A sunburned little girl in a flowered print dress, long hair streaming past her waist, clambered onto a high stool on the pier overlooking Key West Harbor. The sun was hesitating low in the sky, seemingly pondering the wisdom of dropping below the horizon. The little girl settled herself firmly on her stool. Turning her face sunward, she tapped her fingers in time with the music coming from the band on stage.
That little girl is just one of the hundreds that gather each evening at Ocean Key Resort’s Sunset Pier to sip tall cool drinks, sample fresh seafood, and savor the magic of a Key West sunset. In fact, spending an evening there with a friend reminded me of the reasons I’m in Key West in the first place.
When we arrived, seating ourselves at a wooden table under a bright-colored “sun-brella,” the orb was still well above the horizon. Across the blue-green harbor, Christmas Tree Island lay serene and the lovely retreat on Sunset Key was fully visible.
We were hardly the first to arrive for the nightly show. Chattering groups were gathered at other tables, standing around the bar, and seated on colorful wooden stools drawn up to the dock’s long rail overlooking the water.
As we ordered cocktails, a variety of vessels passed practically near enough to touch — a lazy sailboat, a powerboat on a mission, a couple of unidentified floating objects. Caribbean music and light rock drifted over the water, and the scent of saltwater mingled with the aroma of deep-fried conch fritters and the tang of vacationers’ sunscreen.
The Sunset Pier is a great place to catch a casual meal as well as a spectacular sunset. Both a grill and a raw bar are onsite, with a variety of mouthwatering choices available including grilled local fish and mahi-mahi sandwiches. The raw bar features oysters on the half shell, sweet peel-and-eat shrimp, citrus-marinated ceviche, stone crab claws in season and other temptations.
A word about the Sunset Pier bar: you can get virtually anything there, ranging from a simple Perrier to beer to exotic libations. Blender offerings are the choice of many sunset spectators, and several concoctions have names that sound deliciously decadent.
As we watched, sipping our cool (though non-exotic) choices, the sun slipped into the water, and novices at this game thought the show was over.
Not so. After the sun’s actual descent, leftover rays painted the sky with traces of peach and robin’s-egg blue. Connoisseurs of the spectacle generally instruct newcomers to wait at least 20 minutes more to see the most brilliant colors appear.
When the lights lining the pier began to glow, we ordered another round. Some people don’t notice it, but sundown brings a subtle electricity to Key West’s waterfront and downtown districts.
Maybe it’s sparked by the evening temperature shift, or the breeze that drifts across slowly darkening water. I don’t know, but for me the sensation is part of the island’s indefinable magic.
As we finally got up to leave, a lone sailboat drifted by with a green light glowing atop its mast. Most people had already gone, the dark sky retained a hint of burgundy, and a few early stars were out. We walked away from the pier feeling relaxed and content — and grateful to glimpse the ritual of sunset from such a fine vantage point.