By Erin Stover Sickmen
Lobster season started on Aug. 6. Just two days later, Key Westers and lucky visitors can sit down to a crustacean feast of epic proportions. The 23rd Annual Key West Lobsterfest celebrates the start of spiny lobster season with a block party, pub crawl and numerous prime eating opportunities.
Lobster season runs through March 31, but boat trips are already filling up with those who are in the know. August typically boasts the best conditions, glassy surfaces and good visibility, for catching the sea bugs.
Lobstering is not only a route to delicious dinner, but also a great way to get out into the warm summer ocean. Trapping is prohibited for recreational hunters, which means divers must get a permit, take a deep breath and dive under the surface to find their food. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) publishes the rules and provides an easy link for print-at-home permits. Basically, permitted lobster seekers can bag six regulation size crustaceans a day. Lobsters may not be caught in “no-take areas” and must be brought to shore whole. Once they know the rules, divers, both free divers and SCUBA divers, are encouraged to pull on some gloves — they are spiny lobsters after all — and get out on the water.
The salty dogs of Key West make it look easy. Hold your breath, peek under a coral head, ‘tickle’ the lobster (euphemism for agitate), and watch it zoom into your bag. The pros dip under and magically pop back up moments later with dinner in a takeout net. The rest of us can attest that the experience typically involves more flailing and saltwater-gulping than underwater grace. For the former, season’s open, go out there and grab dinner! For the latter, Lobsterfest is coming to the rescue! Head to Old Town next weekend where the lobsters are plentiful and significantly easier to catch.
Lobsterfest packs all the deliciousness of a fresh catch, for a fraction of the effort. For this experience, crustacean aficionados can leave the dive gear and gloves at home — and just bring their appetite. Every August, the beginning of lobster season is heralded by scores of restaurateurs and thousands of hungry locals and tourists. Attendance last year topped the 20,000 mark, but not to fear, there are plenty of fish, er lobster, in the sea with events spanning four days.
The weekend kicks off early with a Thursday night lobster boil on the Waterfront Brewery rooftop. It’s the perfect spot to watch an iconic Key West sunset over the harbor while sipping an ice-cold beer. Of course, the goal here is loftier than a sunset cocktail. It’s training time. There’s going to be a lot of lobster dishes to try this weekend, so big meal conditioning is crucial. Luckily, Waterfront Brewery is prepared with a stomach-stretching menu of delectable regional comfort foods. Jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage, freshly baked jalapeno corn bread and a cornucopia of veggies accompany the star of the show — freshly boiled spiny lobster tails. Live music provides a perfect atmosphere to relax, digest, and plan the next meal.
On Friday, the festivities continue with Fiesta de Langosta at The Havana Cabana Resort. Lobster-aspirant humans can swim in the largest pool on the island and work on adding a slight tinge of red to their skin. The resort’s Floridita Food Truck, known for its classic Cuban fare, will be serving special lobster dishes all afternoon. Additionally, Mojitos Pool Bar will have specially priced Corona and craft cocktails available, in addition to the 15 unique mojitos that are always on offer. Live music, contests and giveaways round out the fun.
That evening, toasty tourists and locals can join the Lobsterfest Duval Crawl. Hundreds of people will scuttle down Duval Street on a self-directed tour of some classic Key West watering holes including, but not limited to, Schooner Wharf, Hard Rock Cafe, General Horseplay, Rick’s, Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, Margaritaville, Mary Ellen’s, and Pinchers Crab Shack. The crawl starts immediately after sunset and continues until midnight. For $20, participants receive an official Lobsterfest 2019 T-shirt, souvenir Corona bottle opener/lanyard and access to killer drink specials. Key West is a reliably generous community though, so of course, all the drinking is served with a charitable chaser. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Key West High School’s Scholarship Fund.
Saturday is the main event. Lobsterfest officially takes over Duval Street, with the 100-500 blocks restricted to pedestrian traffic. The classic Keys block party serves up thousands of pounds of lobster in a single day. Restaurants from the Keys and beyond line the streets, firing up the grills that morning to prep for the appetites that will descend on them starting at noon. The first band takes the stage at 1 p.m., offering just enough for a first round of lobster before the show. The concerts continue with funk and island vibes from Cool Breeze at 5 p.m. and classic rock from The Durtbags at 8 p.m. Vendors of all stripes will be on hand to tempt visitors in between music sets and food courses. The festival also serves as a perfect excuse to indulge in an (almost) midnight snack as the street fair continues to serve food, drinks and entertainment until 11 p.m.
Phew — lobstered out? Hopefully everyone’s resolve holds out for one more day to enjoy the annual Lobster Brunch. The decadent meal, served in the tropical gardens of First Flight Grill & Brewery, is the perfect close to the weekend. For anyone who didn’t get their fill on Friday, the brunch offers lobster scrambles, Caribbean style lobster rolls, mini lobster pot pies, cheddar biscuits with lobster gravy and truffle lobster mac & cheese.
By Sunday afternoon, even the hardiest lobster-consumers should be satiated. Of course, it won’t be long until the cravings for that sweet briny treat flare up again. Fortunately, the season continues through March in the Keys, offering many months ahead of lobster bliss. Restaurants and fish markets will keep a steady stream of supply and divers can still leap in the ocean to catch a meal. After Lobsterfest’s onslaught though, the lobster dishes will most likely just continue one at a time.
201 William St.
Thursday, Aug. 8
5 to 9 p.m.
Fiesta de Langosta Pool Party
Havana Cabana Resort
3420 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
Friday, Aug. 9
Noon to 4 p.m.
Lobsterfest Duval Crawl
Rick’s Ship to Shore Store
202 Duval St.
Friday, Aug. 9
Sunset to midnight
Street Fair and Concerts
100-500 blocks of Duval Street
Saturday, Aug. 10
Noon to 11 p.m.
301 Whitehead St.
Sunday, Aug. 11
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.