Sunday, April 21, 2013
Key West History with a Side of Rum at Speakeasy Inn
Originally published on floridatravellife.com
Intricate gingerbread millwork is one of the more intriguing features of Key West architecture. Most of the patterns are abstract and strictly decorative, but if you visit the Speakeasy Inn at 1117 Duval Street, take a closer look. The elaborately carved porch balustrade features bottle shapes, as well as the spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs from Spanish playing cards. (Enlarge the photo to the right, and watch the shapes appear like an optical illusion.) During Prohibition, rumrunner Raul Vasquez brought the piece back from Cuba instead of his usual load of liquor — much to his wife’s dismay. He wanted a subtle way to advertise the speakeasy he ran behind his home called the Florence Club. The card symbols also indicated that there was gambling on the premises.
The small club only had a shelf with bottles of liquor, eight chairs and a bench that had been moved inside from the street. If Vasquez was away, customers could come help themselves and write on a white marble slab what they had consumed. They would pay up later, and no one ever stole a single bottle. At the front of the building today you’ll find the Rum Bar carrying on the tradition of serving up quality spirits. Stop in and visit bartender and resident rum expert, Bahama Bob, and sample rums from the era. Settle in for some great stories about the colorful characters, who ran amok on the island during that era. Ask him about Key West’s very own gang of bootleggers called the Pelicans.