Catching the early show at Key West's Barbary Beach House

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Sunrise on Smathers Beach, just a short walk from the Barbary Beach House Key West.
Sunrise on Smathers Beach, just a short walk from the Barbary Beach House Key West. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Key West is famous for its sunsets, but I was there recently for the sunrise.

It was a lot calmer on Smathers Beach watching the sun come up than it is at the carnival-like sunset celebrations on Mallory Square, even the toned-down version due to coronavirus.

Only a few people shared the sand with me as the sun lit a bank of clouds on the eastern horizon with an incandescent pink glow.

A sculpted steel canopy shelters the entrance to the Barbary Beach House Key West and creates distinctive shadows.
A sculpted steel canopy shelters the entrance to the Barbary Beach House Key West and creates distinctive shadows. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

If the idea of a greeting the dawn on a beach in Key West appeals to you or your client, the new Barbary Beach House Key West is your go-to spot. On a recent hosted stay there, it took me less than two minutes to walk from my room to the ocean's edge.

It was a lot easier than the last time I got up for a special sunrise: an arduous bus journey up Hawaii's Haleakala volcano in the dark.

Sunrise at sea level in Key West was also a lot warmer than at 11,000 feet in Hawaii, especially in July. Fortunately, the Barbary Beach House had cool covered, as well, from the air conditioning in the suites to the waterfall at the pool to a complimentary cocktail on arrival.

The lobby of the 184-room Barbary Beach House Key West, which opened in June. It was formerly a Sheraton Suites.
The lobby of the 184-room Barbary Beach House Key West, which opened in June. It was formerly a Sheraton Suites. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

I've stayed at properties in the historic district on dozens of visits to Key West, but this was my first time staying along Roosevelt Boulevard, which hugs the beachfront from north to south on the eastern end of the island. I enjoyed it more than I had expected. There was a passing parade of bicyclists, roller skaters, joggers, golf cart jockeys and scooters of all descriptions to watch out front. The funky flavor of Key West is not lost, even here.

The 184-room Barbary is a three-story, rectangular cloister built around a pool deck and restaurant. Its style is modern Plantation colonial, with long outdoor galleries instead of interior corridors and bamboo chairs in the lobby.

A former Sheraton Suites, the Barbary has a new vibe, starting at the entrance where an impressive new sculpted steel canopy creates a jungle of light and shade for visitors coming and going. The hotel is casually themed to Key West's history of shipwreck salvage.

My suite was spacious, with a full living room separated from the sleeping area by two pocket doors. The kitchenette includes a high-top table with stools, a wet bar, a microwave and a Daewoo half-size fridge that added a contemporary edge to the decor.

The pool at the Barbary Beach House Key West features a small waterfall.
The pool at the Barbary Beach House Key West features a small waterfall. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The grounds were landscaped with the expected tropical plants, including coconut palms that were harvested to make containers for specialty drinks; the frangipani had the reddest blooms I have ever seen. There are hammocks tied to the trees (a bit precarious to get in and out), and gas tiki torches light up at dusk.

An hourly shuttle takes guests to the airport and to Old Town, which otherwise wouldn't be convenient to the property. The driver's chatter was entertaining.

My fellow guests on a Tuesday in July were mostly couples in their 20s and flight crews from the airlines. I met one couple in their 40s who drove down from Virginia after calling off a scheduled family vacation to Mexico.

At the resort, the staff wore virus masks all the time; about half of the guests were observant.

I ate twice at the Drifter's Cove restaurant on an elevated, covered patio overlooking the pool. My dinner of Caesar salad with shrimp was just right, light but flavorful. The house Key lime dessert has an Oreo cookie crust.

In the morning I had cheesy scrambled eggs on biscuits, with little crunchy pieces of embedded onion, and breakfast potatoes that were first steamed, and then briefly fried, which made for a nice crisp/soft balance.

A Trip Advisor search showed a price of $172 for the night I stayed. The 26 reviews posted on Trip Advisor are all "excellent," (hmmm), with the quality of the staff and the room spaciousness consistently noted.

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