Street, the island’s queer heart; and if you’re not walking you’re probably just lying down on some shady lounger or porch swing, basking on a jetty or by a secluded hotel courtyard pool, or simply watching the setting sun from Mallory Square. Most of the gay quarter occupies vintage buildings in a quaint historic district.
Photo courtesy Key West Business Guild.

WHEN TO GO

Still small yet friendly and fast-expanding, Key West BearFest happens every September, featuring Bear pool parties, Bear leather parties, Bear foam parties, Bear drag shows, Dirty Fur parties - even Bear bingo! That’s a lot of queer fur and flesh! So grin and bear it!

You might also check out the annual Fantasy Fest, 21-30 Oct 2011; which attracts flocks of gays down along The Keys to its parties and camp celeb look-alike comps, climaxing in a parade (2011 theme = aquatic life) on the last Saturday. Or try no-clothes Bone Island 1-4 Dec 2011. And, of course, don’t forget Key West Pride, 6-10 June 2012.

WHERE TO STAY

The town’s numerous gay-run guesthouses are mainly in vintage buildings in the quaint historic district near the gay area, many men-only - often clothing optional. Private hideaways hidden beneath swaying palms, furnished with wicker armchairs and antiques, many also have their own private pools - perfect for gangs of gay gaggles.

Key West is one of the world's favourite gay retreats.
Photo courtesy Key West Business Guild.
The alpha-and-omega of gay Key West all-male lodgings, Island House (1129 Fleming Street; T: +1 305 294 6284; www.islandhousekeywest.com) on Fleming Street boasts a loyal following, some of whom scarce venture off-site - instead bathing nude, dining poolside, pumping iron in the gym and pumping other things in the infamous in-house spa and red light zone. Great-value day-passes available for non-resident guests.

Nearby Oasis Guesthouse (823 Fleming Street; T: +1 305 296 2131) is no longer a gay resort but nowadays open to all and clothing mandatory. Its adjoining Coconut Grove and Coral Tree Inn stable mates boast fab service in an idyllic setting.

Alexander’s (1118 Fleming Street; T: +1 305 294 9919; alexanderskeywest.com), just opposite, is a slightly smaller, but very classy, compound; and old Cypress House (601 Caroline Street; T: +1 305 294 6969; cypresshousekw.com) is also well worth bedding down at.

WHAT TO DO

Hire a bicycle or moped at the Moped Hospital (601 Truman Ave; T: +1 305 296 3344) to scoot around.

Visit long-term local Ernest Hemingway’s House, hemingwayhome.com; or the fascinating Mel Fisher Museum melfisher.org which hoards the recent recovery of $200 million-worth of gold and jewels from sunken Spanish galleons.


Every Saturday morning at 11 the Gay Trolley Tour chronicles the history of gays and lesbians in Key West and the impact they had on the island. You'll see Tennessee Williams' house, Jerry Herman's restored twin houses and see why on the Island of Key West being gay is just a part of life. Photo courtesy Key West Business Guild.
You can also try one of the clothing-optional LGB snorkelling or sunset sail excursions bluqkeywest.com, complete with lunch and beer, oft served in the nude, on far-out waist-deep sandy bars – if you’re lucky, with the odd pod of stray gay-friendly dolphins thrown in! Check out the colourful and relaxing Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, keywestbutterfly.com. Enjoy a film at the Tropic Cinema, tropiccinema.com; or a tour to American Civil War-era Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry, yankeefreedom.com.

WHERE TO EAT

Try local island delicacies like succulent Key West pink shrimp or Key Lime Pie. Check out juicy Mango’s (700 Duval Street; T: +1 305 292 4606); www.mangoskeywest.com); or the magnifico Italiano food at classy Antonia’s (615 Duval Street; T: +1 305 294 6565; antoniaskeywest.com); or the well-priced Harpoon Harry’s (832 Caroline Street; T: +1 305 294-8744; harpoonharryskeywest.com) also makes a perfect breakfast option.

WHERE TO BOOZE & DANCE

For cabaret: 801 (801 Duval Street; +1 305 296 1992, 801bourbon.com; or La Te Da (1125 Duval Street; T: +1 305 296 6706, lateda.com.

For dance: Bourbon Street (724 Duval Street; T: +1 305 293 9800; bourbonstpub.com), including its rear garden bar, pools and cruisy terraces, or Aqua (711 Duval Street; T: +1 305 294 0555; aquakeywest.com).

Also try Saloon 1, also known as One Saloon (509 Petronia St, behind 801; T: +1 305 294 4737) for leather ‘n Levis!

OTHER USEFUL WEBSITES

www.gaykeywestfl.com
www.fla-keys.com
keysvoices.com/category/topics/lgbt/

GETTING THERE

Most national carriers fly in to Miami airport – American Airlines aa.com offering some of the best fares and the very best in-flight entertainment around. From Miami it’s a Technicolor 150 mile road movie (Greyhound Bus or Mini-Van Shuttle) down to Key West itself! Or jump an American Eagle (part of American Airlines), twin-prop from Miami to save on time.

For further information on The Florida Keys & Key West, visit www.fla-keys.com/gay.

Revised February 2015.

 

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