The Global Barfly’s Companion #2 by Philip F. Deaver
Bar: The Schooner Wharf Bar
Location: 202 William St, Key West, FL
The Schooner Wharf Bar is located on the Bight, which is the frontage boardwalk on Key West’s harbor. It is entirely out-doors, including the stage platform where a smoking-addicted dude by the name of Michael McCloud holds forth day in and day out. He’s got a pretty good voice, with a deep authentic bass brought on by the fact that he smokes all during his performances. Yesterday when we were there, Susan reported that she heard him say, “If any of you out there are easily offended, you might want to think about getting the fuck out of here.”
Though we may look it, we aren’t easily offended.
The floor of the dog bar is gravel. You get the occasional chicken wandering through or nesting on the fish nets strewn between the palm trees. Most people there own a dog bar t-shirt with the logo on the back, “Hang with the Big Dogs.” We asked “Angus,” an employee, if we could take a picture of the back of his t-shirt. He replied as he turned around, “Okay, but are my pants falling down?”
And the logo shows a row of cartoon dogs of every make and model, lined up at the bar drinking chilly foamy mugs of beer.
The speakers for McCloud aren’t widely distributed across the property, so from my perspective at the bar, there was just a low rumble of his voice, and once in a while the flash of his dentures when he says something he thought funny.
We noticed after we sat there for a few hours that he slows down like when you turn down the speed on your turntable. We surmise that he’s drinking something serious out of a sizeable thermos he has with him.
At some point during the afternoon, a keyboardist (name unknown) joins him on the stage to pick up the tempo, just before McCloud tips over and falls into the gravel with his tip jar and a cigarette propped vertical and burning near the pegs of his guitar. Oh yeah, it’s a scene.
Meantime, during the afternoon, tourists and grayhairs and assorted street people gather there in the shade and smoke big cigars and basically hang with the big dogs. Dogs, did I say, are welcome in this bar, and some of them are brought in all scraggly in baby strollers, but also a lot of them come in on their own four feet and loll patiently in the gravel while their owners swill. Dogs of all sizes, watching Michael McCloud tie one on with their big brown eyes.
We didn’t see a single collie, but collies aren’t common anymore. If our Angus had been with us, it would have gotten real loud—when he sees a potential pal, he can churn up a racket barking and whining that could easily drown out Michael McCloud. They might even consider closing the bar to dogs.
On this trip we went to the dog bar twice, once late in the afternoon on the first full day we were there, and then on Valentine’s Day. On Valentine’s Day you’ve never seen so many pirates and down-and-outters, mixed in with the tourists, but don’t think for a second you can’t tell which is which. Key West, due to the weather, is mighty appealing to the homeless, though we can’t figure out how they get down here. Walked maybe, but being outside 24-7 and walking from Miami results in a wicked leathery tan and not very good teeth. They gather around Key West Harbor, day and night, and sleep on the sidewalks or on the ground in the parks.
Valentine’s Day in Key West was quite the holiday this year, since Florida has finally decided to allow gay people to be married. All across the island there were celebrations, and you’ve never seen Key West so happy. On Sunday the island warmed up, and you could take a walk without getting frost-bite. We walked lots of steps, and the island hummed with the sound of scooters and all manner of planes landing at the airport.
Schooner Wharf Bar is a must if you happen to get to Key West. The beer’s good, they’ve got a new chef (so they say), and if you spend an afternoon there, gall stones won’t be far away.
Philip F. Deaver (Episode 35, interview; Episode 57, poetry & fiction) is the 13th winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and his book is Silent Retreats. He has held fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Bread Loaf. His work, which can be found mostly in the literary magazines, has appeared in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and has been recognized in Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Recent work has appeared many litmags including the Southern Review and the Kenyon Review and, most recently, in the Louisville Review. He also writes poetry. His poems have appeared in magazines such as The Reaper, Poetry Miscellany, and just this fall in the Florida Review, and four times have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on NPR. The poems are collected in a volume titled How Men Pray. Philip Deaver is Professor of English and Writer in Residence at Rollins College, Winter Park, FL.