West Bar Hops
The Keep On Hoppin' Tour
Hops MacBarley's Ongoing
Key West Bar Boondoggle
506 Southard Street
Saturday, 21 February 2021, 10 PM
Lazy Way IPA (draft) $7.00
After more than a YEAR, Hops be hoppin’ once again. Hoo-freaking-ray.
With the exception of a few quick visits to Smokin’ Tuna (#33) to make a nighttime delivery — and collect my standard delivery fee of one draught IPA — and one pop-in at The Abbey (#305) to see Shorty, I have stayed out of bars. For a freaking YEAR. That hasn’t happened since I was 18. Maybe younger. (OK, definitely younger.)
It has been weird. There have been long, hopless stretches before, but plenty of visits to my regular in-the-loop bars were occurring nonetheless; they just weren’t Bar Hops. This time it was a 12-month VOID.
But, wah-wah, poor Hops, right? Nah, waste no sympathy on me, dear reader. A town with 250 restaurants and bars, has 10-20 times that many workers, and ALL of them were out of work and out of luck -- for months!
Now, several of my former lives were spent in F&B, serving the whims of the capricious public with superficial good nature in pursuit of their cash. Very few of my co-workers were ever in a position where they could take, oh, nine weeks off from work without feeling a bit of a pinch.
With high rents due and no income, a number of these KW bar folk had to leave town. I heard they headed for Montana, Arkansas, and even Alaska, among other places. Trouble is, of course, that the pandemic was — by definition — everywhere. But, at least, maybe, rents weren't so high. I wish them all luck.
In the case of at least one dude, who I won’t name by name, being compelled to leave Key West just might have been a life-saving turn of events. These barkeeps can be a festive bunch and sometimes the night is still young as the sun comes up. Gotta admit I was damn impressed at some of the tales. And extra impressed with how many had 7 AM epilogues at Don’s Place (#44).
So, yeah, anyway, Key West was still requiring masks on the night of Hop 329, and I was dutifully in compliance as I entered the white clapboard, two-story, former residence that is now Heroes (#328) and Liberty Lounge (#329).
I could definitely have counted both places as a single Hop, but where’s the fun in that? If I took that approach, I might have never come up here at all. They’re the same building, yah, and the same owner, I presume, but the upstairs has its own name, and that’s good enough to qualify. (My Tour, my rules.)
And it has its own vibe too. And I like this vibe. The lighting is darker and more colorful, the upstairs porch is more private (and with a better view), and, on this night at least, Liberty had its own entertainer. Word is, they have really good music on a regular basis.
When you summit the 12-step stairway, the Liberty Lounge opens up on your right. It is mostly an empty space, allowing plenty of mingle-room, and even dance-room. A small bar occupies the back part, with four padded, curved-back stools. A couple of two-tops stand along the black steel rail looming over the steep staircase.
A long, low box with cushions serves as a couch along the far wall. It’s a bit weird though. The bottom part of it extends out from the wall pretty far, so you almost have to lie all the way back to lean against the back upright cushions. It’s comfy enough to sit on, fo’ sure, but it’s hard to actually “couch” on it. You could easily lie down on it – it would make a great bed! -- but I’m gonna guess that’s frowned on. Would be at most places. People would just think you passed out.
The single most striking thing about the place, though, is the freaking four-sided, purple chair in the middle of the room. Dead center. It is one odd piece of furniture.
I did not sit on it. I was solo, so maybe I would have been the best person to do so. It certainly can’t be much of a socializing seat, can it? If you sit down and want to have a face-to-face with someone, (s)he has to stand. That’s fine if (s)he is a very small person, or a dog, but it’s damn awkward if you are similar size.
If you and your companion both sit down, you’re looking away from each other. This is great if you’re wary of attack, but it’s not good for chit-chat.
You can twist halfway to see each other, but that kind of cancels out the comfort of sitting, duddinit?
A party of four on that thing would be too damn silly.
So, I didn’t sit on it, and nobody else seemed to go within three feet of it.
Maybe it’s some kind of trick chair, like when you sit down, it’s fine, but when you lean back against the middle the whole thing snaps up shut like a Venus Fly Trap. That’d be cool, as long as it happened to somebody else.
It was really mellow in here. So mellow that I had time to ponder seven paragraphs about one fuktup chair. That's mellllowwwww.
Conversations were low, the dozen or so people just creating kind of a murmur. It was really relaxing. Then it occurred to me that there was no music at all. You don't find that very often. There was a guitar case on the floor with a few dollars in it, and a small amp up on a chair, so Sherlock Hops deduced that the entertainer was on break. Barkeep must have forgotten to put on some tunes.
When I stepped up to order my beer, the masked bartender – he, I, and one young woman were the only wearers in the room – was waiting on a guy who wanted a gin and tonic. Ginman asked Barman what kind of gin he had. Barman looked at his shelf and said, “OK, we got Bombay, Beefeater, and stuff that’ll take the paint off the wall.” Ahhh, the art of the upsell.
My Lazy Way IPA cost $7. Seven freaking bucks for a beer that is brewed just six blocks away. That’s harsh. I mean, if it comes from Ireland, or even California, the cost includes all that shipping, but Waterfront Brewery makes this brew! You could have rolled it here on a damn dolly. But that is what the beer-drinking world has become, right? A year ago, this woulda cost $6. Next year, it might be $8. Fifty-four bucks (with tips) is LOT to spend on six beers.
One thing that sucks about it, too, is that a $1 tip is no longer 15% (it's 14.3%). A buck-a-beer tip could never be scorned before. Now that line has been crossed. When I was doing my time behind the bar, that was a fine tip, but, yeah, beers were $3 then. But as prices went up, that tip went from 33% to 25% to 20% to 16.7% to, now, 14.3%.
And, you know what? Screw "that line." With apologies to all you stalwart barkeeps, I ain't gonna do it. I know y'all aren't the ones who set the price, but parting with $8 and walking away with 12 ounces of local brew is enough of a beating. Sorry, but on lifetime average, I am still waaaaay over 25%.
So, anyway, with cold, delicious draft in hand, I had myself a sit on the bed. Some dude with a Red Sox t-shirt had a small dog on a retractable leash, and he was letting Fido roam around a good bit. Fido looked like a cross between a Boston Terrier and a Chihuahua. He was a cool little beast. I petted him, and he jumped on the bed next to me, basically saying, “Hey, stranger, pet me some more, ya big lug.”
Always a sucker for romantic talk, I gave him some quality back scratching, especially the lower back, just above the tail. That is the sweet spot. Every dog loves that. It even works on attack dogs. Try it, let me know how it goes.
The TV at the bar was showing skiing, perfect for the Key West audience. I couldn’t watch it from my angle, but the TV in the opposite corner, near the phantom guitarist’s amp, had on a nature show. It had subtitles, too, so instead of just thinking it was about monkeys pounding rocks on tree trunks and branches, I learned that they were highly intelligent capuchins who were banging and bumping and rolling oysters against the wood.
They weren’t trying to forcefully bust them open, though. The constant thrashing was done to exhaust the muscle that was holding the shell shut. Finally, the muscle just goes “fukkkkit”, lets go, and the shell pops open. Chow time for capuchins!
So, to toast their success, I downed the last of my seven-dollar, locally brewed Lazy Way, and headed on out.
I have no idea if the guitarist was any good. I think I heard the bartender call out to him, “Any time now…” as I was departing. I almost did a turnaround to see if I could catch some good tunes.