Seafood, Shows and Secrets Enliven January in Key West

Steve Smith | January 2014

In Key West we’ve had our first slight taste of winter 2014, but many of my friends and colleagues experienced an arctic blast to kick off their new year. Here, on the other hand, our average winter temperature is in the low to mid 70s and our days are usually sunny with little or no rain. Is it any wonder the Florida Keys are so popular with people in far chillier climes who crave warm-weather getaways?

Even Key West canines, like "blog dog" Giulio shown here, hit the beach to enjoy the island's "winter" weather. (Photo by Steve Smith)

The start of each year brings lots of fun activities to Key West — from intriguing house tours to festivals and outdoor art shows. Our theaters also celebrate with a variety of performances that feature professional and talented members of the local community. (Chances are, you’ve met many of them on previous visits … or in my previous blogs.)

The Red Barn Theatre continues its hit “Bingo! The Winning Musical” through Jan. 18. On a stormy night three friends and bingo fans are not going to miss the yearly commemoration of the birth of their beloved game. The storm brings them popcorn, friendship, intrigue, and a new appreciation of grandma’s favorite form of gambling. Get your tickets now and experience the talents of Vicki Roush, Jodyrae Geckler Campbell and a host of other local luminaries.

The legendary Peter Max and his art pay a visit to Key West with an exhibition opening Jan. 11 at DeRubeis Fine Art of Metal Galleries. This never-before-seen collection is a retrospective of Max’s works from 1960-2013.

Ever wanted to peek into one of Key West's gorgeous private homes and see how the "natives" live? You're invited inside during the annual house tours.

Meet-the-artist receptions will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18-19. (On a personal note, I was the proud owner of a pair of Peter Max-designed red, white and blue eyeglass frames some years ago — a gift from my optometrist father.)

On Jan. 17-18, Key West’s Old Island Restoration Foundation invites visitors to tour a series of elegant and unique private homes across the island. Part of the 54th annual House Tour season, these take place in the evening — one of my favorite times to explore our historic homes.

Transportation between properties will be provided by the famous HTA Conch Trains, adding to the evening’s fun. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance, since this is one of the most popular tours of the entire year.

Save your appetite for the 9th annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival held Saturday and Sunday, Jan 18-19, at Bayview Park at the corner of Truman Avenue and Jose Marti Drive. There’s no charge to attend the festival and it features dozens of exhibitors ranging from artists and artisans to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Sample luscious stone crab claws and other delights at January's seafood festival. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

However, the best part is the fresh seafood. I usually start by savoring shrimp and stone crab claws. Then, after walking the festival, I try the fresh fried grouper. The seafood doesn’t get much fresher and the choices can keep you eating all day! Conch chowder, conch fritters and conch ceviche will be served along with great side dishes. 

Beginning Jan. 28, the Waterfront Playhouse will entertain audiences with the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Other Desert Cities.” Also nominated for five Tony Awards, this celebrated comedy takes viewers on a journey with a family whose “secret” is the subject of their daughter’s tell-all book. The Hollywood Reporter described it as “full-bodied and emotionally alive … filled with humor, sensitivity, and invigorating anger.” I can’t wait to experience this romp through a family’s scramble to hide its dirty laundry!

As you can tell, the holidays may be over but the fun is just beginning in subtropical Key West. So why not take a warm-weather break and head for the continental United States’ southernmost island?

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  1. Matthew J. Lowery Said,

    January 14, 2014 @ 3:52 PM

    I feel somewhat silly asking this question but here goes. I’ve never been on a “gay” vacation and was wondering if someone out there in cyberland could help direct or refer me to resources. I’m a older graduate student (50), male, single and gay. For my summer break, I’d like to go somewhere and do something I’ve never done before. I was thinking about Key West. I’ve never been to Florida. My biggest concern is that I’ll be the only single older person amongst younger couples, and I’ll have nothing to do or no one to talk to. So, I’d welcome a response.

  2. Carol Shaughnessy Said,

    January 29, 2014 @ 4:05 PM

    I’ve lived in Key West for 30 years and still revel in its wonderful all-embracing atmosphere. I’m a straight woman, but I’m 50-something and many of my friends are my-generation gay men. One of the great things about Key West is that things like age don’t mean a lot. Yes, if you want a “cruisey” vacation you might find yourself outnumbered by younger people, but if you go to places like La Te Da for Tea Dance or Bourbon St. Pub where the locals (and visitors, of course) hang out, you should fit in perfectly. And then of course there’s the fact that most of the Key West activities are enjoyed by men, women, straights, gays etc. all together — which is very freeing.

    If you’d like, I can give your email address to our LGBT media specialist, who’s a really nice guy about our age, and he can give you further insights. Key West is something special in the summer — the water is usually flat calm and perfect for snorkeling, the art galleries and restaurants are terrific, and you can do things from taking in a drag show to touring a rum distillery to joining a chocolate-making class.

    I hope this helped … All the best, Carol

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