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Beer in Paradise 

On a tour of U.S. beer, we find decent brew on the Florida Keys

After enduring a winter that nobody needs any reminder of, the concept of a tropical getaway might sound pretty appealing to a wide swath of Bendites right about now. That getaway can be found on the faraway Florida coast, where enjoying a decent drink by the waterfront no longer means resigning oneself to Coronas and watered-down Mai Tais.

Take the town of Key West, located on the far end of the Florida Keys. It's the southernmost point in the continental United States, closer to Havana than it is to Miami, where the atmosphere is a wild mix of Southern stateliness and Party Land USA. The best way to explore the island is on a rental bicycle or scooter. While you dodge feral chickens and scope out the old mansions, there will be the constant stream of tourists from the nearby cruise ships, and of course, the sea.

The traveler will invariably find his or her way to Duval Street, a north-south run lined with bars, T-shirt shops, and some of the Keys' oldest extant architecture. It's worth exploring, though, because some of the bars here have histories that extend well beyond that of some cities.

Take Captain Tony's Saloon, located just off Duval. The building has been an icehouse, the city morgue and a speakeasy/gay bar that catered to U.S.Navy sailors. It was called Sloppy Joe's in the 1930s, when local resident Ernest Hemingway hung there nightly. When Sloppy Joe's moved a block in 1938 following a rent dispute, Hemingway reacted by taking the bathroom urinal and bringing it back to his house. It's still there, part of the onsite museum, although sadly not available for use.

Tony's is where Jimmy Buffett got his start and where all the margaritas anyone could ever want are available. But what about beer? The aforementioned Sloppy Joe's on Duval is a good start, offering near-constant live music and drafts like Cigar City's Florida Cracker, a light and incredibly refreshing Belgian-style white. Near every place along the street will have at least a nod to Florida-made beer from places such as Cigar City, Coppertail or Key West's own Waterfront Brewery, on the city's north end, offering IPAs and conch fritters by the sea.

A true beer nerd, however, will eventually settle down at The Porch. Housed in a mansion built in 1839 that once housed Florida's first surgeon general, The Porch's selection would be right at home in Bend or Portland. A recent visit provided access to a wealth of Dogfish Head beers, including their massive, viscous World Wide Stout, and some Head Hunter IPA from Fat Head's, presumably brewed at their Ohio HQ instead of Portland.

When the vacation's over, stop by the Green Parrot, located just a block away from where U.S. Route 1 begins its journey northwards to Canada. Come for the beer selection; stay for the demented art and the constant stream of authentic local characters.

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