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Dance the Night Away at These Favorite Key West Bars and Clubs



If you’re looking for the big-city nightclub experience, you won’t find it in Key West. Long lines, VIP rooms and exorbitant cover charges, don’t really fit into the laid-back island’s DNA. Instead, you’ll find a more organic approach from couples doing the salsa on Mallory Square at El Meson de Pepe to tourists kicking it with the drag queens at 801 Bourbon.

Live music is a mainstay at most bars and restaurants, so if the mood hits you, it’s perfectly acceptable to shimmy and shake wherever you are. Late in the night, spots like Sloppy Joe’s and Green Parrot clear the tables to make room for a dance floor. “The Parrot” is famous for bringing in the best bands from around the country for a heady mix of gritty blues, rock and funk. At the classy martini bar, Virgilio’s, the well-groomed hit the outdoor dance floor for live music--usually jazz, blues or Latin.

The vibrant LGBT scene offers the closest thing you’ll find to a traditional dance club at Aqua and Bourbon Street Pub, albeit with an outside tiki bar and male go-go dancers. DJs at Rick’s Upstairs and Fat Tuesday ramp up the beats for a younger crowd, who are fueled by an intoxicating blend of strong drinks and hormones. Here are the ten best places to dance like nobody’s watching in Key West.


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Duval Street


At Irish Kevin's, hilarious entertainers (particularly Pauly from New York) draw people in off the street with a chant of "come on in!" The live performers keep the patrons dancing, singing and entering drinking contests all day long. Music starts most mornings by 10:30 a.m. and goes non-stop until closing time. Most people stop by for a song or the comedy act and end up staying the night. You have to a have a thick skin, as they do heckle the audience a bit, so be prepared to be a target of a joke or two. Don't forget to pick up a souvenir shirt with their famous quote: "I came, I drank, I don't remember!"

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: Enjoy the bawdy humor of the musicians at Irish Kevin's where they interact with the crowd, keep the dancing going and cold beer flowing.

Claudia's expert tip: Bring your sense of humor. If you're easily offended, this is not the spot for you.

Read more about Irish Kevin's →


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Duval Street


You'd be hard-pressed to learn about Key West without hearing of the infamous Sloppy Joe's bar, where people come to get, well, sloppy. It was Hemingway's favorite watering hole ("Sloppy Joe" was Captain Joe Russell, the founder and one of Hemingway's drinking buddies) and remains a popular place for pub grub and live music. In fairness to historical accuracy, Hemingway probably spent more time haunting the original location (formerly a speakeasy and now Captain Tony's) until 1937. But the walls are filled with photos and memorabilia devoted to the author, and it overflows with "Papa" doppelgangers during Hemingway Days each July. Attached to the main bar is Joe's Tap room, with several craft beers on tap. By nightfall, this place starts to get rowdy, and the tables are cleared away to make room for dancing.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: Since its origins as a speakeasy during Prohibition, Sloppy Joe's (Hemingway's favorite bar) has drawn a crowd for strong drinks, live music and dancing.

Claudia's expert tip: To beat the heat, try a refreshing Papa Dobles, Hemingway's fave cocktail, made with Bacardi, Maraschino Liqueur, lime and grapefruit juices

Read more about Sloppy Joe's →


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Duval Street


This funky Duval Street bar is a must-do on any Key West itinerary. Female impersonators take the stage at the cabaret, including the legendary Sushi, who has been making a name for herself on the island for more than 25 years. Expect singing, dancing, a bit of raunchy comedy and audience participation. There are two cabaret showings at 9:00 p.m. and again at 11:00 p.m. nightly. (Note: the late-night show is known to be more R-rated than the early show.) Make sure to bring lots of small bills, as tipping the performers is highly encouraged. Check at your hotel for a coupon for a discount on the cabaret cover charge. On Sundays, drag queen bingo with QMitch is a fave for locals and visitors alike, so get there early to snag a seat. Beware: some of the prizes are rather risque.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: This funky, Duval Street bar is a must-do on any Key West itinerary with its drag queen cabaret, bingo and karaoke.

Claudia's expert tip: Want to meet some of the drag queens before the show? They usually greet passersby on Duval Street in front of the bar and are happy to pose for photos.

Read more about 801 Bourbon Bar →


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Filled with mix of local characters and visitors-in-the-know, "The Parrot," is not your typical dive bar. As the oldest watering hole in Key West, they've got nothing to prove, and their motto, "No Snivelling," illustrates their no-nonsense approach to slinging stiff drinks. Tropical breezes and ceiling fans keep the open-air bar cool, and the old-school jukebox mixes B.B. King with The Temptations and New Orleans Funk. While they only have popcorn to munch on, the BBQ joint next door, Charlie Mac's, will send over a waiter who'll bring you a to-go order. At night, bands from around the country up the ante with a heady mix of gritty blues, rock and funk. You won't be able to resist the urge to boogie the night away. If you're not a late-night person, at 5:30 pm the bands do an early sound check set.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: "The Parrot" is best dive bar to enjoy colorful characters, strong drinks and dancing to the top live music in town. Remember, "No Snivelling."

Claudia's expert tip: Try the Root Beer Barrel Shot, a Green Parrot tradition for over 20 years. Drop a shot of root beer schnapps into a highball glass of light beer and toss it back. It's refreshing and addictive.

Read more about Green Parrot Bar →


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With a prime location on the corner of Petronia and Duval Street, this popular gay pub is Key West's only video music bar and home to the island's largest television screen. The VJs showcase exclusive videos, and at 10:00 p.m. the Men of Bourbon Street Pub take to the stage for go-go dancing and more R-Rated entertainment. Things get wild at the men-only clothing-optional, Garden Bar, an outdoor theater, tiki bar and pool area. Tuesday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. is the only time the Garden Bar is open to everyone. Check their website for the different events and drink specials each night like Martini Tuesdays ($4 Stoli martinis) and Red Hot Mondays ($4 Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey). Wednesday through Sunday, you can enjoy Drag Queen Jukebox with Jessica Grabbit, who will sing your requests.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: This popular gay pub features strong drinks, studly male go-go dancers, live VJs, drag shows and a clothing-optional men-only Garden Bar.

Claudia's expert tip: Several areas are men-only, and an anything-goes atmosphere pervades late-night in the entire complex. If you are on the prudish side, this might not be the best stop for you.

Read more about Bourbon Street Pub →




Cuban culture is an integral part of Key West's DNA, and at El Meson de Pepe, you can salsa the night away. At sunset, the Latin band, Caribe of Key West, creates a festive atmosphere, while people dance and mingle outside at the patio bar. The restaurant serves up classic Cuban dishes like roast pork, picadillo, ropa vieja, plantains and flan in a historic red brick building off of Mallory Square. You can choose to sit inside on the warmer days, or enjoy outdoor dining with chickens running across the patio. Order one of their signature mojitos, a Cuban cocktail made with fresh mint, lime and rum. Yes, they're a little pricey but oh so worth it. Reservations are recommended.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: Get ready to salsa and merengue to the lively band, Caribe of Key West, each night on Mallory Square.

Claudia's expert tip: Don't miss their signature mojitos, a Cuban cocktail made with fresh mint, lime and rum.

Read more about El Meson de Pepe →


With eight bars built in to this complex, you can easily party all night at Rick's Key West. The Duval Street institution offers late night karaoke (until 4:00 a.m.), the Durtbags cover band, and several DJs that turn up the bass into the wee hours of the morning. The live music roster is sure to have patrons on their feet with rock-and-roll covers of bands like Blink 182, Godsmack, AC/DC and others. The Durtbags alone are worth coming out to see; they rock the stage. At Rick's Upstairs, the DJs spin the best beats seven nights a week, while patrons shimmy on the multi-level dance floor under the mirrored disco ball.

Read more about Rick's Key West (Durty Harry's) →


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Duval Street
Aqua Nightclub
Photo courtesy of Aqua Nightclub


This all-welcome, gay night club has creative events every day of the week from afternoon to evening. Stop in for no-limit Texas Hold'em poker tournaments, Aqua's American Idol karaoke with proceeds that go to charity and dueling bartenders who sing as they shake and stir their cocktails. Their nightly drag shows, featuring the Aquanettes, get rave reviews from locals and tourists alike for the caliber of the performances and the hilarity that ensues. The performers get the audience involved, so if you don't like to be in the limelight, choose a seat away from the walkways. After the shows, the bar becomes an all-out dance party that is not to be missed.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: This all-welcome, gay night club features over-the-top drag performances and non-stop dancing til 2:00 am.

Claudia's expert tip: The performers get the audience involved which makes it even more fun! If you don't like to be in the limelight, choose a seat away from the walkways.

Read more about Aqua Nightclub →


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Duval Street


It may be a chain bar, but Fat Tuesday always promises a good time, especially since their famous frozen daiquiris are some of the strongest on the island. During the day, you can cool down with some mellow reggae grooves. (They even serve up non-alcoholic versions, so everyone can imbibe.) At night the dance floor comes out, and the bar turns into a club scene where a younger crowd boogies down. The DJs start spinning at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and the party continues late into the night. The rainbow wall of swirling slushis can make it hard to choose a flavor with everything from the classic margarita to 190 Octane orange punch. You can create a custom mix to suit your mood, and the friendly bartenders will even provide samples. For extra value, consider their refillable mugs or sports bottles.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: The heady mixture of the thumping DJ's beats and the strongest drinks on the island equals uninhibited dancing from a younger crowd.

Claudia's expert tip: Don't miss happy hour from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday for $4.50 daiquiris.

Read more about Fat Tuesday →


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Duval Street


Tucked behind La Trattoria restaurant, Virgilio's (named after the founder of the restaurant) is an elegant indoor/outdoor cocktail bar popular with the swanky over 30 crowd. Perfectly mixed martinis are the house specialty in yummy flavors like mint chocolate chip and Key lime pie. If you have trouble choosing from their extensive selection, the bartenders can help you find the right drink to fit your mood. Kick back either on the outside patio or at the second bar under the roof. Every night people hit the dance floor for live music, usually jazz, blues or Latin. If you're feeling peckish, you can order Italian fare from a full menu until 10:30pm, and from a limited menu until close.

Recommended for Dance Clubs because: For a more upscale experience, Virgilio's is an elegant indoor/outdoor bar with live music, dancing and the best martinis on the island.

Claudia's expert tip: Be there when it opens on Martini Mondays. Their delicious concoctions are only $5, and the place gets packed.

Read more about Virgilio's →


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Meet Claudia Miller

Claudia Miller has been writing about South Florida for over 17 years--seven from Key Largo. A budding photographer, she can usually be found stalking a sunset. Despite being a tad...  More About Claudia

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