Dusty Briones is an outspoken cheerleader of, and bartender for, the Brass Monkey in Marathon.

It was a bold move. Messing with Marathon institutions is inherently risky, especially for the Middle Keys’ favorite late-night spot. But in this case, it’s paid off. When the Brass Monkey Lounge reopened on June 5, it banned smoking.

“I was a little nervous, but the comments have been overwhelmingly positive,” said owner Judy Sorenson. 

The news was posted on Facebook.

“This is a decision that I am making to safeguard not only my awesome employees, but my customers as well,” Soreson wrote. “This whole crazy COVID-19 situation has made businesses have to make some hard choices. My sincere apologies to my great customers who do smoke, we want you all back, not trying to make you mad. To those who have complained about the smoking in the past, no excuses not to come and see us.”

At 5 p.m. on June 8, it certainly wasn’t a problem. The regulars assumed their seats at the bar,  which has been updated with new flooring. Occasionally, a patron would slip outside to light up and then re-enter. The assorted monkey statues have their normal place behind the bar and the $5 lunch specials continue to kill it.

“Have you tried their burgers?” asked Gabriel, a regular. He was sitting with Chelsey from Colorado who also knew (already!) about the lunch specials.  “I was in here before they closed down for quarantine and a buddy of mine told me it was open again, all cleaned up, and to check it out.”

2020 marks the 40th year of business for the Brass Monkey. Sorenson’s parents bought the place in 1979 after moving to the Keys from the midwest. Judy is the youngest of six siblings and the only one who took an interest in the family business that is … dun, dun, dun … up for sale. 

“Forty years is enough, I think, but I’m not in a hurry to sell,” she said. What’s next? “I have no idea. I’ve been doing this for so long … when you own a business it’s always at the front of your brain.”

Throughout the quarantine shutdown, Sorenson continued to operate the liquor store, providing as many shifts as she could to all her employees.

“Please put in there that our boss, Judy Sorenson, is the best boss ever,” said Dusty Briones, a bartender.

“Please don’t put that in there,” said Sorenson.

The Brass Monkey is located at the west end of the Winn-Dixie shopping plaza. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

The monkey statuettes are all there; the only thing missing is the fog of smoke.
Although she’s just visiting the Keys, Chelsey is no stranger to the Brass Monkey, introduced to its awesomeness by friend and local, Gabriel. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX