The Keep Calm and Hop On Tour
Hops MacBarley's Ongoing
Key West Bar Boondoggle
Sunday, March 7, 4:00 PM
Aguila (bottle) $5.82
OK, first off, my apologies to the staff. I forgot to tip. We were chatting jovially while the cash was exchanged, and I simply picked it up and walleted it. Totally blanked on it. I was nine blocks away when I realized it.
Having been on the noble side of the bar for several years of my diverse life, I know the sting of the stiff, but I also recognize the honest mistake. I think they probably knew.
My next Hop was a mile’s walk away, but I did resolve to return here on my way home. It would not really be “on my way”, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
So, yeah, the Paradise.
If you didn’t know where this place was, you wouldn’t know where it was. Duh, right?
But, really, it is hidden down a narrow alley on the 100 block. There is a yellow awning over the alley's entrance, but it says Old Custom House Inn on it. I assume the entrance for the inn is down that alley somewhere, but I’ve never seen it. To be honest, I’m not completely sure the inn even exists, even though the Internet says it does.
There is another yellow awning about 100 feet south of this one. That’s for The Smallest Bar (#77), so don’t get sidetracked. Paradise does have a rectangular white sign hanging next to the awning, and they have a large menu board with food photos just inside the arch.
The alley is inviting, actually. Unlike the stark white alley that led me to Old Town Rodeo (#331), this one alley is narrow and lined with bamboo, palms and other tropical greenery, even arching overhead to create a tunnel effect.
The tunnel leads to surprisingly large open-air dining area. Table are long, with equally-long flat-backed benches. It looks like a bog cook-out venue.
There is a roof overhead. I’m not sure if the roof covers all the tables or just some. I didn’t get that far. I knew from last experience here that the bar would be tucked in on my left as soon as the alley wall stopped.
Yup, this location has been hopped before, as Juan Loves Lucy (#115). I mentioned that to my barkeep shortly after taking my seat and he told me that he and his brother had bought the place from Juan and changed the name. They bought it in 2017, right before Hurricane Irma hit, so they had to deal with all that repair and lost business and now, of course, they’ve been dealing with the COVID-related business drought for twelve months. Tough few years, but they are still here.
As the sole patron at this moment, it’s hard to picture this hidden place surviving such a year, but the barkeep – I think his name was Christian (at least, that was the name on the receipt he handed me later) -- and his bud both assured me they were doing OK. “Come here at 10 at night. People are dancing in the aisles.” They bragged about the food, with Bud twice telling me about the Palomilla Steak. I’m not sure if it was for emphasis or because he forgot.
Paradise is a Latin restaurant bar, for sure, but Christian was quick to specify it as primarily Colombian, moreso than Cuban. In fact, the beer he immediately offered me, called Aguila (which means “eagle”), is a Colombian lager. It was tasty. I think it is now my favorite South American beer: much tastier than Cusquena, that brew-from-Peru that I had at Incas (#236).
The alcove that contains the bar itself is tiny, maybe only 12 feet by 5 feet for the customer area. That’s smaller than my van. But there are plenty of stools, and plenty of decorations.
Dollar bills hang everywhere, kind of like at Willy T’s (#51). There is a big brass bell to signal good tips (they obviously didn’t ring it for me).
And there is a framed pencil sketch on the wall that was a good likeness of my barkeep, complete with mask hung around his neck.
Christian told me that he and his bro are going to expand, opening up another Latin place farther up Duval, on the 1100 block, in the abandoned corner venue that has hosted T’s Bistro (#15), Key West Pub (#209), and the Mad Dash Bar at the Salty Angler (#252). Looks like there will be another Hop to be had at 1114 Duval.
We were enthusiastically talking about all this as I paid up. Christian handed me the receipt which I could not even read without my spectacles. (I love calling them that, just to see the looks on people’s faces.) He told me he had given me a local’s discount (20%), for which I heartily thanked him … and then stiffed him. Oops. That’s what you get for distracting me.
I had filled him in on The Tours and the new website, and he gave me a couple of cards to give out and “spread the word.” I was halfway back from Hop #336, on my way to fork over my much-delayed gratuity before I actually took a look at the back of the cards. They proclaimed in bright letters, “Happy Hour, 3-6 PM, Buy 1 Get 1 FREE.”
What?? I was there at 4:00 and those guys never clued me in on that. I could’ve had a Get-1 and they didn’t tell me? Those rat bastids. Ha.
Now I didn’t feel so bad about stiffing their asses. So, I called off the jam, turned right and headed back to my shack, Mac.
A few hours later, I put on my spex and read the small print on the card: “Cuba Libre, Margarita, Pina Colada, Homemade Sangria, Tequila Sunrise, Mojito, Painkiller, Rumrunner.” HH only applies to those concoctions. No mention of beer.
Oops again, Hopsy. Climb back aboard that Guilt Train after all...