I’ve been told, everyone who ends up in Key West has an interesting story about how they moved there. Settling in Key West usually isn’t premeditated- it’s typically random. The same could be said for the expats in Belize; part of my attraction and most of my brother Ivan’s attraction to Key West is the similarities to Belize, our childhood home. My Key West story like many stories starts in some cold place wishing for warmth.
In 2001 I was a freshman in a Pennsylvania university. One night while I was at my sister’s home I met a local guy online. There was a lot of snow that night, but Will’s car was all wheel drive. He picked me up and took me out. Most of the night he spoke about Key West, I never heard of it, but after that night I knew all about Key West. I didn’t talk to Will again until almost a year later. I was at a Dunkin Donuts in Stroudsburg Pennsylvania with some friends after a rowdy night bar hopping.
Will sat at our table and proceeded to go on and on about moving to Key West in the coming two weeks. He pleaded with me to come visit him when school was out for winter break. Winter break was only three weeks away and I didn’t have plans for spending it. I agreed to come so long as I could stay with him for the whole month and find a job there.
My mom’s best friend was working for Delta back then, when I told her about my invitation to Key West she offered me a buddy pass for $50.00 to fly to there. When I arrived, I surprised to learn that Will’s landlords who were renting him a room didn’t know I was coming. Will was at work and I was standing at the door of the address he gave me.
His landlords Mike and Donald were surprised to meet me and my bags at their door. However, we got along so well- they didn’t mind me staying. I found a job as a hostess at Monty’s on N Roosevelt, a restaurant only a five-minute walk from their house.
I became instant friends with the owner of the restaurant, he had trust issues, but he trusted me. Before I returned to school in January he asked me to come back for spring break to work again. I did and then all my breaks from school after that were always spent in Key West.
He always gave me a stack of extra money to return to school with. He would tell me that I needed spending money while slurring his words after a night out partying. Mike and Donald also invited me to come stay with them again and again over the years.
In 2006, when I graduated from university I returned to Key West to work the summer before graduate school. Monty’s closed after all the hurricanes in 2005, the owner wanted to retire and move to Jupiter. I spent that summer working at Margaritaville as a waitress and bar back; I worked both day and night shifts at least three times a week. Whatever had to be done to acquire the cash I needed for graduate school.
Ivan and I now and 2007
I eventually left Key West, though I visited a couple times a year. First from where I went to school and worked in Orlando, then from Miami. When I eventually moved to New York and London my visits became less frequent. This time I’m visiting from Serbia. Despite all my travels and sights around the world this little town always has a place in my heart.
Ivan stayed and so have several of my friends, when I go to Key West I try to see as many people as I can and of course enjoy all my favorite foods.
In September 2019 while on business in the states I took a quick weekend trip from New York. After flying all morning Ivan picked me up and took me to his new home. He has a new French bulldog too. He ordered delivery from Jose’s Latin Food, which is amazing El Salvadorian lunch place. Later that evening I took my dad to Alonzo’s which is another one of my favorites. My dad is staying with Ivan since this summer, I took him around town to introduce him to key lime pie from Kermit’s which I think is the best in town. Later, I walked my dad around Duval St to show him the beautiful buildings, churches and my favorite banyan trees which occupy almost a city block on Truman.
I spent most of the weekend in Key West working, spending time with my dad which includes lots of eating. I asked Ivan to pick me up a jackfruit, a papaya and a mango from the market the Thursday before I got there. They were all fantastic, perfectly ripe! It was so long since I had papaya and even longer since jackfruit, my last trip to Key West was all the way back in 2017. Ivan, my dad and I all sat on my balcony eating the feast of fruits our last night together.
September is a great time to be in the Keys, it’s the slowest time of the year making walking around town easy. It’s not as hot as the preceding months, but still warm enough to swim. Many restaurants have specials to attract the smaller numbers of tourists and the hotels are much less expensive than normal. The island is famous for being highly priced, if you can make it in September there are great values.
There are a lot of great restaurants in Key West, my favorites are Louie’s Backyard, Santiago’s Bodega, Hogfish, Nine one Five and El El El El El Siboney, still I could go on and on. This town has no shortage of incredible restaurants and fun bars.