When you think of music in Key West, it isn't just Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville that should come to mind, though that's a good start. Buffett is said to maintain a home here and do some recording as well, though he is rarely seen. (He apparently divides his time between several places, including New Orleans). Beyond Jimmy, though, a local website, www.conchtv.com, says it thinks Key West has "probably as many talented musicians per square mile as Nashville and New Orleans."
Among the types of music you can hear in Key West are techno, hip hop, jazz, retro, rock, reggae, calypso, blues, country, western, and trop rock, the latter said to have been invented here.
On a recent visit, I dropped in on several hot spots (some old favorites and some new finds). Here are just a few places that have live music daily, in addition to Margaritaville Café (www.margaritavillekeywest.com), Buffett's first in 1985.
The Best Bars
The Schooner Wharf Bar (www.schoonerwharf.com) is as grungy as my other favorites but has the advantage of being outdoors and on the water's edge, making it doubly enjoyable. In the historic seaport area of town at 202 William Street. Friendly service, reasonably good fast-food type cuisine. Loved by locals as well as tourists.
Sloppy Joe's (www.sloppyjoes.com), the second bar that Hemingway favored, is right on the main street, Duval, a few short blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Very loud, very crowded, with so-so food (burgers and the like), cheerful service with very happy customers all trying hard to get drunk -- and most succeeding.
Captain Tony's (428 Greene Street; www.capttonyssaloon.com) -- named for the recently departed (late 2008) former mayor of Key West -- is smaller than the new Sloppy Joe's, but this is the original that Hemingway loved, and where he spent a great deal of time between 1933 and 1937. Look for the many calling cards and dollar bills on the ceiling, and the skeleton in the back. Down a side street from the new Sloppy Joe's.
Hog's Breath Saloon (www.hogsbreath.com) is a fun place, particularly if you are on spring break. Their slogan: "Having hog's breath is better than having no breath at all." Stay outside (I'm not even sure there's an inside; I've never seen it). Be sure to go to the original place, at 400 Front Street, not the newer one at 619 Dey Street, some four blocks east.
At the corner of Duval and Caroline is the raucous Bull & Whistle (www.bullkeywest.com), with an open-air bar on the ground floor, a pool table on the second, and a clothing-optional bar on the third floor. Claims to be the oldest open-air bar in Old Town. Best at night.
The Green Parrot (601 Whitehead Street; www.greenparrot.com) is for those willing to go a block west from Duval, and for those who want to admire the shambles here that might be called décor. The music is always good, however, the drinks honest, the food forgettable. You may see locals here. No credit cards.
Outdoor Hot Spots
Sunset Pier, adjacent to the Ocean Key Resort (www.oceankey.com) at the head of Duval Street, is a little too antiseptic for me -- being newish, it lacks any character. But it is on the edge of the water, so the view is great, the breezes idyllic.
At fashionable Pier House (www.pierhouse.com), across the street from Ocean Key Resort, you can watch the sun and listen to relatively sedate music at their Sunset Deck. The hotel features fairly big names such as The Radiators in its occasion outdoor concerts, where you can stand knee-deep in the Gulf's waters and listen.
According to www.pubclub.com, there's a regular musical chairs routine by the resident musicians in town. They all take turns at some of the above-mentioned spots. The website lists Fritz, Michael McCloud and Mike Lee as only three of many artists.
At sunset, you'll find at least one band at Mallory Square, with its musicians banging away and passing the hat. The music scene is augmented by soloists, such as a bagpiper or guitarists. The typical sunset celebration antics also include quirky sideshows, such as jugglers or cats leaping through flaming hoops.