"You've got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You've got to dance like nobody's watchin'
It's gotta come from the heart if you want it to work."
- Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh
You're all settled into your perfect Key West Vacation Rental,
and you're fully savoring your long-anticipated escape to Paradise. You've been swimming, shopping, sight-seeing, paddle boarding. You've watched the sunrise and marveled at the epic Key West sunsets, and you've even gone fishing. You have dined in some of the island's many distinctive and superb cafes and restaurants. What could possibly be left to do?
Well, put on your dancing shoes!
If you are a regular visitor to Key West, you understand the laid-back party vibe that permeates the island's culture. And you know that when you visit almost any local establishment that features live music, you can just get up and shake a tail feather whenever the spirit moves you. Whether there's a formal "dance floor" or not, you can usually find a few square yards near the stage where you can cut loose. And no worries if no one else is dancing; there's a very good chance that if you get the ball rolling, you'll soon be joined by other revelers who just can't sit still. Be sure to check out our earlier blog post, Finding Great Live Music in Key West
for lots of places you can go in search of your ideal groove.
First, a little history-
Conchs (as Key West natives call themselves) have always had an affinity for shaking it up on the dance floor. In the early 1800's, that meant going to one of a few saloons near the Historic Seaport
. In the Prohibition era, numerous speakeasys popped up around town as the rumrunners had no problem keeping their bars well-stocked. The US Navy was already here by that time, and the base commanders showed little interest in keeping their sailors reigned in when they could be "letting off steam" in the drinking/dancing/fighting establishments that began to flourish. As was typical in port cities, the Navy men enormously outnumbered the females in these places, so it was not unusual to find men dancing with other men- an early foreshadowing of more liberal days to come.
The influx of Cuban cigar makers began in the 1830's, and had grown huge by the 1870's. The workers who settled here brought their Cuban culture with them, and that included a serious love of dancing. It took a while for the immigrants and the local Conchs to begin to mingle socially, so several Cuban social clubs popped up to cater to the new arrivals. Classic Cuban dance styles of Danzón, Bolero and Mambo (which were likely danced at these clubs) eventually merged to become the more modern Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Macarena, and their popularity expanded far beyond the Latin community.
By the 1970's, the military boom had mostly wound down, and the island economy was in a slump. But a fresh influx of new residents from all over the US began rehabbing and rebuilding many decaying old properties, converting them to guest houses and B&B's, and attracting a new crop of upscale visitors. This boom led to the opening of trendy, inclusive new discos, all with a quirky Key West vibe, of course. Visitors and locals alike could dance to the throbbing beats of Donna Summer and the Village People at the legendary Monster disco, near Mallory Square. Or they could party in the open air at Atlantic Shores, a hotel/nightclub/entertainment complex at the other end of town. The 1980's saw another legendary club, The Copa, pop up in the 600 block of Duval Street. Packed almost every night, the exhausted patrons often didn't leave until the sun was about to appear. After the Copa was destroyed by fire in 1995, it was rebuilt to become Epoch, and other dance clubs began to thrive in the 700 block, just to the southeast. And the beat goes on!
So, let's dance!
The great thing about dancing in a bar or a club is that your skill level isn't all that important. Even a total lack of skill isn't a deal-breaker. So long as you can pick up on the beat and let your body do what it wants, you can have a good time. Let's look at some of the places which lend themselves to your "free styling" outings in Key West.
We're starting our list with this rocking honky tonk for a couple of reasons. Since 1890, this bar, in one form or another has occupied the corner of Southard and Whitehead, right across from the Monroe County Courthouse. So not only is the Parrot the oldest bar in Key West- it is also one of the most rocking spots in town. Check out their entertainment schedule
to find your perfect fit.
In the heart of Key West's live-entertainment district, this indoor/outdoor hot spot always has a party going on. Excellent bands, festive atmosphere and a chance to dance under the stars. Sounds about perfect, right?
Perched on the edge of the docks, this classic Historic Seaport bar bills itself as "A last little piece of Old Key West." Locals and visitors mingle, knock back a drink or two, and get down with live music from noon until the wee hours. Mainly solo performers through the afternoon cede the stage to bands as the sun goes down and the tempo accelerates. But, of course
, dancing can break out at any moment. Soak up some salty atmosphere and let yourself cut loose!
Classic rock and roll with a nod toward country rules the roost at Hog's Breath (which, they assure you, is better than no breath at all.) This semi-open-air bar is tucked behind the historic brick bank building at the corner of Duval and Front Streets, and thanks to that high-traffic location, is often busy all day long. But the real rocking starts after dark and goes on until the morning hours.
Probably the best-known bar in Key West, Sloppy's is an intrinsic part of the town's storied history. Although it originally opened at another location half a block away, the establishment has been a landmark at Duval and Greene since 1937. Owing to its reputation, it can be packed with tourists during the day, but at night, the cavernous barroom takes on a rollicking party atmosphere, and dancing is encouraged, if not mandatory.
With eight bars, each offering a different stripe of entertainment, the Rick's & Durty Harry's Entertainment Complex is easily the largest such venue in town. You can dance at the downstairs club to live band music, but Rick's Upstairs is a true dance club
featuring KW's largest dance floor, lights and lasers and throbbing dance music provided by live DJ's.
The Aqua Complex, at the very heart of Duval Street, is the gay entertainment spot that's for anybody
who wants to dance, be entertained, and just generally have a good time. The main club at 711 Duval features an elevated party atmosphere. The rather ribald nightly drag shows (featuring the Aquanets, their resident drag troupe) are followed by disco-style dancing for all. The Sidebar, fronting 504 Angela Street, right around the corner, is a bit more subdued, but also offers dancing along with your cocktails.
Another all-inclusive gay club is right down the block from Aqua. Perhaps most famous for its New Year's Eve midnight "drag queen shoe drop" (seen on CNN), Bourbon Street rocks all year long with thumping disco beats, go-go guys dancing on the bars, and a packed dance floor for the patrons.
Dancing like the experts-
We have covered lots of options for getting out on the dance floor and just letting yourself go. But what if you have, or want to learn, the skills for more structured dance styles? We've got you covered there, too.
Salsa Party- Hot Hot Hot!
Every evening, as the famous Mallory Square Sunset Celebration is winding down, right next door, El Meson de Pepe
starts cranking up the sizzling Salsa party. The live Carribean Latin music on the patio bar is sure to get your blood flowing and feet moving. Maybe enjoy a Mojito or a Cuba Libre, then hit the open-air dance floor and Samba, Rumba, Cha-Cha, or Merengue to your heart's content. Kick off your night in paradise in classic island fashion.
If Latin dance is really your thing, be sure to check out Virgilio's,
one of our island's hottest party spots right behind La Trattoria Restaurant at 524 Duval Street. Every Thursday at 10 PM, their Latin Dance Party
provides you with an opportunity to show off your moves to hot Latin music curated by a live DJ.
Country Slide and Glide
At 6 PM every Wednesday, the always entertaining Backyard Bar
at Angela and Duval gets its country on by offering free line dancing lessons with a professional instructor. Whether you have some experience in this uniquely American dance form or are an absolute beginner, you're sure to have a great time and meet some fun people to learn with. Stick around and show off your new skills to the accompaniment of live music throughout the night.
Cowboy boots are optional, but a down-home, country-fried, honky-tonk attitude is essential!
All That Jazz
Feel like swing dancing? Jittery for a Jitterbug? Hot to Foxtrot? Or maybe you're ready to get lost with your partner in a dreamy Nightclub Two-step. The Little Room Jazz Club
Is just the thing you're looking for. Offering live music across the jazz spectrum from smokey torch songs to Big Band-style swing in a cool, hip atmosphere, this little jewel of a nightclub comes to life nightly at 821 Duval Street. Be sure to check their entertainment schedule
to find your perfect fit.
A Little Help from the Pros
You're on vacation, and your time is your own. What a perfect opportunity to pick up a brand new skill you can enjoy here in Key West and then take home with you as a lifelong souvenir. Lucy & Leon
are professional dance teachers who offer you instruction in whatever dance style you prefer. You can arrange to join their classes at the Coffee Mill Dance Studio
on White Street, or set up one-on-one lessons. Since you're in town for a limited time, you can have a few lessons to get you started, and then practice at some of the venues we have shared above. What a satisfying and healthy way to make this vacation especially memorable!