Over the decades Key West has taken on an almost mythical reputation. An enclave for pirates and anyone looking to escape from the rest of the world, a home for Hemingway, a vacation for Truman – the community has earned its reputation over the years as being a place of not only escape, but refuge and it was with a lot of anticipation that I finally arrived into this strange little town at the edge of the country. What helped set the tone for me was my very quirky but also very luxurious boutique hotel, The Saint. Part of the Autograph Collection of hotels the distinctive mix of design and decadence matches its central Key West location with ease, and it also prepared me for the day that was to come.
A hotel’s location is always important to me, but that was especially true in Key West. The Saint is located in the very heart of the Key West experience, within stumbling distance of the most important sights, restaurants and, of course, bars. Key West is popular not only with cruise ships but anyone looking for a party, and I was a little worried that the city would feel like Bourbon Street on steroids. But that’s not at all the case, instead I found a lovely series of neighborhoods flanked by art deco design, beautiful views and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In short, yes, Key West is indeed amazing and deserves all of the mighty praise it has received over the years.
Quirky Luxury & Key West Living
In the last five years or so, there has been a quiet shift in the world of luxury travel. Guests no longer want massive resorts where, although nice, they sometimes feel like a number and not an individual. To help satisfy this desire to be unique, small boutique design hotels have started to pop up, and The Saint is a great example in this shift within the world of luxury travel. Housed in historic buildings that ooze with Key West charm, there are just 34-rooms and 2-suites at this two-story hotel; a number that is guaranteed to make every guest feel unique and special.
Walking in I was immediately shocked by what I discovered. From the outside, the building looks like any other historic home on and around Duval Street, but inside it was like a scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” Oversized (but comfy) furniture, disco lights and an emphasis on darker hues was as far from Key West design as one can imagine, but it all seemed to work. Walking around the property to my room, I couldn’t help but notice the focal point of the hotel – a large pool with a floating unicorn in it. Maybe it’s a nod to Instagram-minded guests, but it set the tone and emphasized yet again that this is most certainly not your grandparents’ luxury hotel. The rooms are just as quirky as everything else around The Saint, with a sort of sex appeal that almost made me blush.
Ultimately though it was that aforementioned location that made the impact in what was a short visit. From The Saint I found it very easy to explore all of Key West, even if I had to use an Uber once or twice. One spot that I was happy to find was the waterfront and one of the best spots for Key Lime pie in the area, Kermit’s. For more than 26 years, Kermit’s has been serving up not only homemade Key Lime Pie, but a whole host of other Key Lime flavored products. I walked by all of those extras though and promptly ordered my pie along with a glass of Key Lime-ade for good measure. Sitting on their shady back patio, I took a bite and instantly understood how they have withstood the test of time. Although very traditional with few embellishments, it hits all of the right notes. As an added bonus, the shop is just steps from Key West’s bustling Historic Seaport.
Cuisine & Hospitality
If you’re looking for great food or a well-made cocktail though, there’s no need to even leave The Saint. Walking along the red carpet of The Saint’s lobby into the long and narrow restaurant known only as Tempt I had no idea what to expect. Like the rest of the hotel, dark colors and rich fabrics filled the space and the massive bar hearkens back to the era of flappers and speakeasies. It’s not all flash though, there’s also a lot of substance as I quickly learned. The bartenders at Tempt aren’t mere slingers of suds, they’re true artists creating unique and fun cocktails whether it’s during their daily happy hour, or any time of night. One of the star potent potables is the Saint Clement, which is a mix of citrus liqueurs, vodka and champagne. After enjoying a few of the craft cocktails, it’s time to focus on the menu, created from love and an intense attention to detail. It’s an unusual menu that changes often, but dishes have included sea bass with local scallops, Caribbean inspired meals and a black Angus tenderloin that even now has me salivating. I also noticed throughout my time as a guest at the hotel that patrons at both the bar and restaurant weren’t only fellow guests, they were locals and tourists all out for a fun night out. That’s the ultimate test of any hotel bar and restaurant, their ability to attract customers who want to be there instead of patronizing it only out of convenience.
Key West is an unusual place and always has been. Simultaneously American but also foreign, this port of call has been attracting quirky individuals since its inception. Today it’s a wildly popular vacation destination and with good reason. The history, the culture, the food and the scenery all conspire to create one of the country’s most remarkable hotspots and, in my opinion, the only place to stay to properly enjoy it all is the equally quirky Saint Hotel.