For absorbing the lively atmosphere of Key West’s Duval Street, there’s few better places than Ocean Key Resort and Spa.
This historic, 100-room southern Florida hotel stands a stone’s throw from the legendary street filled with clubs, bars, restaurants and art galleries. Convenience is further enhanced with valet parking.
First impressions are positive. A spacious open lobby is a welcoming sight with bright green sofas, leather armchairs and an abundance of plants combining flair and elegance to the overall atmosphere. Even the reception desk reflects a spirited ambience, with a candy-striped backdrop to it. Revolving ceiling fans keep the air fresh and cool and framed black and white photos depicting the area a century ago adorn the walls. At the opposite end of the lobby is the concierge desk and a gift-store stocking clothing accessors, souvenirs and assorted knick-knacks.
Large canopies of morning glories create a colorful ceiling over the inner courtyard, forming a natural cupola under which you walk to your room. Several walkways are decorated with various eclectic armchairs, bird-cages, mirrors and toucans.
Our room, 228, categorized as a junior island suite, featured a terracotta tiled floor, a king-size bed, double-sink, a stretch sofa, cane chairs, armchairs and two televisions, one housed directly in front of the bed. My favorite furnishing was a large brightly-painted cupboard featuring toucans and pineapples, reminding me of a ‘Punch and Judy’ stand you might find in days gone by on a beach. Paintings of tropical landscapes adorned the walls.
A bonus was the sizeable verandah which provided views across to Mallory Square where street performers entertained audiences nightly, and along the placid waters where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby palm fronds rustling in the evening breeze added a subtle touch of romance. Guestrooms include ‘Partial Ocean View’ offering views over Old Town Key West and ‘Deluxe Oceanfront,’ popular with honeymooners and featuring a spa tub. There are also one and two bedroom and junior suites and a penthouse, all decorated with local art, hand-painted furnishings, and an eclectic mix of colors and textures.
Breakfast and dinner at Ocean Key Resort and Spa are served either inside or on the terrace of the ‘Hot Tin Roof’ restaurant, whose name honors writer Tennessee Williams, a frequent Key West guest, who wrote the well-known play, ‘Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.’ Here detailed teak woodwork is complemented by hand-painted murals and ceiling panels, all the work of local artist Jeff Beal. Furnishings include white leather seating and wild wire sculptures.
Dubbed ‘conch-fusion,’ the dinner menu is a mix of seafood and meat.
We started with black-eye pea and conch croquets, similar in shape to crab cakes but with a more fibrous texture, served with a mustard and Key lime mayo. More classic options are lobster bisque or calamari rings cooked in a light batter of corn-flour and served with spicy mayo.
There is also a special main course for two, a surf-and-turf combo of ribeye steak, lobster tail, scallops, prawns and truffle potatoes.
Breakfasts are also gourmet affairs with excellent choices of fresh smoothies and a signature hot dish of ‘Noble’ eggs, poached and atop crab-cakes with an English muffin base, all drizzled with Key lime sauce.
Poolside dining is at ‘LIQUID,’ which offers a full cocktail and food menu for lunch and afternoon snacking, served from sun-up to sun-down. Complimentary fruit-infused waters, magazines and newspapers, and, interestingly, ‘coco mango misted towels’ are available.
An attractive aspect of the resort, nestled beside Key West Harbor, is its ‘Sunset Pier,’ a broad wooden walkway with views over the azure blue waters and passing cruise ships, yachts and glass-bottom boats, and furnished for guests with a veritable kaleidoscope of multi-colored stools and tables. A comprehensive drinks menu includes specialty cocktails such as ‘Liquid Jelly Monkey’ a combination of Cruzan mango rum, coconut and pineapple and ‘Goombay,’ comprising dark and white rum, orange and pineapple. The place really livens up at night with music and dancing.
To add to one’s overall relaxation, the resort houses SpaTerre, where Eastern wellness practices fuse with indigenous oils and herbs. Treatments include ‘Javanese Ritual,’ ‘Tropical Essence Spa Massage’ and ‘Key Lime Margarita Spa Pedicure,’ as well as ‘Duval Detox Wrap’ and Balinese and Thai body rituals. We celebrated a special event by basking in the skills of therapists in the special couples’ room and enjoyed two different massages, each tailored specifically to our own needs.
Due to the hotel’s central location, cultural activities are merely a walk away, none closer than the Waterfront Playhouse on Mallory Square, right outside the hotel’s rear exit. Now in its 77th season, this 150-seater venue has hosted productions ranging from thought-provoking theater to rip-roaring Broadway musicals such Tony winner ‘Avenue Q.’ Upcoming shows include the dark comedy ‘Good People’ and ‘Forever Plaid,’ a musical about a ‘50’s boy band. The Red Barn Theatre, whose shows have been enjoyed by celebrities such as singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet, and the Key West Theater, originally built in 1848, are also within a ten-minute walk.
For relaxation, excellent food and an overall authentic sense of what is best termed ‘the barefoot elegance’ of Florida’s most southerly point, the Ocean Key Resort and Spa is a fine choice.