A Bridge Away

BY BOB CURLEY

Taking stock of the cool and comfortable Perry Key West Hotel.

Key West is still as eclectic and quirky as ever, but there’s no denying that it’s not the remote and sleepy fishing village that Ernest Hemingway fell in love with in the 1920s. Hemingway’s house is still there, along with the descendants of his prized polydactyl cats. But most of the fishing boats have departed for other waters; Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s are fighting over who deserves to bill themselves as “Papa’s” favorite watering hole, and visiting cruise ships add the equivalent of a small city to Old Town every morning.

Old Town Key West still has plenty of charms, of course, but if you want to find “Old Key West,” you need to leave. Not too far, though: just one bridge over is Stock Island, formerly the place where the “Conchs” from Key West sent their cattle to graze, and now a mix of boatyards, marinas, a campground and golf course, and resorts. Among the latter is the beautiful new Perry Hotel, an oasis of laid-back luxury that’s helping to drive a reimagining of Stock Island as a destination for those looking for a quiet retreat that’s still convenient to the Mallory Square sunsets and Key West’s diversity of dining, bars and nightlife.

With three floors of brightly appointed rooms arrayed before a long, shallow swimming pool, the Perry doesn’t try to dazzle you with flashy amenities. The spacious lobby, its exposed concrete walls hung with subdued nautical art—notably a mobile-like sculpture dangling from the 30-foot ceiling—reflect the island’s intimate connection to the sea and the resort’s location facing the Stock Island Marina, its docks lined with pleasure craft of every size and type. Jugs of orange and lime water stand ready to ease the effects of the hot Florida sun, and the Perry’s staff—you’ll recognize them by their red pants, as well as their sharp attentiveness—are quick to offer a bottle of cold water anytime you’re heading to the pool or out to explore the island.

On the land side, there’s plenty to see on Stock Island, even if it’s still a little rough around the edges. Just across a channel where shrimp boats motor out each morning is the Hogfish Bar and Grill, a local dive under the shade of a giant tiki hut that serves its house amber ale on draft, potent rum cocktails, seafood, po’ boys, prime-rib sandwiches and barbecued pork. The ugly-but-yummy local hogfish is available on sandwiches and sliders, fried atop a salad, grilled or stuffed. (The same owners run Stock Island’s neighborhood Italian restaurant, Roostica, if you have a craving for pizza and pasta instead.)

The Hogfish is located on the dock of the Safe Harbour Marina and shares space with an interesting mix of houseboats, fishing charter boats, woodworking shops, art galleries, and the Lost Kitchen Supper Club, where Chef Martin Liz serves locally sourced and themed dinners to local club members and in-the-know visitors from out of town. The short bike ride from the Perry to the Hogfish also gives you the chance to drop in on some of the artists who make Stock Island their home, including sculptor Craig Gray, who you might find chipping away at a 10-foot granite manatee, or the artists of COAST, an creative collaborative on the grounds of a former boatyard that includes galleries, workshops, a performance stage, and Yahman’s, an authentic Jamaican jerk shack.

A good chunk of Stock Island’s 576 acres is taken up by the 18-hole, Rees Jones-designed Key West Golf Course, just north of the Overseas Highway and open to public play. The course is circled by College Road, a popular biking route, and the island is compact enough that it’s easy to pedal just about anywhere, from the Ocean’s Edge Resort (which offers popular morning yoga classes on standup paddleboards) to the Hurricane Hole Marina, where we spent an afternoon kayaking through the mangroves and ogling nurse sharks on an eco-tour with Lazy Dog Adventures.

A marked trail also makes it simple to get to Key West, about a half-hour by bike from the Perry Hotel on a route that takes you across two bridges and along the water’s edge through New Town before depositing you on Eaton Street in Old Town, just two blocks from the historic seaport at the Key West Bight. From here, you can wheel your way to everything Key West has to offer, from Mallory Square and Duval Street to Dog Beach and the Southernmost Point. (The Perry also offers free daily shuttle service between the resort and the Key West seaport.)

Fishing and excursion boats dock right at the Stock Island Marina, so it’s a short trip from room to cabin for a dolphin-watching trip out to the islands of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge with Namaste Eco-Adventures. Depending on how the political winds are blowing, you also may be able to charter a boat to Cuba from one of the captains who call the marina home.

When you’re ready to relax, the marina-facing rooms have balconies overlooking the pool, where you can hear live music drifting over from the poolside Salty Oyster bar or DeLuna’s Bar & Grill just down Shrimp Road—a favorite local spot for Cuban food. We spent more than a few hours sipping rum punch and munching fish tacos from the Salty Oyster by the Perry’s pool, but tried to eat light knowing that dinner at Matt’s Stock Island Grill was in our immediate future.

The Perry’s restaurant is a bright and cheerful place for breakfast and lunch and a bustling and popular destination in the evening, with indoor and outdoor seating and a bountiful menu that includes one of the most abundant seafood towers we’ve ever seen (layers of lobster, tuna ceviche, shrimp and oysters served in a vintage tackle box), tender-at-the-bone cowboy steak, and signature fried chicken sprinkled with Key Lime powder. A mandatory after-dinner walk found us admiring the stars from the end of historic Coconut Row, the rows of houseboats creaking at anchor a reminder that a stay at the Perry makes you—at least temporarily—part of the Stock Island community, not just a tourist.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.