John Bartus

This month marks the 36th anniversary of my first performance in the Keys. The year was 1984, the venue was the old Compass Lounge at the (old) Holiday Inn in Marathon. It’s located in the same space where the new Holiday Inn Express is now; it was certainly different then.

Imagine an old-school Holiday Inn (complete with the old-style Holiday Inn sign), with a small indoor bar and restaurant (the Bounty). Just to the east, where the Hampton Inn now sits, was an old-school Howard Johnson’s motel and restaurant. HoJo’s was open 24 hours, and many a late night was spent there over eggs and bacon, or those yummy TenderSweet clams … and a few people actually had cocktails in the adjacent tiny HoJo bar called the Rum Keg Pub.

There were other places here that are just memories. The Coldwell Banker Schmitt building was a Lum’s Hot Dogs, famous for being steamed in beer. Even before Beall’s Outlet was an Office Depot, it was the old Winn Dixie. And Marathon’s first Walgreens was located in that same shopping center, in the space vacated by the legendary Idle Hour bar. The Idle Hour was one of Marathon’s infamous 24-hour bars, a few of which survive to this day.

A couple that didn’t make it were the old Reef Bar (yellow building in front of the BlueGreen resort), and the adult nightspot Fanny’s, now the Turtle Hospital. 

The bones of an old building near Capt. Pip’s that were recently demolished were once the site of Hanley’s, then Rip’s, then Sakura, then Pelican’s, then Gators, then a ruin that lasted for years. The corner of 15th St. and US 1 was the site of the old South Seas restaurant (which became Frankie’s Silverado and the Mermaid Club), and down 15th Street at Faro Blanco Oceanside were Crocodiles Down Under and the Upper Deck bar. Lazy Days Marathon was once Bacchus by the Sea, and it became a couple of other short-lived restaurants (my favorite name was Bastardson’s). And a lot of us old-timers still miss Kelsey’s Restaurant and Angler’s Lounge at the old Faro Blanco.

The Capital Bank in Old Town was a Cuban restaurant called El Castillito. Upper Crust Pizza was right next door to Key of Sea Music, one of two music stores we had in town then. There are respectable people in the Keys who once took guitar lessons from me there when they were kids (I can name names for a price!)

Barracuda Grill was an Italian joint called EnRico’s. Skipjack (then Sombrero Resort) was home to Chef’s Restaurant & Goodtimes Lounge. Marathon Community Theater was a dance club called the Side Door (and the Plaza Lounge before that). Winn Dixie’s site used to be a grocery store called Pantry Pride, later Hyde Park Market. Publix used to be Marine Bank and a huge field where many Marathon events took place.

Where Driftwood Pizza and Tranquility Bay Adult Day Care sit used to be a 24-hour joint called the Driftwood Lounge. It was mainly an after-hours club where a lot of musicians would come and jam after their gigs. There are a few of the old 24-hour bars still active today. JJ’s Doghouse hasn’t changed much since the 1980s. The Overseas certainly has changed. And the Brass Monkey remains Marathon’s late night rock and roll headquarters some four decades later.

Longtime residents will remember the Quay Restaurant was a really nice place to take someone back then, and the Quay Tiki Bar burger is still legend among locals.

Moving to Key Colony Beach, the old Sparky’s Landing was simply the Landing in those days. The Key Colony Inn was the Candlelight. And Glunz/Havana Jack’s was a resort called Ruttger’s, with the outside bar known simply as the Pier Bar.

I’ve ended the quasi-historical tour in Key Colony Beach for a reason: I’m inviting you to my 36th Anniversary Concert this Sunday, 4 p.m., at Sunset Park in KCB. 36 years and more than 8,000 performances later, I’m still doing what I love to do in these islands I call home. Thanks for accompanying me on a trip down Memory Lane, and I’ll see you Sunday!

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