With all of our friendly tourists returning to the Keys this season, The Weekly decided to introduce you to some of our local bartenders. Their backgrounds, ages and places of origin are quite varied. Next time you visit your favorite watering hole, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation (if they’re not too busy, of course.) They collectively carry are a wealth of knowledge and collection of local lore…you never know who might be serving you your next Keysy cocktail!
Big Chill – Key Largo
Brentwood aka Woody will celebrate his one-year anniversary in the Keys this June. After a couple of trips down from a cow farm in Wisconsin last spring, Woody decided to relocate to Key Largo. He tried fishing for a month to make a living, but decided bartending would help to pay his bills. He always greets his customers with a smile. Where does he like to hang out on his day off? “I live across the street, so I usually hang out here,” he laughed. “Then I get talked into working.”
Kenley Turchetti enjoys using props to entertain her customers. “You know, like when a big burly guy orders a fru-fru drink, I put an umbrella and cherries in there to get a laugh,” she explained. Four years ago, Kenley came south from West Pittston, Pa. and has been serving up cocktails at the Big Chill since they opened. After having recently celebrated the landing of her first sailfish, Kenley was also part of the fourth place team in the 2009 Islamorada Bartenders Sailfish Tournament.
Hog Heaven – Islamorada
Derek Turton, 21, was the youngest bartender on The Weekly tour. He relocated from Ohio five years ago with his family. While on summer break from Bowling Green State University where he was pursuing a degree in Telecommunications, Derek worked as a bar back at Hog Heaven. Now he’s a bartender and likes experimenting with any type of spiced rum to create specialty drinks for his customers. He also swears by his margarita that contains only fresh lime juice and must be shaken vigorously. On his days off, he enjoys lounging on the beach at the Key Largo Grande Resort.
The Island Grill – Islamorada
Chris Poehlman is very particular about his martinis. “It has to be the right temperature, the right pour,” he explained. “I serve martinis how I like to drink them.” He also enjoys muddling a perfect mojito for his regular rounds of bar customers as well. The warm weather enticed Chris to relocate from Traverse City, Mich. four years ago. He’s only been at The Island Grill for a few months, but said it’s a great locals spot. When he’s not diving on his days off, he likes to hang out with friends in Key West or go to Sharky’s in Key Largo to play pool.
Islamorada Fish Company – Islamorada
Clark Snow started visiting the Keys with his family back in the 60s, and he’s been a permanent resident for the past 23 years. For the past 11, he’s been a fixture behind the bar at Islamorada Fish Co. What is his specialty? “Margaritas.” What is his secret? “Ask my wife – that’s why she married me,” he laughed. Clark lives with his lovely bride on Long Key and rarely has a day off – he’s a city councilman and a firefighter in Layton. He’s also currently in the running for a “Mr. Legs” competition to benefit a local charity. “Of course it was my wife’s idea.”
The Green Turtle Inn – Islamorada
Eric Lund splits his time between the Keys and Alaska where between bartending gigs, he prowls the backcountry flats as a fishing guide. Eric is proud of his very own Tropical Illusion cocktail which he serves to his customers with a modest smile. This man of many talents is also an excellent pianist. He and his partner in crime, Tricia Knapp, both worked together at Cheeca Lodge before a recent fire temporarily closed the resort. Tricia hails from Syracuse, N.Y. and like many, came south for the warm weather. She likes to relax with a good glass of pinot noir, but enjoys making margaritas for her customers. Her secret? “A lot of alcohol and a splash of orange juice.”
The Island Fish Co. – Marathon
Rusti Leach escaped the chilly Kansas climate four and a half years ago, and she’s been serving the regular bar customers at The Island for quite some time. Grassy Key Bob said Rusti’s customers would never sit for more than six seconds on her watch before she has a drink in front of them. “She’s the friendliest, most knowledgeable, locals bartender,” he said. For visitors, she prefers mixing her signature margarita with her own personal touch. On her day off, she likes to drink a vodka and Red Bull or two with her friends on the beach and play with her dog, Titus.
Cabana Breezes – Key Colony Beach
Erin Newton departed from Portland, Ore. with her husband on a cross country road trip three and half years ago. The couple was headed to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, so they rerouted to the Florida Keys. Though she prefers to drink a good glass of Cabernet or Shiraz, she’s been serving Cabana Breezes famed Espresso and Ruby Red martinis for a year and a half. How does she break the ice with her customers? “Well, I can always spot a tourist, so I ask them where they’re from. If they’re a local, I ask them what they did last night.” Erin and her husband love to host visitors from out of town because they get to visit all the tourist hot spots like the Dolphin Research Center or Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West.
Key Colony Inn – Key Colony Beach
Aaron (Woody) Underwood, 25, came to Marathon three years ago with a friend from Minnesota. His friend had an internship at Dolphin Research Center, and when it came time to return home, Woody decided to stay. Corey and Beverly Galstan from Washington, D.C. said Woody was the best bartender they’ve met in the Keys during their vacation. He loves to serve the Inn’s delicious espresso martini, and on his days off, he prefers to watch sports with an ice cold Coors Light.
Sparky’s Landing – Key Colony Beach
Ali Baker, originally from Pennsylvania, and Paul Lustig, originally from North Carolina, have both been in Marathon for about seven years. Ali is famous with her customers for her cosmopolitans and margaritas. Paul’s favorite drink? “Anything with alcohol.” They’ve both been staples behind the bar at Sparky’s for some time and complement each other quite well. On their days off, both Ali and Paul enjoy spending time with their spouses and daughters.
The Brass Monkey – Marathon
Sammy Leo, 38, hails from Michigan. Like most who relocate to the Keys, Sammy came to escape the colder climate 12 years ago. He keeps his steady stream of local customers at The Brass Monkey happy by keeping their glasses filled with stiff drinks. What does he personally prefer to drink? “Jagermeister.” And on his day off, what does he like to do? “Sleep.”
Frosty’s Restaurant and Sunset Tiki Bar
Randy Orme, 38, has only been behind the bar at Frosty’s for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’s his first rodeo. Randy left Dayton, Ohio bound for the Keys 14 years ago. It was here that he met his wife, Brandy Simpson, a massage therapist at Bodies in Motion. He tended the bar at Banana Bay for 10 years. While working at Cabana Breezes, Randy and his wife met friends who own a bar in Belize. The couple decided to lease a bar in Belize and experience another tropical climate for a year. On his days off, Randy likes to take his dogs to run at Coco Plum beach or go fishing and diving.
Fat Tuesday – Key West
Gerry Demeza, 37, was the only Conch on The Weekly bar tour. Besides a stint in Atlanta, Gerry’s been serving up Keysy cocktails to visitors and locals alike his entire life. He explained to Key West first-timer Dorothy Manfredonia that Fantasy Fest is “like Mardi Gras with a lot more people and a lot less clothes.” As a bartender serving cruise ship customers, he loves seeing the new faces and hearing all the new stories every day. “People are just here having fun and not worrying about what anyone else thinks.” On his days off, Gerry likes to play a round or two of golf and hang out with his daughter.
Irish Kevin’s – Key West
David Campos, 31, came to Key West six years ago from Fresno, Ca. for his friends and fishing. David’s been part of the Irish Kevin’s family for the past five years, and when he’s not behind the bar, he’s plying the waters as a fishing guide with Dream Catcher Charters. His favorite drinks? “Jameson or Magners. Anything strong that’s worth drinking.” How does he break the ice with his customers? “If I have a grumpy old man come up to the bar, I’ll approach him and say ‘What’s up playboy?’ That usually makes them smile.”
The Tree Bar at Rick’s – Key West
Tommy Keckeisen retired to Key West six and half years ago from the streets of Manhattan where he served as a New York City cop. “I got shot at four times right in front of the courthouse but an old lady blowing a red light and running me over sent me into retirement,” he laughed. Last week, he traveled to the southern tip of Barbados to get married. After greeting his customers with a thick New York accent, “How you doin’? Where ya from?” he likes to make them a good rumrunner or mojito.
The Smallest Bar – Key West
Sanchi hails from Tivoli, Jamaica and has been in Key West for the past four years. He’s also spent time in St. Thomas, British Virgin Islands. If you can fit in this hole in the wall bar (literally!), Sanchi shares his love of reggae music blasted to the highest decibel and makes his signature Pina Colada. “You have to use all fresh ingredients. No artificial products.” He prefers to drink coconut water and Red Stripe, but not together. What does he do on his day off? “I don’t have one,” he said with a big grin.
Ocean Key Resort – Key West
Carly Balkenbush and Libby Lee serve all the thirsty travelers at Ocean Key Resort near Mallory Square in Key West. With Libby’s margaritas or Carly’s mai tais and rumrunners in hand, revelers can watch the boating world go by out in the harbor. Carly, originally from Colorado, was taking a semester off from school five years ago and visited a friend in Key West. She came for a bit and wound up staying for good. “The rest is history,” she said. Libby – originally from Rhode Island – lives on Big Pine Key with her two rescue dogs. What does she do on her day off? “Laundry and yard work.”