The Middle Keys are losing yet another local legend this weekend.
For more than half a century, Joyce Hall has been generously touching all the lives of those to whom she ever served a cocktail or shared one with on the other side of the bar.
Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Brigantine, N.J. where she worked in real estate for years before heading south to the Keys to enjoy the east breezes blowing through the palm trees.
Fellow Brass Monkey employee JJ Starr said she’s known Joyce for nearly 30 years, and remembers with great fondness many late nights spent at the old Reef Bar after closing down the bar.
“We’d go down to the Reef around 5 or 6 a.m. after we finished our shift here,” Starr remembered. “She’d always say to me, ‘Well, it’s just about time you got here!’ She’d put me behind the bar just so she could take a little break.”
One could easily be fooled by her delicate frame, crooked after decades of late nights tending bar and coordinating crowd control in rowdy bars.
She laughed, concentrating to recall the memory of two brothers who nearly came to blows one evening during a shift.
“Back then, the fishermen used to be out on a boat for three months straight. I mean, can you imagine?” she reminisced. “So the fishermen would come in, take showers, put on a clean set of clothes and all rush to the bar. We gave ‘em lots of drinks in consideration of what they’d been doing, but these two brothers started arguing, and one of ‘em said to the other, ‘I’m gonna take you out and throw you in the garbage!’ It was just a figure of speech really, but the next thing I knew, I looked out and all you could see was a set of knuckles clinging to the inside edge of the dumpster!”
Starr called Joyce “one tough cookie” remembering the gunshots that covered the wall-to-wall mural of the Florida Keys in the old Reef Bar.
“That was a hard ass bar, but she was never afraid of anyone. There was never a situation she couldn’t handle,” Starr said proudly.
From her perch on a stool behind the counter of the package store, Joyce smiles at the wide variety of customers who come through the door. She eyes the suspicious characters like a hawk and ribs the wise cracks that frequent the store.
“I love when grouchy people come in, frowning and unhappy,” she explained. “All I want to do is put a smile on their face before they walk out the door. Any job is always what you make of it.”
At 84 years old, Joyce still works eight-hour shifts three days a week, and people often ask her how she so diligently perseveres.
“I just get up and go to work!” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been doing it since I was 18 years old!”
Out of high school, Joyce took a job in the business office of the local phone company. She attributes her high tolerance levels in calming rowdy bar patrons to her rigid training in that first job.
Joyce first came to the Keys with her parents on vacation, and it was then that her parents vowed they would eventually retire and spend the remainder of their days in the Keys. It wasn’t long before the quick-witted only child followed suit.
“I was working in real estate in New Jersey at the time, and I kept coming down to visit them after they retired,” she remembered. “Finally, I came down and said I was tired of just coming for visits. I went back home and gave my boss my resignation!”
As she strolled down memory lane and reflected on the majority of her life that’s been spent in the Keys, Joyce said, “Things just seemed a lot more relaxed and free back then. The mistake people make is coming to the Keys and bringing their old lifestyle with them. If you want to come to the Keys, then you need to adjust to the Keys’ way of living!”
Joyce will take that lesson with her this weekend as she bids farewell to her longtime friends that have evolved into her closest family.
“I’m gonna miss all the people I’ve met down here and love so much,” she said as tears began to well in her eyes. “So many of them are like my children because they’ve been a part of my everyday life. I’ve got such a bond with so many because I’ve seen ‘em graduate high school, get married and have babies.”
Joyce and Staff
Some of the staff at The Brass Monkey helped Joyce celebrate Sunday evening with a surprise party after she finished her shift next door in the package store. They included first row, (l-r) Gloria Hollohan, Brenda Rottler, Joyce Hall and Mary Micire; back row Rodney Aultman, JJ Starr, Nancy Pratt, Sammy Leo, Judy Sorenson and Bobby Butler.
Judy and Joyce
Brass Monkey owner Judy Sorenson (left) was in high school when Joyce Hall began working for her father, Bob. On Sunday afternoon, Judy and her staff organized a surprise farewell gathering for the woman who’s been like a mother to so many.
JJ Joyce Mary
JJ Starr, Joyce Hall and Mary Micire have long been part of the Brass Monkey family, and this weekend, they’ll bid farewell to one of the most respected and revered members.