For those living in Florida’s coastal region, autumn can be stressful.
It’s peak hurricane season, and with that comes the looming threat of what could happen should those warm, swirling Atlantic Ocean waters take on a more organized, ominous form. The stakes were particularly high for The Perry Hotel Key West in September of 2017. After all, the newly minted property had just opened its doors to guests a mere four months earlier and was finding favorable footing as an alternative refuge to the bustle (and cruise-hopping crowds) of the downtown district when Hurricane Irma came hurtling towards the Florida island chain. A little windblown and minus a few palm trees, The Perry came out of the Category 4 hurricane mostly unscathed, thus passing its first true test as a bonafide citizen of the lower Keys. More than a year later, not much has changed but the tide.
Stock Island Savvy
Although only a few miles from typical Key West postcard scenes like the famous Mallory Square sunsets and Duval Street dives—a quick drive on the A1A across Cow Key Channel, and you, too, can stand in line to take your photo at the Southernmost Point—The Perry Hotel is firmly ensconced in the .9-square-mile snow globe of Stock Island. Rather than trying to mimic its tourist-centric neighbor to the west with bells-and-whistles attractions, the hotel has chosen to harness the mellow, saltwater-splashed persona of its surroundings into an experience that is distinctly vintage Key West.
That’s not to say The Perry is without its upscale frills; the 100-room lodging features an outdoor pool overlooking Stock Island Marina, three luxurious suites, fire pits, and a glass of bubbly at check-in. However, it was a conscious design decision to adopt a motif that somewhat narrates a visual timeline of the close-knit community’s heritage, chronicling its abiding cultural ties to the maritime industry, uncluttered lifestyle, and, more recently, a love affair with local art.
Echoes of history reverberate off antique boat propellers and retro snapshots that stud the walls, salvaged teak hardwoods and flooring inlaid with words of wisdom from Key West’s omnipresent ghost of cocktails past, Ernest Hemingway. Clean lines, handcrafted, regional artworks, and contemporary industrial pieces give the digs a modern punch that hedges the dicey “all look, no touch” trap many boutique properties fall into. Here is a haven for taking it easy—sure, you can arrange an adventurous outing from the hotel’s waterfront marina through the concierge, but there will be no judgments passed if your Key West vacation takes place entirely in one of The Perry’s poolside hammocks, rum-soaked and rocked by the thick Florida breeze. Word to the wise: save the deep-sea fishing for after the hangover.
Getting Your Sea(food) Legs
The Perry Hotel’s most overt homage to its nautical roots is perhaps better sampled than seen. Let’s face it, no one comes to Key West to eat a cheeseburger (except maybe Jimmy Buffett), and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more authentic, dock-to-table dining than what’s plated at the property’s two in-house restaurants: Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar and Salty Oyster Dockside Bar & Grill.
Well-versed in the quirks of cuisine served below the Mason-Dixon line, Executive Chef Kalen Fortuna, who grew up in the Charleston area, knows a little bit about working with what you’ve got in the kitchen. Brought on board in December 2017 to head up both eateries, Fortuna immediately set to crafting an evolving menu that embraced a lifelong passion for taking his main course straight from the hook into the fire, metaphorically speaking.
It’s not unusual to see the young chef striding across the marina dock loaded down with a morning haul (either of his own efforts or from one of the area’s many local fishermen), off to excise the most tantalizing parts from whatever sea creature he’s landed and transform it into that night’s featured special. Fortuna has a natural knack for revamping traditional Southern fare with coastal flair, proffering indulgent dishes that check the boxes of a quintessential Key West spread—wild-caught pink shrimp, shellfish, full raw bar, fresh daily catches done six ways from Sunday—without feeling like worn versions of the same ol’ seafood platter.
Perusing the menu, there are indeed recognizable favorites: roasted snapper tacos topped with orange jalapeño slaw; smoked fish dip served with Ritz crackers; baskets of beer-battered fish and chips; shrimp po’boys stuffed into crunchy French bread; raw oysters, tuna tartare, yellowtail ceviche, shrimp and lobster in iced tackle boxes; shrimp over stone-ground grits. But the true standouts are the dishes where Fortuna has had room to experiment.
Take the beignets. An inherent icon of New Orleans cuisine, Fortuna’s fluffy, crab-filled version is complemented by a creamy aioli derived from yet another staple of the Southern spice rack—Old Bay Seasoning. The Carolina seafood chowder is a throwback to Fortuna’s Holy City roots, with an assortment of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, tasso ham, potatoes, crayfish, and sweet corn swimming in perfect creamy harmony. Classic braised short ribs are kicked up with an espresso-based glaze and rounded out with a golden cornbread mash. If you’ve saved room for dessert (or even if you haven’t), the skillet-baked peach cobbler and refreshing key lime tart crusted with coconut macaroons add the perfect crescendo to Fortuna’s epicurean opus.
The best part? You’re only steps away from the comforts of your room, where you’ll inevitably hit the hay with visions of Key West Pinks dancing in your head.
The Perry Hotel Key West, 7001 Shrimp Rd, Key West, Florida. (305) 296-1717, perrykeywest.com
Downtown Key West: The Perry Hotel guests are provided complimentary shuttle service to downtown Key West. Check out the nightly turtle races (yes, you read that correctly) at Turtle Kraals; pay a visit to the feline residents of the Ernest Hemingway House; catch one of the famous Mallory Square sunset celebrations; or just wander along Duval Street to answer the eternal question of which bar makes the best rum runner. Locations vary. (855) 539-9378
Stock Island Marina Village: The Perry’s favorable waterfront location provides easy access to a wide range of seafaring excursions. On-site outfitters furnish fishing charters, sunset sails, deep-sea dives, jet-ski tours, snorkels, kayaking, and more. Plus, the Marina Village is home to a number of local artisans. 7005 Shrimp Rd, Key West, FL. (305) 294-2288
Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar: Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, The Perry’s flagship restaurant serves up innovative American-style dishes with a seaworthy touch that comes directly from nearby marinas and distributors. 7001 Shrimp Rd, Key West, FL. (305) 294-3939
Lost Kitchen: Social pop-up dinners are themed by their various host venues around the community, and frequently feature guest-chef collaborations, seasonally curated courses, and paired libations. Locations vary. (305) 896-2087
Salty Oyster Dockside Bar & Grill: The Perry’s casual poolside spot is highlighted by quick bites—think Cuban sandwiches and citrus lime-dusted chicken wings—as well as a fully stocked bar. We recommend the Perry Punch. 7001 Shrimp Rd, Key West, FL. (305) 295-6363