When you tire of bongs, thongs and the Duval Crawl…
Yes, I said it: bongs and thongs. Because let’s face it, you don’t have to look far to see them in store windows, on mannequins, or sitting on carts with all the other smoking paraphernalia. There’s no shortage of tacky, shiny objects and cheap, fluorescent t-shirts on racks pushed out by storefronts in hopes of catching the eyes of those doing the well-known Duval Crawl. The first time you go, it’s sensory overload. Lower Duval has a bit of a stale alcohol smell early in the morning, because that’s where the majority of the historic, iconic, party bars are located. Gypsy chickens scurry around in the streets where their loud crowing can be heard all over town, and a little further up Duval in the evening, you will most definitely pass by the stars of the local drag show hanging out on the street in front of their venue inviting you in to see them perform. Key West is not for modest types, but this is part of the eclectic mixture that makes the island. I have written about the island before and most definitely will again and again. There are rare finds and creative, captivating people all over the island, and one day, I hope to write about a trip from Key West to Havana, Cuba. Until then, I’m collecting stories and pictures.
Although we do parade up and down Duval like everyone else who visits (because there is no better place to people watch), I prefer upper Duval and the outer areas much more, like the artsy neighborhood Bahama Village. Upper Duval has a more laid back feel, nicer quality of shops and galleries, and less tourist crowded places. The beach is also on this end of Duval. 🙂 Biking is the best way to get off Duval and see the rest of the island. It’s one of the best ways to find these hidden destinations that are tucked away in neighborhoods, blocks away from the loud bands and cruise ship passengers. It’s also a great way to meet locals and find out where they eat, drink, shop, etc. Here are some noteworthy places from this trip.
Grace on Frances (meaning on Frances St)
This shop/gallery exemplifies the word grace. It is elegant and refined, edited and restrained, curated and presented in a very straightforward, simple, unpretentious way. It is part shop, part gallery, and part museum of objects that are beautiful in their craftsmanship, functionality and story. Many of these items were gathered meticulously from other parts of the world and include textiles, pottery, jewelry and artifacts, all made from clay, stone, wood, metal and other natural materials. You get a sense that you’re touching history, a different culture, a different place and time, and are connected to the people who created these things, a connection that stretches far back ancestrally and captures the human experience we all share. These objects have meaning and a life all their own. The store’s calm palette and honest display of objects and garments is a soothing change from the bright colors on Duval. Can I please have one of everything?
I was even more impressed by how we were treated when we walked in. The day we were on our way to Grace, we were on our bikes, so by the time we got there after riding in the island heat, we were a little sweaty and in our workout clothes. We were treated so well by the ladies in the shop, who were so kind, spent time with me explaining everything, answering all my questions, and treated us no different than if we had been in nice clothes. That, my friends, is what grace is all about. I bought a beautiful handmade scarf and bracelet, too. Check out their gorgeous site and collection of treasures that are meaningful and matter. This place will be a must visit every trip to see the rotating collections.
Another truly special place we found while out riding bikes was this secret destination. Isle Style is a salon, spa and boutique and the reason I say secret is because I searched all over the internet for a massage in Key West and nearly booked at another spa before stumbling upon this place. This place reminds me of our trip Paradise Koh Yao in Thailand, and I could have spent all morning there.
This shop is full of effortless, breezy Summer clothes, global brand Fashionable (more on this later) handmade by women working their way out of poverty, jewelry and so much more. I loved it so much, I bought two shirts and a dress. Isn’t this wood chair below incredible?
But the really special part is the garden and massage lanai. The garden is situated in the center, outside behind the shop, and the salon treatment rooms all face the garden. The open-air lanai was set up for couple’s massages and was the perfect temperature with fans blowing and no air conditioning. I need one of these rooms for yoga and meditation. When the leaves of the palm trees rubbed together in the garden sunlight, it had a sparkling light quality that was magical.
Another unexpected find was Coast. Sharing a retail space in a house in Bahama Village with another shop, the place is easy to miss. It reminds me of a California surf shop and the shirts are printed right on the front porch (see picture below). Coast is an art collective of creative people with a compound based on Stock Island, which also serves as a music venue and has a resident food truck. The shop in Bahama Village is full of found objects, photography, t-shirts and a few fun and quirky wood prints of Hemingway and his cats that Key West is so famous for. Like Grace, it’s part shop, part gallery of photography and graphic arts. This brand represents life by the sea and the local culture. When you walk in, you either get it, or you don’t, and I suspect most people looking for the cheap t-shirts on Duval don’t get it. One of the very reasons I was in love with Grace is shopping at places like these is about living a life that supports people and their talents, and their ability and desire to create handcrafted items, both locally and globally, that have meaning and heart. This is what you find when you walk in this tiny but memorable shop. I’m obsessed with the photography, bought three pictures and the hubs left with a shirt.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I’ve heard so much talk about Duval St changing lately and wanted to share some places you might be missing in hopes you won’t judge Key West based on what you see in the party bars and up and down Duval. More Key West on the blog soon.