Bar Hoppin’ With Hops
The Keep On Hoppin’ Tour
Hops MacBarley’s Ongoing
Key West Bar Boondoggle
618 Duval Street
Saturday, Sept 5, 2015, 9:30 PM
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (draft) $5.00
More than a decade ago, there was a reggae bar called Rumrunners on the 200 block of Duval, in the space now occupied by Coyote Ugly (#57). It did a reasonable business — the bounce of the music often snared would-be passers-by — but, from what I hear, somebody shot and killed somebody else in there one night and that was pretty much that for Rumrunners.
I could relate, kinda. In my late-twenties, I took my lovely girlfriend Paula to a renowned reggae bar called The Western Front, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you know Cambridge at all, you know that it is not all MIT and Harvard Square. Like all cities, it has its seedier, disadvantaged areas. The Western Front was on the edge of one of those. Maybe closer to the middle than the edge.
But we were not daunted by the location; surely the venue rose above it. We had a great time this Friday night, bouncing and dancing for a couple of hours. On Sunday morning, Paula called me, her voice full of urgency, and implored, “Read the paper! Bottom of the front page! Is that where we were??”
The article was headlined “Three Dead in Machine Gun Killing at Cambridge Reggae Bar”. Apparently, a night after our visit, some local gang hit the bar with guns blazing. Talk about dodging a bullet. And that was pretty much that for The Western Front.
And, of course, none of that has anything to do with this Hop — except the name, Rum Runners, which inspired such reggae-related reverie. And this Rum Runners isn’t even a reggae bar. So, tell you what, just skip those first four paragraphs — don’t even read them — and we’ll start right here:
Unlike our Hop at the famous Mad Dash (#252), we had already gotten word that change was in the air here. Double-A had told us that Cowboy Bill was gone again and the plan was for a beach-style bar, with sand and games and Caribbean music and steel drums and Buffet-ish tunes. Well, that sounds like fun! Duddinit?
Alas, the 618 Duval address has not been very lucky for Hops and his merry band of Hopsters, though, so our optimism was muted. Here’s the litany of bars that have come and gone on our watch:
8 Cowboy Bill’s Honky Tonk Saloon
126 Six Shooter Saloon
127 Fat Tuesday Monroe Parish
139 The Church Bar
140 Rose Tattoo
178 Cowboy Bill’s Sports Bar
189 Levity Lounge
206 Sea Dog Tavern
229 Hen & Hounds
243 Cowboy Bill’s Patio Bar
That’s 10. 10!! And I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed another one or two.
You say you never heard of most of those? Well, you’re in good company. If we weren’t being bar bloodhounds we would’ve missed ’em too.
Now, when CBHTS (#8) first opened, they were a rockin’ cowboy bar with a good hook and a good crowd. The alley entrance gave it this hideaway feeling, like you were getting into someplace special. But the local crowd can be a fickle crowd and it doesn’t take much to turn “Hey, let’s hit Cowboy Bill’s again tonight” into “Ehhh, let’s check out someplace else.” There are other options in Key West, you know, so you gotta be on your game all the time.
So, here we were, back at 618, really hoping — but somehow doubting — that it was going to be a step or several above its predecessors. Maybe the beach theme is what this complex needed to get the fun back!
We had just been at Pincher’s Street Bar (#203), so, on the walk, we peeked down Angela Street to see if the side alley entrance gave any hints. It was all buttoned up and empty. Hmmm, odd approach for a new bar.
The Duval Street entrance was both unmarked and unmanned. The young dude who was supposed to be welcoming guests, checking IDs, and keeping out the riff-raff was about halfway down then alley, with his back to us, in a gesture-convo with someone at the far end. We walked right on by. Not sure if he even noticed.
B stopped at a table under the banner displaying several booze logos and the slogan “Young, Dumb, and Full of Rum.” He wasn’t after any of those three, however; there was a cooler set-up on a table there and he procured a $3 Coors Light and was delighted with his purchase. Tree-dolla brews are getting hard to find ’round these parts of late, even in the happier hours of the day.
I passed that by in search of a draft craft at the main bar. They did indeed have some — Sierra Nevada Pale Ale still counts as a craft to me, albeit a macro-craft compared to most.
My cold, delicious bev came in a sturdy, 20-ounce plastic cup, much like the ones found at Smokin’ Tuna, Captain Tony’s, Irish Kevin’s and others of that ilk. It was very blue — the cup, not the beverage — with a yellow Rum Runners graphic. Given the size, the $5.50 price was not bad at all. Haven’t said that much lately.
Jess and J and I tossed a few beanbags back and forth in the general area of the cornhole boards, but fell way short of actually having a game. We’re not a very competitive group when we’re hopping. We’re more … cerebral. Yeah, that’s what we are. Wicked cerebral.
The huge empty space of the main bar was feeling a bit awkward — and the head-banging band really, really sucked (beach tunes, my ass) — so we moved on up to the upper level bar where the pool tables are.
It, too, was mostly the same as before, though the stained glass of The Church Bar was long gone, and the center counter with the big gold stripper poles had been taken out in favor of another pool table. Probably a good move. The dozen big screen TVs all beamed out sporting events, but there were only about a half-dozen people in the room. As it happened, though, one of them was Double-A, whom we greeted with zeal. We were now a fivesome.
But we were a fivesome discussing Where To Go From Here because it just wasn’t clicking. You know, the music matters. It really does. How come there is no beachy, tropical, hang-out-and-be-mellow bars in Key West?
If this were the only bar for a few miles, we would have made the most of it, had a good time, and maybe even got competitive. However, this is Key West, where, as this blog proves, if you don’t dig the bar you’re at, another one is just a belch away.
I belched, and off we went.