A Travellerspoint blog

March 2015

New York, New York: It's a Helluva Town

This month marks twenty years that I have lived in New York City -- nearly half my life. It's quite an accomplishment, really, when you consider that New York is excessively noisy, grossly overcrowded, ridiculously inconvenient, and monstrously expensive.

It also happens to be the greatest city in the world.

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Arriving home

I showed up in a rented U-Haul on a blustery day in March of 1994 to the sound of blaring horns, hollering cabbies, and a cacophony of foreign tongues, all of which I am sure were cursing me out for double-parking on a busy downtown street. I was overwhelmed and exhilarated and completely unprepared for the unrelenting pace. Just ordering a sandwich in a deli -- the crowding, the yelling, the line moving at the speed of light and the deli guys all barking "NEXT!" at the exact same time -- was enough to send me fleeing without my food. Well, almost.

I didn't know a soul. I had never taken a subway before. I didn't know which neighborhoods were safe, or where to get a decent bagel, or how to negotiate the city's mangled sidewalks in heels. "Evens go east, odds go west," I'd mumble to myself as I attempted to navigate the bustling canyons. I didn't dare look up or stop to consult a map, lest all of my NYC nightmares come true at once: I'd tumble into an open manhole, get hit in the head by a falling air conditioner, be mowed down by the passing crowd, and have my purse stolen . . . but not before the thug beat me with it for good measure.

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My first New York apartment, on 26th Street

I was young and brave and stupid all at the same time. I'd never been jostled by so many people, bombarded by so much noise, or exposed to so many casual and creative uses of the F-word in my entire life. (Once, in SoHo, I saw a young father carrying his toddler on his shoulders. When I passed by, I heard him mutter, "Goo-goo, ga-ga . . . what the f*ck does that mean?") Worst of all, I was not at all sure that I'd made the right decision in uprooting my comfortable life in Pennsylvania for one that seemed to promise nothing but hassles.

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P.J. Clarke's, on 55th Street

In fact, the only thing I was sure of . . . is that I was in love.

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Rockefeller Center

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Times Square

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Empire State Building

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SoHo

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East Village

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Central Park

And much like love itself, the energy here is a drug (and the only legal one you're likely to encounter): It draws you in, gets you hooked, and keeps you coming back for more. Living in this city has changed me in more ways than I can count: I talk faster, walk faster, am faster to offer, er, opinions, and have been exposed to more wealth, poverty, diversity, art, culture, architecture, and amazing food than I ever dreamed.

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Capital Grille in the Chrysler Building

Waaayyyy more amazing food.

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Coca-cola carnitas at El Camion

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Paella at Soccarat

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Cheesesteak at Bobby Van's

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Skillet sticky-toffee pudding with medjool dates at The Smith

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Coconut sponge cake with passion fruit pudding at Buddakan

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Fish gyro with lobster ragout at Anassa Taverna

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Sparkling blood orange mojitos at Cafeteria

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Steamed eggs with chèvre and sundried cherry tomatoes at Buvette

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Wild mushroom dumplings with truffle foam at Breeze

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French onion soup burger at Little Prince

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Cocoa-pumpkin ravioli at Becco

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Chicken pot pies at Parnell's

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Tilapia with cherry tomatoes and shrimp at La Gioconda

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Ground chuck and brisket burger at Hillstone

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Veal parmigiana at Giorgio's of Gramercy

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The Generous Pour event at Capital Grille

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Birthday dinner at Maloney & Porcelli

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Birthday milk and cookies at Jane

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Birthday dinner at Le Bernadin

Of course, into the life of every food-lover, the occasional crapcake must fall.

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My entire identity as an adult has been shaped by the grit and grind of this city, imbuing me with a sense of determination, confidence, sophistication, and good old-fashioned gumption that I might never have acquired if I'd stayed in Pennsylvania, or moved somewhere like Cleveland or Charlotte.

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View from our bedroom

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View from our living room

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The city's skyline is always changing, and our view now includes the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere: 104 stories.

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Our favorite local park, Greenacre Park

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Lining up for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

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The famous tree arriving at Rock Center

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It's almost ready...

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Crowds gathered for the tree lighting, as seen from Angel's office

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Cocktails at the Rock Center Rink Bar

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Central Park in springtime

Macy's Fourth of July fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge

In fact, New York has turned me into a walking contradiction: I swear like a sailor and argue like a lawyer, but I also know my Prabal Gurung from my Proenza Schouler, and could pick David Chang or Andrew Carmellini out of a lineup. I speak fluent "restaurant-menu" Italian and have a small vocabulary in both Spanish and Yiddish. (It's mostly curse words, but whatever.) I can talk with some authority about the latest exhibit at the Met, or we can debate whether the dirty-water dogs are better at Yankee Stadium or CitiField. And I completely agree that New York pizza is the best you will ever have (Lombardi's) . . . and the worst you will ever have (all variations of the "Original" Ray's).

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Lombardi's coal-oven pizza

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SoHo

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Restaurants along Second Avenue

Geographically speaking, New York City is an embarrassment of riches. Within a two-hour drive in any direction, we can be leaf-peeping in the Adirondacks, lounging on the beach in the Hamptons, sipping wine at a vineyard on the North Fork, relaxing in rocking chair at one of Cape May's Victorian-era "painted ladies," or biking the oceanfront bluffs on Block Island. Or, you know, watching people pee in the sand in the Rockaways.

And if we ever tire of road trips, there's everything from Broadway musicals and world-class museums to dive bars in the East Village and designer boutiques in SoHo.

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SoHo

Oh, and roughly 24,000 restaurants, which means I could eat at a different one every night for the next 65 years, and still never hit them all. Not for lacking of trying, of course.

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Our summer lunch spot, Dos Caminos

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Our Friday-night date spot, China Grill

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The Saigon-tini at Le Colonial

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Dinner at Tao

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Our Sunday morning brunch spot, Le Bateau Ivre

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Our favorite snowy-evening spot, Café Joul

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View down our block

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TriBeCa

There are so many "only in New York" things to love about this city that it's hard to even name them all, and everyone's list would be different anyway. Mine would include everything from bodega cats and the Comedy Cellar to chocolate-chip-cookie delivery until 3am and nail salons open 24 hours a day. It would include the fact that there are nearly 200 bars in the East Village alone, and the fact that you can eat anything here from roasted crickets to ant caviar to goat-eyeball tacos (not that you would. It was hard enough just typing that). It would include a local moving company called Schleppers and a Chinese takeout place called Wok to Walk.

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Views from my office (with a cameo by my desk lamp)
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Outside my office building

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On my way to work
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Views from Angel's office
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My list would also include the Manhattan Mini Storage ads for space-challenged New Yorkers. At least we can laugh at our shared misery.

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Also making the list would be the inside-baseball references on Seinfeld and Law and Order, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, living within walking distance of Bloomingdale's/Bergdorf's/Bendel, spring in Central Park, sending our laundry out for fluff-and-fold, the bacon burgers at Corner Bistro, and dressing extra-fashionably when I know they're filming on my block. It would include the free(!) ferry ride to a Staten Island Yankees game on a balmy June evening, as the boat glides by the Statue of Liberty, and even the most jaded among us whip out our camera phones and snap away.

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Lower Manhattan

It would include being surrounded by art, culture, fashion, law, publishing, real estate, finance, and all the other industries that make this city pulse with bright, interesting, creative people. And people like me and Angel.

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Sunset from our apartment

Indeed, the only downside to living in New York City is that I'm turning into one of those entrenched New Yorkers who won't ever be able to live anywhere else.

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Park Avenue, midtown

Not that I'd ever want to.

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It's always hard to tear ourselves away from the Big Apple, but this is still a travel blog. Up next, time with friends in Charleston, time alone in Paris, and time with tequila in Mexico. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know how it's possible for a savvy New Yorker to become trapped in a public restroom on the swankiest street in Paris.

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Posted by TraceyG 10:36 Comments (10)

Xmas in Key West: Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation, Pt 1

Of course, we didn't really leave on probation. But if eating too much, drinking too many, laughing too loudly, and lazing around too often were crimes, I'm pretty sure we'd be sentenced to life without parole after this trip.

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As it was, we compiled a pretty impressive rap sheet during our ten-day spree.

Count 1: False Advertising

On this visit we were joined by our friends Ellen and Brian, who had just started new jobs in California when we began making our travel plans. And so, by the time the four of us coordinated our schedules and decided on the dates for our visit, most of the rental houses we were interested in were already taken. And it didn't help that we wanted a nightly rental, not a weekly, Saturday to Saturday one, and that the house we originally settled on went to someone else due to a mix-up on the rental agency's part. And so we picked the best of the bunch from what was left, the Bahama House on Amelia Street.

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The outdoor space was fantastic.

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The pool was plenty big enough for four and heated to just-short-of-hot-tub, and was surrounded by comfy loungers, a covered porch with seating for four, and a small gated garden that was perfect for storing our bikes.

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The inside, however, was apparently decorated by vampires. Neither bedroom had a mirror. Neither bedroom had a dresser. All of the hurricane shutters were nailed shut, blocking out all the natural light. And there wasn't a single hook for a bathing suit, wet towel, or black cape in the entire house.

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There was nowhere to unpack anything, so we lived out of our suitcases. We hung our panties from the doorknobs and dangled our bras from the light fixtures. Within days, there was so much lingerie hanging around that folks thought a new bar had opened in Key West.

When we ran out of doorknobs, I fashioned this lovely underwear shelf out of a plastic platter.

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We had a washer and dryer, but no laundry detergent, and even if we had, the dryer didn't work for the entire duration of our stay.

If the planet runs out of fossil fuels in your lifetime, you can just blame the four of us. No dryer, plus no hooks for drying (and all shade outside), meant that we went through approximately 400 towels in 10 days, each used exactly once before it was left for the maid so we could get a dry one.

Heck, we didn't even have plates.

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Okay, I'm kidding about that last one. But we did have only two wine glasses, even though the house sleeps six. Which, if we're counting down crimes, is probably the worst one on this list.

Count 2: Petit Larceny

Tequila and law-breaking go together like Tracey and tacos, which is why we made not one but two trips to Agave 308 on this visit.

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Key West is home to dozens of bars, but you could probably count on just a few fingers those that serve drinks that aren't syrupy-sweet or made from bargain-basement booze. Agave 308, underneath the Rootop Cafe, is one of those few. Sure, the décor consists of sugar skulls and a multicolored marijuana-leaf lamp, but when the food and drinks are this good, you can decorate the place with poison ivy for all I care.

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My favorite drink at Agave is the Paloma de la Fresa, which combines house-made strawberry-infused tequila and muddled strawberries with fresh lime and tart grapefruit to temper the sweetness.

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One Paloma is good, and two Palomas are better. Three Palomas is just asking to be hauled away in handcuffs.

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Angel's favorite, the Mexican Mule, is made with Milagro silver tequila, ginger syrup, fresh lime, ginger beer, and candied ginger, for a hot-sweet treat, served in a traditional Moscow Mule copper mug to keep it perfectly chilled.

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Best of all, Agave serves the best pork tacos north of the border, made with house-roasted shredded pork, spicy slaw, and pico de gallo.

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Okay, so they might be a little greasy.

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But they're also so delicious that at two for just eight bucks, it almost feels like we're stealing them.

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Almost.

Count 3: Aiding and Abetting

To get to Key West, our friends Ellen and Brian drove an hour from San Jose to San Francisco, boarded a red-eye for a 6-hour flight to Miami, changed planes there for yet another flight, then finally landed in Key West nearly 12 hours after they'd left the house the day before. (That's what you get for moving to a place where going on a hike, not nursing a hangover, is the preferred Saturday-morning sport.) They arrived at the house dazed and exhausted, plopping down in a travel-weary pile on the sofa for what surely would have been a nice, long nap.

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If we hadn't dragged them off to brunch, that is.

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I knew Ellen was still upset about missing the all-you-can-eat-and-drink Christmas Day brunch at the Casa Marina on our last trip, and I wasn't going to let her miss it a second time. And so we splashed them with some tonic water, waved some margarita salts under their noses, and dragged them off to the Casa. For their own good, of course.

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The Christmas Day brunch at Casa Marina features carving stations, a mile-long dessert table, and unlimited mimosas that start arriving the minute you sit down.

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The day was glorious, with vibrant blue skies and reggae-tinged versions of our favorite Christmas songs floating on the warm breeze.

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Of course, even on Christmas Day your teenagers will ignore you in favor of their iPhones, but at least they'll look festive while they're doing it.

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Count 4: Identity Theft

Key West might be a tropical paradise, but you certainly wouldn't know it at Christmas. Over the holidays, the island disguises itself as a Christmas-y wonderland, complete with Christmas trees, snowmen, Santas, and Abominables.

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Of course, the island can't shed its beachy identity completely for the holidays. Then again, maybe those are Jesus fish?

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Count 5: Reckless Endangerment

After a week spent shoveling down everything from tacos and meatballs to pot pies and cheesesteaks, even I needed a break. And so we headed off to Banana Café for a much-needed green salad.

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But this is Key West, where healthy hearts and functioning livers go to die. And so the salad I so dutifully ordered came topped with . . . mayonnaise.

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No, I don't mean a mayo-based dressing. I mean actual mayonnaise.

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A few days later I tried again to eat something that wasn't fried in lard, covered in lard, or actually was lard. I remembered that Caroline's Café had a good selection of salads, so off we went again in search of greens.

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I forgot, however, that the best salad at Caroline's comes topped with bacon. And fried chicken. And Ranch dressing.

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My taste buds gave me a round of applause. My arteries gave me the finger.

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Eventually I just gave up on the salads and had some corn. Fresh, healthy corn.

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Slathered in mayonnaise and cheese.

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Count 6: Arson

Is it a crime to set someone's mouth on fire with a toothpick? If so, then Peppers of Key West would be guilty as charged.

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An emporium of all things hot, spicy, saucy, and sweet, Peppers is the perfect place to mosey up to the bar and get your face melted off.

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We started with the milder sauces -- like the fantastic coconut mango, a figgy steak sauce, and a sweet-but-spicy teriyaki -- and then Angel moved on to the ones so hot that they are stored in little coffins and carry warnings about death, diarrhea, and death by diarrhea.

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You are instructed not to let the toothpick touch your lips, or they will shrivel up and fall off, and to wash your hands before using the restroom, or certain other parts may shrivel up and fall off.

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So far Angel is still intact, but I'm keeping an eye on the situation.

Count 7: Harassment

On every visit to Key West, we stop by Eaton Bikes to harass our friend Chris, who with a patient smile attaches accoutrements -- flowers, streamers, and a bell that reads, "Get the %$#@& Out of My Way" -- to my bike, even though he knows that I am a menace on two wheels and that I will spend the next ten days ringing that bell nonstop like a deranged Quasimodo.

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But how else am I supposed to get around? Sure, I've crashed my bike into a mailbox (2010), a truck (2011), a curb (2014), and Angel (1999-present), but if that makes me clumsy on two wheels, you should see me on two feet.

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Count 8: Bootlegging

In the early 1900s, 105 Simonton Street in Key West housed a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Today, it is home to Key West's first legal rum distillery. Next time your grandpa goes on about how great everything was back in his day, you can refer him to this shining example of progress.

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We decided to do the short guided tour of Key West Legal Rum, during which our guide, Mike Ehrmantraut, explained the distilling process and showed us all these cool machines and Angel impatiently tapped his toe waiting for the tasting portion of the program to begin.

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Paul Menta, the chef at Amigos Tortilla Bar, is the brains behind this operation, cranking out homemade hootch infused with natural flavors like vanilla brûlée, key lime, and mojito mint.

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Best of all, next time you crash your bike into a mailbox or feel like eating a bowl of mayonnaise for lunch, you've got a ready-made excuse.

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Count 9: Fraud

About a month before we were scheduled to meet up in Key West, I received a two-word text from Ellen: "Meatball Cruise?" That, of course, is how we refer to the Sunset Sail on the Fury catamaran, which offers crappy margaritas and a decent live band and a great crew and who the hell cares because MEATBALLS! I naturally said yes and then quickly put together one of those "Christmas Countdown" chains, but instead of counting down to Christmas, I was counting down to MEATBALLS!

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They didn't have the meatballs.

I don't know. Maybe people complained last time that the meatballs kept rolling off their plates and some skinny blonde girl kept swooping in and scooping them up? I'm sorry, but the five-second rule applies in international waters, too.

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The sunset that evening was spectacular, a fiery orange that faded to a wisp of pink as we made our way back to Key West.

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Although we were forced to sail along in meatball-less melancholy, they did have fried chicken, which, even when it comes frozen and is reheated in a Soviet-era microwave rusted out from salt spray, still beats not having fried chicken.

It does not, however, beat meatballs.

Count 10: Criminal Impersonation

I am often guilty of judging a restaurant by its nondescript cover, and Deuce's Off-the-Hook is one of them.

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Plus, I like booze as much as the next guy, but happy hour at 8 a.m. is a bit much even for me.

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Still, when friends Mark and Steven told me that Deuce's was one of their favorite new dining spots, I took a peek at the menu. And then I jumped on my bike and pedaled over there faster than you can scoop a rogue meatball off a boat deck.

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That's because Deuce's has lobster pot pie sandwiches. Let's just let that sink in for a moment: Lobster. Pot pie. Sandwiches.

We started off with the smoked fish dip and an order of spanakopita for the table, followed by the fish sammie for Angel, the gyro with sweet potato tots for Steven, and an entire deep-fried sea creature on a bun for Mark.

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And the Lobster. Pot pie. Sandwich. for me.

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Okay, so it's not even remotely a sandwich. But when your lunch entrée arrives and it looks like this, are you really going to split hairs?

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----------------------------------------------------
Next up, PART 2! Hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your food.

Posted by TraceyG 15:13 Archived in USA Tagged key_west Comments (6)

Xmas in Key West: Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation, Pt 2

Our Key West crime spree continues with loitering, breaking and entering, and one cleverly staged home invasion.

Count 11: Loitering

Key West is the world capital of loitering, and one of the best places to do that is at the Southernmost Beach Café.

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Of course, there's a fine line between "loitering" and "I've had so many frozen drinks I can't get out of my chair." You know who you are.

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The weather during our visit was hot and mostly sunny, so we also spent a fair amount of time loitering around the pool.

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When it wasn't already occupied, that is.

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Count 12: Breaking and Entering

On Christmas morning, my friend Mark posted the following message on Facebook: "Look what Santa left this morning: Homemade coconut cream pie. Come over and help me eat it." Didn't he realize that the house we'd rented was less than a block from his own? I threw on a dress and was barreling through his front door less than 3 minutes later, brandishing my weapons: A fork in one hand and an insulated to-go bag in the other.

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As Mark and I wolfed down the best coconut cream pie I've ever had, Mark's partner Steve decided it would be the perfect time to whip up some homemade macaroni and cheese. Look, guys: If you want me to move in with you, all you have to do is ask.

On top of all this, the pair had just returned from Brussels, and surprised us with a box of decadent Belgian pralines for Christmas.

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They bring me good chocolate; I bring them battering rams.

Later that week, Mark made the mistake of telling me that he'd spent three hours making homemade enchiladas for a dinner he'd planned to host for Steve's father and his partner.

I think you know what happened next.

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Count 13: Coercion

A few days into our visit, we noticed a pattern developing: Ellen and Brian would walk down to Southernmost Beach Café, grab lunch, and then spend the day on a couple of loungers at the beach. But when Ellen developed a blister from all the walking and Brian could recite the lunch menu at Southernmost by heart, we knew it was time for a change. And so we convinced them to rent bikes and meet us down at Salute on the Beach for lunch.

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It was something of a disaster.

First, it rained. Have you ever ridden a bike in the rain? The back tire kicks up muddy rain water. Raindrops pelt you in the face. The seat gets uncomfortably slippery. And you arrive at your destination looking like a drowned rat. Or, in my case, Bon Jovi circa 1986.

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Second, the restaurant was packed. And so we waited, and waited, and waited some more, occupying the time by making mitts out of toilet paper to dry ourselves off.

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Finally, parched and starving and covered in stray bits of wet TP, we were seated.

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I decided to try the antipasti sandwich, which looked normal to me but, according to Angel, was freakishly huge. And coming from someone who's lived with me for nearly 20 years, that is not a statement to be taken lightly. So let's just go ahead and assume that my sandwich looked like one of those ones in the Guinness Book that's 200 feet long and feeds an entire town.

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Even though my hair, and my belly, had both puffed up to twice their normal size, I agreed to pose with the empty plate. Angel, and Bon Jovi, would be proud.

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Count 14: Home Invasion

The last time we visited our friends Stephanie and Ari in Key West, I fell in love with their sweet little dog, Babka, and may or may not have attempted to kidnap her by folding her up and stuffing her into my handbag.

That is, until I saw the newest addition to their family. Meet Latke, the most adorably ridiculous-looking animal I have ever seen.

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(No, she's not growling; that's just her face. And yes, that's a mohawk.)

As usual, I managed to finagle a dinner invitation by raving about some dish and having someone who actually knows how to cook take pity on me. When Steph and Ari came to NYC last fall, one of the restaurants they chose is an old favorite of mine and Angel's, Osteria Morini. As soon as I found out they would be there for lunch, I implored Steph and Ari to order my favorite dish, the sformato, which is a savory custard made from Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and whipping cream, and delivered to Earth on silver platters borne by baby angels.

Osteria Morini didn't have the sformato.

And if I'd known that ahead of time, it would have been one of the most ingenious plans I'd ever hatched, at least since that time I convinced Angel I had Prader-Willi syndrome and had to eat every 30 minutes due to my, er, condition.

Because as it turned out, my obsession with the sformato prompted Stephanie to generously offer to make me one on our last night in Key West. Which explains all those salads on this trip: I was saving up.

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Of course, because Stephanie is a Jewish mother (of two canines named for cakes), serving us a ramekin stuffed with 10,000 calories would not do for dinner. So she also made salad . . .

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. . . and the sformato, topped with wild mushrooms sautéed in butter . . .

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. . . and snapper with pesto, accompanied by grilled vegetables topped with goat cheese . . .

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. . . and chocolate soufflés with fresh strawberries . . .

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. . .and homemade coffee ice cream.

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It was quite a meal, and Stephanie succeeded in making sure that by the end of it, I was way too full to chase her dogs around and stuff them into my purse. I guess I'm not the only one with ingenious plans.

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Count 15: Conspiracy

In criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime at some time in the future. If plotting to consume your own body weight in sangria is a crime, then our group dinners fit the bill.

Our first outing was to A&B for Christmas dinner, since there is no better way to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus than with cocktails and chocolate cake.

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A few days later, we met up with Mark, Steve, Steph, and Ari for dinner at Santiago's. In advance of our reservation, the six of us spent weeks haggling over what we were going to order and arguing about who was going to go hungry if they had to sit next to me.

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After dinner we stopped by the Orchid Bar. I may have a tapeworm, but our Key West friends have hollow legs. And arms.

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Speaking of crimes . . . this many pairs of dimples in one place really should be illegal.

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We returned to Santiago's the very next night with Ellen and Brian for another go-round.

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We probably shouldn't have had the flaming cheese two nights in a row, but you know what they say: A cheese a day keeps the doctor . . . on speed-dial.

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Count 16: Disorderly Conduct

I attended college at a party school in the late 80s, before the age of AIDS and campus assaults and frowning upon binge drinking. It was an idyllic time, filled with hookups, hangovers, frat parties, and the occasional bench warrant.

And not a day goes by that I don't thank God that there was no such thing as the Internet back then.

Which is why we never, ever bring a camera to the Green Parrot, and especially not when we're pre-gaming with my infamous rum punch. I'm pretty sure Ellen walked into the pool fully clothed and Brian started licking the walls last time I made a batch, but like I said: That's why we don't allow cameras.

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Over the years, I have acted quite the fool at the Green Parrot, egged on by my friend Mount Gay and begged to stop by my friend Angel "My Wife is a Train Wreck" Gonzalez. I've dirty-danced with men old enough to be my great-grandpa. I've invited myself to sample strangers' drinks with a two-foot-long super-straw. I've twirled handlebar moustaches unbidden, and impersonated Mrs. Doubtfire, and belted out my own lyrics to various blues songs at the top of my lungs, none of which rhyme and all of which utilize words that cannot be printed on this blog.

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By comparison, I was well-behaved on this visit, sucking (my own) beer out of a flamingo straw and decorating my bottle with ornaments "borrowed" from Green Parrot's Christmas tree, which is why I agreed, just this once, to go ahead and snap a few photos.

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As soon as I tried to climb inside the popcorn machine, however, all bets were off.

Count 17: Public Intoxication

Friends who live in Key West often lament that there are only two things to do here: Get drunk, or fry yourself in the sun. (They're missing the obvious third option: Get drunk and fry yourself in the sun.)

Not being ones to defy local custom, we spent most afternoons at Louie's, soaking up the sunset and sucking down the pina coladas.

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Evenings were whiled away at Kelly's, keeping company with their fantastic key lime margaritas.

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In between it was mojitos at lunch, wine at dinner, and the aforementioned rum punch for breakfast. There's OJ in there, ya know.
-------------------------------------------
Part 3 is now posted! Click here to see if we rang in the New Year by commandeering a big red shoe.

Posted by TraceyG 08:36 Archived in USA Tagged key_west Comments (6)

Xmas in Key West: Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation, Pt 3

And finally, public lewdness, assault, and some open container violations . . . or, you know, just another Saturday night in Key West.

Count 18: Public Lewdness

You don't really need to go anywhere special in Key West to encounter public lewdness, but it can't hurt. And so we set off for Better Than Sex, a dessert-only restaurant where you can have a satisfying one-night stand without worrying about how to get rid of the guy in the morning.

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The space is bordello-chic, with lipstick-red walls, dimly-lit crystal chandeliers, and secluded banquettes made for cozying up to your loved one, distracting him with your feminine wiles, and stealing his heart dessert.

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After perusing the extensive menu, I knew I had to try the Fork-You Fondue, which was described as "liquid vanilla cheesecake fondue." If those aren't the four sexiest words you've ever heard, then you need to get some new porn.

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The others had the "Between My Red Velvet Sheets" cheesecake (which sounds hot but not sexy), the Twist and Stout (which I guess can be sexy if you're into those kind of guys), and the Jungle Fever (which I can assure you is plenty sexy. Ahem.)

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Count 19: Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Angel and I last visited Latitudes on Sunset Key in 1999, where we rang in the new Millennium with Champagne, fireworks over Key West, and a midnight kiss. Well, two out of three, anyway.

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You see, I grew up in Pittsburgh, a city with obsessed with everything from the Stillers and chipped ham to classic rock and mullets. Lesser-known, however, is the city's obsession with fireworks. Although most people like fireworks, a 'Burgher will drop everything -- and I mean everything -- for some fireworks. When I was growing up, it was taken for granted that no matter what you were right in the middle of -- driving a car, giving birth, performing brain surgery -- the minute you heard fireworks, the aforementioned task was immediately abandoned because OOH! LOOK!! FIREWORKS!!! Thus, a typical telephone conversation might go something like, "So I told that jagoff to kiss my OOH! LOOK!! FIREWORKS!!!" CLICK.

And so, as couples everywhere counted down the last seconds of 1999 and prepared to greet the new Millennium, I heard the sound of fireworks down at the beach . . . and promptly jumped out of my seat and ran like a bat out of hell, leaving poor Angel in the dust. I think he might have kissed a waitress in my absence.

Which explains why we haven't returned to Latitudes in 15 years. But at Ellen and Brian's urging we relented, and hopped aboard Lil Princess for the short boat ride over to Sunset Key.

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In the years since our last visit, we'd almost forgotten how lovely the place is.

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Soon we were settled in at a table in the sand, drinking in the idyllic surroundings . . . and some mango martinis.

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I kicked things off with the rich, creamy lobster bisque, followed by the tuna tartare with sweet chili, soy pearls, seaweed salad, and miso-yuzu aioli.

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Ellen, Brian, and Angel all ordered the same entrée, the cumin and coriander crusted snapper. This, I noticed, happened at almost every meal -- the three of them ordered the exact same thing, presumably as part of some pact to spread the pain around a bit: I'd beg a few bites from each of them, instead of just commandeering Angel's entire plate.

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But on this night, I was happy to be the odd man out. That's because we'd just dug into our meals when Angel pulled an inch-long fish bone out of his mouth. A few minutes later, Ellen did the same. (Brian claimed not to have found any, but I did hear a strange crunching noise coming from his end of the table.) Within 15 minutes, each of them had enough tiny fish bones lined up on their plate to make a decent-looking fossil.

Though we hate to complain, especially on vacation, nobody wanted to get stabbed in the gums with a fish bone, so we mentioned it to our waiter, who summoned the manager, who removed all three entrees from our bill. It was a generous and gracious thing to do, and as a result we will definitely return.

Though Angel is still banned from kissing any more waitresses.

Count 20: Stalking

Our friend Randi is an adorable little blonde lady with a fantastic sense of adventure, a wicked sense of humor, and just enough sense to disable the GPS on her phone when she knows I'm in town.

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I guess she wasn't expecting that I'd just stalk her on Facebook.

So when I saw that Randi was at La Te Da one fine afternoon enjoying a strawberry-lemon mimosa with fresh basil, I knew what I had to do. I jumped on my bike, mowed down a few mailboxes, and skidded into La Te Da just in time for happy hour.

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One mimosa turned into two, which turned into key lime pie martinis with a sidecar.

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Which inevitably turned into pizza.

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But as soon as Angel started trying to teach Randi how to change the privacy settings on her phone, I knew it was time to go.

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Plus, I'd only had two cocktails and half a pizza, and I didn't want to risk being late for dinner.

Count 21: Solicitation

The vampire cave/house we rented for this trip was conveniently located next door to the Rum Bar, whose cat typically hangs out at the bar there.

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But because I enjoy having a pet around when I'm on vacay, I naturally decided that the cat should live with me while I was in town. It didn't take long to lure her over.

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And it took even less time for her to make herself right at home.

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Soon she was even making herself useful, chasing chickens off the property for us.

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Of course, she wasn't too happy when I wouldn't let her eat the entire bag of treats as a reward.

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By the way, are you wondering how I'm so sure it's a girl? Because after I spent a week feeding her treats, this happened.

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Story of my life.

Count 22: Escape in the Third Degree

Every once in a while, you find a restaurant that's comfortable, comforting, and feels like "your" place. In Key West, we are lucky enough to have a few such escapes, one of which is Café Sole.

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Then again, it's not hard to feel at home when they are serving bowls of crack masquerading as mushroom soup.

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Plus an addictive chickpea spread that I guess is supposed to be spread onto bread, but is more easily spooned directly into your mouth.

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On this evening, as on most others, we ordered our "usual" dishes: the hogfish for Angel, and the shrimp risotto for me.

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For dessert, Angel had the key lime pie. That sounded good to me . . . but not as good as a bowl of gazpacho.

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Our other "go-to" restaurant is Seven Fish, a cozy spot with just 40 seats tucked away (at least for now) in a residential neighborhood on Olivia Street.

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People often complain that Seven Fish is noisy and the tables are too close together, but we're New Yorkers: Half the fun of going out to dinner is eavesdropping on the couple next to us.

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On this particular night, we started with the wild mushroom quesadilla for Angel, and the Caesar salad with tangy goat cheese and a hunk of Seven Fish's deliciously salty, squishy rosemary focaccia for me.

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That was followed by two orders of the coconut-curry snapper over rice.

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And just a tiny bit more of that fabulous focaccia.

Count 23: Open Container Violations

You might remember that two years ago, we spent New Year's Eve in Key West as hostages, forced to eat cheesecake and watch strippers and cheer for a lime wedge. This year, we were determined to make things more interesting.

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Way more interesting.

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We'd purchased VIP tickets for the shoe drop at Bourbon Street Pub on Duval, which entitled us to an open bar, a buffet of everything from crab cakes and cocktail weenies to key lime tarts decorated with chocolate palm trees . . . and, of course, a bird's-eye view of the craziness on Duval from Bourbon Street's balcony.

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The crowd was filled with folks in wigs, tutus, and all sorts of other get-ups, but nobody looked better than the guy with the disco-ball drink holder.

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Sushi made her grand entrance about an hour before midnight, signing autographs and posing for photos before climbing into her shoemobile.

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Soon it was time for the countdown to midnight.

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We stuck around for a while after midnight, watching a seven-foot-tall drag queen get down with a bunch of male strippers. Which is a sentence I write all the time.

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There was no way I was leaving without getting in that shoe, even if Bourbon Street hadn't given us permission. I figured I'd be long gone before the cops could make it through the mob.

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But 15 long years later, did Angel finally get his midnight kiss?

I'll never tell.

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Posted by TraceyG 06:57 Archived in USA Tagged key_west Comments (8)

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