(Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of ‘Key West Table’ magazine. Save room for the next irresistible edition in January.)
I am not generally prone to nostalgia, but like any long-term Key Wester, I can fire off a list of the places I miss at the drop of a con leche: The Deli, The Copa, The Compass Rose, and even several places without definite articles in their names. (Finnegan’s Wake, PT’s, Bogart’s…) I miss them all, but other establishments have come along, as they always do, to take their place in the island’s bar and restaurant ecosystem. It’s one of the things that keeps Key West from getting stale.
Still, I can’t help but get a little wistful when I veer off Duval Street and ride my bike down Appelrouth Lane, past the spot where 2¢ bar and restaurant used to be. Maybe it’s because, four years after Hurricane Irma felled the hulking ficus tree that shaded the tiny buildings and big deck, crushing everything below in wet piles of unsalvageable timber, it’s still nothing but an empty lot.
Maybe it’s because, in all that time, nothing else has come close to occupying the same niche.
For a lot of people, 2¢ was something of slightly fancy, slightly pricey Cheers for local hipsters, who are generally two to five years behind real-world hipsters, but also not overly worried about their hipster status. The place was usually packed, though not unpleasantly so, and you typically knew half the people at the bar. (If you didn’t, there was a good chance you soon would.)
A spray-painted mural on one wall featured some space alien insect creature. Hanging from the ceiling were several sculpture-like lamps assembled from chromed industrial parts and seemingly bespoke Edison bulbs. A giant table was made from the door of an old industrial freezer. Bench seats below the front window were built on a foundation of old, brass-fronted post office boxes. It all felt very one-off.
The menu was adventurous without being scary – curried mussels, duck nachos, truffle fries, pumpkin gnocchi, shrimp fried rice. There was a deeply considered wine list, and a small-but-well-thought-out array of beers on tap.
Daniel McCurdy, the manager, was in constant motion, ensuring the place ran smoothly. Layla Barr was usually behind the bar, cool and nonplussed, no matter how crazy it got, anchoring things like the bass player in some prog rock punk band.
If it wasn’t the first place in Key West to sell craft cocktails, it was the first one I noticed.
My wife was a fan of their Moscow Mule, served in a proper ice-packed copper cup. The cocktail menu was full of fun things like the vodka-based Cucumber Jones, the white rum-based Oh Captain, My Captain, and a remix of the zombie called Shaun of the Danger. Each had its own loyal following. But honestly, I just took their word for it, as the Stockholm Syndrome was the first drink I tried, and the only one I ordered ever after.
The Stockholm Syndrome was an update on the barroom classic, the Old-Fashioned. But it was subtler, duskier, more complex. It tasted like an Old-Fashioned with a backstory, an Old-Fashioned gone contemporary.
Barr, who managed the bar and designed the drink menu, said, “Some of the things on the 2¢ menu were classic cocktails and some were things I came up with. A lot of the cocktails were plays on people I knew – customers at the bar or just people in my life. And three of my best friends were from Sweden,” said Barr. “The basis of the Stockholm Syndrome was the Swedish Kronan Punsch.” (See recipe below.)
A punsch was a traditional Swedish liqueur, a sort of precursor to cocktails in the 18th and 19th centuries. The main liquor in punsch is Batavia arrack, a rum-like drink distilled from molasses and rice in open teak vats.
“It was the sailors’ drink of choice in the Swedish East India Company,” Barr said.
Punsch was so popular, there are said to be 80 words in the Swedish dictionary whose roots can be traced to it.
“It has these spicy notes and citrusy notes. It has a really full-bodied kind of tannic, leathery smoky flavor. It has a lot of depth and character, and is a bit mysterious, too. You can’t quite put your finger on what the flavor is,” Barr said. “I liked the idea of creating something as a nod to my Swedish friends, who are also a little mysterious and hard to put your finger on — while also a little sweet and a little bitter,” she said.
Since the premature end of the 2¢ era, the staff has gone their separate ways. Barr is now the head chef/manager of the Green Pineapple Wellness Cafe at the top of Duval Street.
“So I’ve gone from craft cocktail bartending to all holistic, plant-based, woo-hoo-good-for-you food,” she said. And though she misses 2¢, she said she gets much better sleep now.
The Stockholm Syndrome is not entirely a thing of the past, though.
Daniel McCurdy now manages and bartends several afternoons a week at The Roost, the bar and package store on Fleming Street, just off Duval. Occasionally he has an open bottle of Kronan around, and if it’s not too crowded, he’ll make you one. Alternatively, he can sell you a whole bottle and you can mix one at home, grab a seat on the couch and indulge in a little nostalgia. In fact, here’s the recipe:
1 1/2 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
1 1/2 oz. Kronan Swedish Punsch
2 shakes of Angostura bitters
2 shakes of Angostura orange bitters
1 lemon twist
Shake with ice, pour over a large rock, serve.