Wastin' Away at Hibi House

You could spend a lot of happy hours at this Key West-flavored hideaway.

"Oh, this song is gay," she said, glancing down at it. There was a brief, uncomfortable pause.

"So are you a gay boy or a straight boy?" she asked, realizing her error even in her hazy, alcohol-soaked state.

"Gay," Keith said. There was another awkward pause before Keith smiled and Becca handed his iPhone back.

"Is this a gay bar?" she asked cautiously.

"No," piped in Kevin, a bigger guy in the corner. "It used to be real gay, but now it's a pretty good mix."

She seemed satisfied by that and turned to face in Kevin's direction. "So, how old do you think I am?"

When Kevin's companion John guessed 24, Becca squealed in delight and offered to marry him.

"Don't you have to go to work soon?" Pedro asked her.

"Oh, I've got at least another hour," Becca responded. Keith, finally in control of his iPhone, played another song.

"Is this the Cure?" Kevin asked Keith a few minutes later.

"What's the cure?" asked John, clearly not familiar with the band.

"Alcohol!" Becca squealed gleefully.

Locals: Most of the Hibi House crowd was similarly fun, easygoing, and in search of a nice cocktail. A few minutes later, I was talking to other friendly folks when I noticed Becca and Pedro stumble out of the bar without saying goodbye.

"They just walked out on their tab," Keith said.

"Maybe they didn't realize. She was, if you caught that, quite drunk," I said. "I could — "

"No," Keith said generously. "They're gone, and let's leave it at that."

The bar had definitely picked up — large groups of elderly folks were now hanging around the patio and sipping wine at the bar. A few hotel guests had cautiously crept up to order drinks and soon found themselves quite comfortable amid all the locals. A scruffy young guy with stubble and earrings greeted Keith, took a seat beside me, and ordered wine.

"How'd you meet Keith?" I asked.

"Oh, we met on an airplane," said Sean, originally from Canada. "We had the same laptop and were reading the same book — which neither of us finished — so we decided we needed to be friends."

At that point, Greg — the regular I'd heard so much about — made his way up to the bar. Keith dashed off and was back in a flash with three bottles of beer and a big, frosted beer stein.

Greg, who was a bit older and dressed in a clean, casual buttoned-down, took a seat in front of the mug, ceremoniously unrolled a small carpet — yes, a beer carpet! — and placed the beer stein on top of it. He then carefully emptied all three beers in there.

"What's so great about this place?" I asked him as I watched in awe.

"It's a diamond in the rough," he said. "I come here to unwind."

I stared at his full mug, wondering what he did that would require that much unwinding.

"I test-drive helicopters," he said.

With a stressful job like that, he deserved the ability to kick any Key West drinker's ass at a booze-swigging contest.

On that happy note, I decided to find my way out — and as I approached my car, I thought I detected a parking ticket on the windshield. The worst thing about Hibiscus House? Leaving and finding yourself back in the real world — a little less boozy and a lot less fun.

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