Finding Old Florida in Key Biscayne-Part Two

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RICKENBACKER CAUSEWAY

A wonderfully nostalgic image comes to mind upon embarking onto the Rickenbacker Causeway: Sonny Crockett roaring down the empty blacktop  in his white Testarossa —c’mon, you want to do that, don’t you? Have all the traffic cleared for you and get PAID for speeding a sexy car over the Atlantic? My red Honda Sport has just busted away from obnoxious Saturday morning Miami traffic, going the speed limit because the causeway is just our link to fun, not a cleared out strip of bridge for a film set. (Darn) But I hold on to the image anyway as we cruise over Virginia Key to Key Biscayne.

A DIFFERENT WIND

It’s a blustery January day, and I welcome the salty trade breezes off the Atlantic. On Florida’s east coast the refreshing winds remind me of Trade Winds in Hawaii— the caressing winds that blow over the pulsing blue Pacific, cooling you on a hot day. The Gulf of Mexico on the west coast of Florida where I live, although a beautiful turquoise color, is a flat and demure a body of water, and no great winds roll over it. No trades. Hotter than shit in the summer. Yes– I am from an island, I live near the Gulf, and I am warm all year long—I have earned the right to complain.

Anyway, I love the feel of cool salt massaged into my skin by winds off the Atlantic Ocean. It’s almost worth battling the traffic.

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A WHOLE FISH ON KEY BISCAYNE

Dining choices on Key Biscayne are a little slim, which appear to be a result of managed growth.  The Village of Key Biscayne, as it is called, appears to have, thankfully, jerked the choke chain on development sometime in the nineties. Once a sleepy village of small postwar beach cottages, the moneyed eventually discovered the waterfront, and hotels and condos went up at the prime waterfront locations. In 1968 Richard Nixon made his second home here, and Key Biscayne was no longer a secret.

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Boaters Grill in Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park

We wanted waterfront dining, and did not want to double back to Whiskey Joes or the Rusty Pelican after touring the Miami Seaquarium, so we handed over eight bucks to enter Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on the south end of the island, to dine at Boater’s Grill. Anytime a restaurant has a captive audience, one must wonder about quality, and Boater’s Grill was, well, mixed. It overlooks a pristine marina, is staffed by Latins of all shape, and has no bar to speak of. But we were starving and ordered up a whole fried hog snapper which was perfectly crisp, fresh, meaty and lifted from very clean hot oil. The sides of potato and black beans were tasteless however and the six-dollar side salad consisted of pale iceberg, mealy pink tomatoes and a few shavings of red onion.

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THE LIGHTHOUSE

Determined to get our eight bucks worth of the Bill Baggs Park, we drove, meandered and walked through mangrove and beach and we were impressed! The Cape Florida Lighthouse was closed by the time we got there, so we missed a climb to the top. But it sat majestic and eerie overlooking the sand, and we gawked and gazed and snapped pictures in the waning light. The lighthouse was built in 1825 and is known as the oldest structure in Miami-Dade.  We wandered around the grounds of the light keeper’s cottage and read all the informational signs tucked within the sea grape edging the beach, and learned that the park is also recognized as a site within the U.S. National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom – commemorating the trip to the British Bahamas by escaped slaves before the lighthouse was constructed. Learning this piece of history made it totally worth the eight bucks.

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THE BEST PART

Always an aficionado for Old Florida, in planning this trip, I’d been inspired by these words on Trip Advisor describing the Silver Sands Beach Resort: “An old landmark in the key.” The GPS led us into a neighborhood of established homes near the water and there, stretched out lazily along the coast, appeared our oasis: Fifties Motel Extraordinaire, all cream and turquoise, low-slung and hip, with a wonderful paisley-shaped Deco roof over the drive-up. Our retro accommodation was flanked by two high rises but clearly the little motel boasted, “Haha, I was here first.”

Our room was clean and cool, turquoise and terrazzo, and we wandered the gardens to the pool and the beach that evening, and again in the morning. We ignored the condos and lazed in our retro bubble, unaware that the time-machine was about to bring us back further.

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THERE WAS A RESTAURANT HERE?

Before we checked-out, we took advantage of a photo moment posing with the old sign out front and—what does it say? SANDBAR-RESTAURANT& LOUNGE. I didn’t see a restaurant and lounge, did you see a restaurant and lounge? No, hubby said, I didn’t see it. The notion of an old waterfront restaurant and bar conjured such a warm feeling of tiki bars in 1960’s Honolulu with my mom and grandmother and their Mai Tais, and me collecting swizzle sticks as a four-year-old, I had to pursue this mystery.

Hubby packed up the car while I spoke with the office lady. Through her broken English (English is a second language in Miami-just saying) this is what I learned:

Yes, the motel was built in the fifties (Always start with an easy question when you plan to interrogate someone, especially if English is not their first language.)

And the Sand Bar was right on the beach, with a bar downstairs and upstairs. The seafood was fresh and excellent, and the view was beautiful, especially at night on the balcony. “It was vuuunderful,” the office lady drawled dreamily.

The Sand Bar after hurricane Andrew in 1992…

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RESTAURANT?

Hurricane Andrew tore it down in 1992 and according to my hostess of information, the owner is old and doesn’t want to rebuild it. Once it was rumored the motel would be sold to developers, but the owner decided against it and now she is refurbishing rooms, furniture, roof, etc. Thankfully, the Village of Key Biscayne only allows a certain amount of rooms on the Key, so hopefully this will prevent a high-rise to take the place of the lovely Silver Sands. Maybe when the owner passes, her kids will rebuild the restaurant.

WHERE WAS IT? WHERE? WHERE?

 Oh, you can still see the slab, over on the other side of the pool.

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RESTAURANTS ARE MICROCOSMS OF HUMANITY

In the Sixties I’d go with my mom and grandmother to the restaurants and bars of Waikiki and when they were caught up in adult conversation and Mai Tais, I would stare at people and imagine their lives. So many different lives, all in one place, surrounded by one atmosphere. This used to blow my little mind and I loved it. Restaurants and bars are places to feel what other people’s lives are like and as I stared at the weedy slab which once supported the Sand Bar, I felt sad and anxious. I wanted to meet the people who had dined and drank here, or just be in the dining room for a few moments and smell the walls, the frying fish, the salt and the grit of history.

So, once home, it was time for some internet sleuthing and this is what I found out from “Old Miami Memories” by Don Boyd, where people wrote in their memories of the Sand Bar at Silver Sands:

It was built in 1960

There was a sunken bar overlooking the beach

The bar had a large glass window overlooking the ocean and the bartender would push a button and fresh water washed the salt from the glass. Also called the “waterfall window.”

Many people who worked at other resorts and banks in the area regularly went there after work.

It was a place people proposed marriage, ROMANTIC.

A grumpy man named Louis Archambeau played there-not sure what he played but I like this tidbit

“Roll-pleated turquoise leather booths”?  I love it!

“Best fish sandwich in town.”

And an old picture I found:

Silver Sands Oceanfront Motel Key Biscayne

An old Silver Sands postcard, looks like the Sand Bar, lower right

It was fun stepping into the past, the Silver Sands as our time machine. But we know this motel-time machine only has only a few cylinders left, and before long,  it will be completely taken over by the present. And you’ll only be able to read about places like this in blogs.

Going there

Bill Baggs State Park                                  https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Cape-Florida

Boaters Grill                                                 http://www.lighthouserestaurants.com/BoatersGrill/about.php

Silver Sands Beach Resort                         http://silversandskeybiscayne.net/

 

 

 

 

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