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Key West Just Got Better

New family attractions and upscale resort opens

By Phyllis Steinberg

Walking down Duval Street in Key West, it looked like business as usual. Sloppy Joe’s Bar was jam packed with tourists sipping their favorite brew. The souvenir stores were selling the typical stuff, t-shirts, coffee mugs and Cuban made cigars.

Yes, crowds still gather on Mallory Square, partying and watching the fabulous sunsets, but this trip to Key West revealed, a lot of new developments. One of the most interesting is the addition of a new upscale resort. The Beachside Resort and Conference Center, which opened in the fall of 2007, is designed to appeal to more affluent tourists. There is even a helicopter landing pad, if you wish to come in your private plane.

Located on Roosevelt Boulevard, the Beachside Resort has luxurious business and meeting facilities, a large pool area and poolside Blue Bar and a private secluded beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel has standard rooms and one, two and three bedroom suites with furnished kitchens and living rooms. The modern suites have marble floors, granite counter tops and top of the line appliances.

Tavern N Town restaurants are located in the Beachside Resort. At the helm of the two restaurants is legendary chef, Norman Van Aken, of Norman’s fame in Coral Gables. Van Aken has closed his Coral Gables restaurant and has moved back to Key West where he got his start in the early 70’s. Van Aken also has a Norman’s restaurant in the Ritz Carlton in Orlando.

The Tavern restaurant has a bustling open kitchen with a chocolate mahogany bar, an impressive line of stoves, grills and a wood- burning oven. The restaurant which opened in October, 2007, offers creative casual cuisine in a classy atmosphere. Rich woods combine with comfy chairs and oversized booths.

I devoured Norman’s version of conch chowder, his Key West Snapper with Garlicky Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Wild Mushrooms, but there are many other culinary selections on his menu at Tavern. His Town restaurant which is located adjacent to Tavern is a more upscale restaurant with fine table linens and an even more creative menu.

Key West also has some new attractions aimed at attracting families to the area. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory takes visitors through a stroll of tropical gardens with hundreds of the butterflies flying overhead. There is also a learning center that explores the butterfly anatomy, physiology and lifecycle. Don’t pass up the gift shop. It has a multitude of unusual and beautiful items for sale.

The Pat Croce’s Pirate Soul Museum is another recently added attraction in Key West that is aimed at children. Located on Front and Simonton Street just one block off of Duval, this attraction examines pirate plunder, weapons and other artifacts. There are many different rooms that junior pirate explorers can enter and learn about the spine-tingling experiences of pirates like Blackbeard. They can also see a treasure chest loaded with pirate treasures.

I explored the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, a new free attraction for families in Key West. The Center has hands-on interactive exhibits and other fascinating exhibits featuring the many plants and animals of the Keys that are not found anywhere else in the United States.

The best way to see Key West is on the Old Town Trolley, which allows passengers to get on and off the trolley throughout the day at attractions and hotels throughout the Key West area for one price. There is commentary on the trolley as well.

I enjoyed watching the sunset from the bar at the recently renovated Hyatt Key West away from the crowds at Mallory Square. I sat on a comfy lounge chair, sipped my drink, watched a football game on the large flat screen television and watched boats sailing by with passengers bound for nowhere except to see the magnificent Key West sunset.

Key West is the same but it also evolving and trying to attract a more affluent vacationer.

Photos by Phyllis Steinberg

For more information:

Key West

Beachside Resort and Conference Center
3841 Roosevelt Blvd.
Key West

Pat Croce’s Pirate Soul Museum
524 Front Street

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservator
1316 Duval Street

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
35 East Quay Road

Tavern n Town Restaurant
3841 Roosevelt Street

Old Town Trolley

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