Inside, there's a display frame that looks like it could house pinned butterflies, but instead holds a bunch of loopy, complicated-looking nautical knots. The room beyond that contains a pool table and is painted in bold stripes of blue and green and cream; it's how a minimalist might interpret the ocean and coast. A ship's huge steering wheel anchors the wooden bar. Colorado Bob says his place is the "closest you'll come to being in Key West anywhere within a thousand miles of here." And he'd know: He's lived there. Bob's met Jimmy Buffett and Captain Tony, whose recent obituary reads like a legend you'd find in bottle. Anthony Tarracino, immortalized in Buffett's tune "Last Mango in Paris," was a gunrunner, a captain, a bootlegger, a romantic, a gambler, a storyteller, a father of thirteen, one-time mayor of Key West and owner of a haunt favored by Ernest Hemingway.
We order a shot off a poster that's probably hanging in college dorm rooms the world over. It's called Midnight Sun; it has the slow burn of straight vodka, and the grenadine within it acts as little more than food coloring. But this cash-only bar is a place for beers and rail drinks anyway, and, if he's around, stories from Colorado Bob. In the pool room a brightly colored tin house hangs on the wall. Bob says it was made in Jamaica by a man who pounds out the tin on the stump of a palm tree, and after it's shaped, his wife paints it by hand. On a nearby shelf, there's a pregnant doll from the collection of south-side music icon Freddie Friction. The 420-pound stuffed blue marlin was caught in the Keys by Bob's friend Terry; the sailfish was netted closer to home, from an antique shop on Cherokee Street. His buddy Turtle repaired its broken sail and body that had been gnawed by rats, and painstakingly restored every last lifelike feature.
When Bob humbly suggests we use this space to write more about Captain Tony than himself, it's hard to honor the request: Bob's got at least one story for every model lighthouse, ship and flag in the place — all of which have led him to dock his boat at this bar in a city he so cherishes. But make no mistake: "If I ever get run out of St. Louis," Bob says, gesturing outside, "I'm just going to get in that boat and ride back to Key West."
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