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History and Architecture in Old Town, Key West

History and Architecture in Old Town, Key West

Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Location: Key West, Florida

The sun had barely risen, and there was already a line.

Key West, which is famously 90 miles from Cuba, has a brightly painted buoy statue to mark where the southernmost point of the continental United States is supposed to be. [1] Virtually every minute of every day, there’s a line of people waiting to take pictures by it, including when it’s dark out.

Fortunately, the line was only two or three people long at six fifty-five in the morning, and I was able to get the most touristy shot I’d ever taken in my life. My friend and I spent the rest of the day shamelessly indulging in our shared favorite hobby: looking at, taking photos of, and generally freaking out over cool architecture.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

I’ve not-so-subtly replaced my shopping addiction with a photography/architecture addiction since graduating from college, in which I will travel great lengths to take photos in front of cute houses. This island did not disappoint! Its architecture is the perfect blend of sweet Victorian details, Southern touches, pastel colors, and tropical accents.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

My favorite thing about Southern houses are their large, wraparound porches, and my favorite thing about Southern wraparound porches are their haint blue ceilings. “Haint blue” is a light blue-green color that is meant to keep haints, or ghosts, from coming into your home. The story goes that if you paint your porch ceiling blue, they’ll either mistake it for the sky and float right through, or think that it’s water, which they can’t and won’t try to cross.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

I’m not one for what a white picket fence represents — I will legit die before I ever have a nuclear family, and you can hold me to that — but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like literal white picket fences, especially ones with pineapple cutouts in them.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

And look at those plants! I’m usually not really a “plant person”, but I wanted to take all of these home with me.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Eventually the sun came out at full force, and we were sweating like pigs on our way to the slaughterhouse. Enter: liquid nitrogen ice cream. Liquid nitrogen is cold as fuck (-320°F, to be exact), so it can make regular cream into ice cream in a matter of seconds. I was surprised that the person making it wasn’t wearing gloves to protect their fingers — you can easily freeze yourself if you’re not careful — but I had to admit that there was a certain allure to being able to do it straight out. If the ice cream gets too frozen, you take a blowtorch to the bottom of the bowl to soften it up.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

The Queen Conch is the symbol of Key West and they were everywhere — their shells were sold on carts, and cracked conch was on the menu at every seafood restaurant we visited. Apparently, though, catching conchs on the island is illegal. The ones available for purchase are harvested from elsewhere.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

One of my favorite buildings that we walked by was the Strand Theater, which opened in the 1920s. Walgreens bought it in the early 2000s, and now it’s a pharmacy/convenience store on the inside and a theater on the outside! I think this is hilarious and a really cool way to preserve history while keeping a building in use.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

I didn’t actually get to go into Sloppy Joe’s Bar, but it’s one of the most famous attractions in Key West. Ernest Hemingway was a regular, and today the bar hosts the “Papa Look-Alike Contest”, where hundreds of white guys dress up like Hemingway and get judged by the Hemingway family members. I shit you not. There’s even a Hemingway Look-Alike Society that came from this contest. Besides its deep connection to the author, a lot of interesting shit has gone down at Sloppy Joe’s. You can read more about the bar here.

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Old Town Key West | Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

I have to say that the Key West portion of the trip left me the most physically tired … not that I minded at all. If I could, I’d do it all over again. ♚

Note: This article is part of my January 2019 One Month Project, where I will be traveling around coastal Florida and publishing an essay a day about my experiences there. I’m excited to bring you along on this adventure!

Notes

[1] The “southernmost point” title is a little misleading; technically, the buoy monument is the southernmost point for civilians only. The military base is even more south of this point.

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

marty@fakeandbasic.com | @fake.and.basic

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