By Carlos Harrison
The Hog’s Breath Saloon’s slogan is “Hog’s breath is better than no breath at all.”
The truth is, it’s a whole lot better than that.
Whether you’re heading to or from watching the sun dip into the sea at Mallory Square, starting a night of barhopping or looking for a spot to rest your feet, this welcoming watering hole is the perfect place to sip some beers and pleasure your ears in laid back Key West style.
Maryann Damerau came to the southernmost city all the way from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. She does every year, for a month at a time. She has, she said, “for the last 10 years.” And Hog’s Breath is high on the list of reasons why.
“If you want good music, this is the place,” she said.
Just steps to or from the island’s main drag, Duval Street, Hog’s Breath has a honky-tonk feel, with music stretching from southern rock and country to blues, New Orleans jazz, and more.
You can check it out yourself via live webcams – or “Hog Cams” as they call the three here. One points at the musician(s) of the moment, the other two at each of the bars. They all let you listen in on the tunes and check out the nearly constant parade of bands, which is what brings folks like Robin Pemberton down from North Carolina.
“We come because of the music and all the dancing,” he said.
You might hear the ivories tinkling on an upright piano accompanied by a bare brass trumpet, or maybe just a simple cow bell keeping time as the pianist belts out “Hey, good lookin’. Watcha got cookin’” with enough gusto to make Hank Williams proud, then slides into something like Leon Redbone with a Spanish flair, or off to find his thrills on “Blueberry Hill.”
Basically, it’s like a party on a roomy veranda – open air, with open arms. It’s covered by a blue canvas tarp, surrounded simply by a white wood railing, with a mighty oak tree jutting up through the floor by the band stage and wrapping up to the sky. The wall behind the raw bar is packed with license plates from around the states,
They’ve got a full bar serving up pretty much anything you can name, including, naturally, the margaritas that give the ’ville its nickname. And if you get a hankerin’ to munch while you listen, they’ve got plenty of perfectly Keys-inspired options. There’s shrimp ceviche, Bahamian conch chowder, conch fritters and “Hog Legs” – “fall off the bone” mini pork shanks served up with “sweet and spicy” plum sauce. They’ve also got a raw bar, sandwiches and a selection of seafood – and shorefood – dinners.
The night I’m there, singer-songwriters Mike McAdam and Ericson Holt get people swinging and swaying with the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues.” Holt gets his fingers flying on an electric piano and McAdam wails away on a Yamaha electric.
“For a loud bar,” said Holt, “the people are listening. They want to be engaged.”
And they are. You’ll likely hear it before you see it once you get anywhere near, so just follow your ears.
Hog’s Breath Saloon
400 Front Street, Key West, Fla., 33040
More music venues…
Sloppy Joe’s Bar
Well, it’s not really the original drinking establishment Hemingway frequented (and carried a urinal home from which still graces the garden between the house and pool, but that’s another story). Still, this Duval Street institution definitely lives on in spirit – and spirits. It’s a sprawling space to quench your thirst and catch some of Key West’s best standard, and new, music acts – Barry Cuda, Mojito, The Doerfels – as well as national names such as Kenny Chesney. The night I was there, What You Know, a talented group of high schoolers that includes Phil Collins’ son – yes, that Phil Collins – made its debut.
201 Duval St, Key West, Fla., 33040
It’s hard to miss Willie T’s. It’s the open-air tavern on Duval Street with all the signed dollar bills stuck to the ceiling, the bar and the walls, and with the band stage so close to the sidewalk you can practically touch the performers as you walk by. You’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll know it when you hear the sounds of true Key West “Trop Rock,” classic rock, and the kind of country-tinged island tunes that made Jimmy Buffet a household name.
525 Duval St., Key West, Fla., 33040
Starting off as a pre-1900 grocery store where locals gathered for late-night rum and musical jam sessions known as descargas, the Parrot calls itself “a sunny place for shady people.” Maybe. It’s definitely the place for some of the best blues, soul, and afro-Cuban funk on the island. The décor is as eclectic as the musical offerings. There’s a parachute draping the ceiling, a sign on the door that said “Sorry, we’re open,” and an entertaining “Garden of Earthly Delights”–like painting by the restroom that plays with the eye and the mind. You may want to try their signature drink, the Root Beer Barrel. It’s a shot glass of root beer schnapps inside a rocks glass filled with lager beer.
601 Whitehead St., Key West, Fla., 33040
You don’t have to go all the way to Key West for a taste of the Keys. Snapper’s, in Key Largo, offers seafood dishes to tantalize your taste buds, and seaside tunes to delight your ears. For the tongue: wahoo ceviche, yellowfin tuna, mussels and gator bites, to name a few. For the ears, heart, and maritime soul, a regular list of local performers: The Dana Collins Band, Billy Davidson, Ace Suggs, and more.
Mile Marker 94.5, 139 Seaside Ave., Key Largo, Fla., 33037
Could there be a better name for a Keys restaurant and bar? Housed in a more than a century old former rail station and station agent’s residence, Mangrove Mama’s has been serving up pleasures on a plate for more than 30 years. There’s Coconut Encrusted Grouper topped with a Pina Colada Rum sauce, plantain encrusted hogfish, and spicy mahi tacos. Then there’s the music. A steady stream of locals provide music that’s Keys, country, folk-flavored, and more. You can see who’s playing and when on its website.
19991 Overseas Hwy., Sugarloaf Key, Fla., 33042
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