Who Not to Miss at Bourbon Street Pub
By John Hayden
Key West, Florida’s come-as-you-are party capitol, has been quieted by COVID-19. We still have no idea what the ‘new normal’ will look like anywhere, but especially in the Conch Republic.
The New Orleans House and Bourbon Street venue is working hard to be a part of it. The heart of gay Key West (Sushi the drag queen rings in the New Year by riding down the front of the hotel in a giant high heel shoe), the venerable hotel and club is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall, and plans to be here for the next 25 years. They’ve turned the challenges of the pandemic into an opportunity to prepare for the future. They’re using the down time to do things that would be hard to do with a packed house. So far they’ve overhauled the bar’s audio/visual equipment, done lots of cosmetic updates to the hotel portion, and next plan to expand both their inside and outside bars.
One of the people who’s been instrumental through the tough times is Dane Majoros. He’s been in Key West for seven-and-a-half years, most of it serving up drinks to customers at Bourbon Street Pub. “The day COVID-19 shutdowns began in Florida, March 17, 2020, was my seven year anniversary here,” he told me. The months since that anniversary have been memorable, to say the least. “At Bourbon Street Pub, we have been very fortunate in comparison to other local businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The Florida Keys were in a unique situation for the first seven weeks of shutdown. We were closed to everyone except residents. It gave us the opportunity to learn how to operate safely with a clientele that we knew and trusted to act accordingly to the situation.”
Since the lowest point, Dane says the bar has doubled staff hours and began operating as a restaurant, not a nightclub. “Not exactly what we are designed to do, but well within our capabilities. If it’s one thing we have learned through this, it’s that flexibility is crucial.” And even if rules relax, he says they don’t. “We are strict about rule enforcement, we are constantly sanitizing, and when it feels like our crowds are getting to a point they no longer want to comply, we close our doors for the night. Yes, we still have to make money so we can survive, but it’s not worth risking someone’s health.”
Dane, like a lot of Floridians, is from somewhere else. He grew up sheltered in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania and says his arrival at Mile 0 wasn’t his idea. “Honestly, it was a boy who convinced me to move down here. When my ex graduated college with an accounting degree, he wasn’t ready to enter that professional world and wanted to be in a place where he could find himself as part of the gay community. He was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and outed himself to his family while on anesthetics from getting his wisdom teeth out, while I was in the room. Needless to say that relationship was a constant adventure.”
It wasn’t long before he was a fixture around the club and the island touches his soul. “An old catch phrase about this island long before we were known as ‘One Human Family’ was ‘Key West, Where the Weird Go Pro.’ It’s very true in the most tolerant and accepting way. No one even turns a head at someone letting go of all the fears, anxieties, and socially imposed shame of their normal lives and just letting themselves be exactly who they are.”
After this much time, Dane is practically a native, but isn’t afraid to let his inner-tourist out every now and then. “Key West is a beautiful place to live. There is never a lack of entertainment no matter what you’re looking for. Being in the nightlife industry though, I try to avoid it in my day-to-day life. When I’m not at work I try to enjoy the water as much as I can. Probably my guiltiest pleasure though is hitching a ride on one of the trolly or conch-train tours with some drinks (don’t try this at home, they really frown upon it – I was kicked off a Ghost Tour once for some unfortunate loudness). Every operator has a different and quirky way to tell you about some of Key West’s very eclectic past. It’s a lot of fun to have a tourist day every now and then, and the businesses are so generous and supportive in making their amenities affordable to those that live here.”
Being part of a community has helped Dane, and everyone, get through. “Our local community as a whole has been very supportive and there will never be words to express how thankful we are for their generosity. Some of us didn’t have a choice but to work and would not have survived without them. We worked very hard in the beginning (and still do) to make sure our locals knew that keeping them safe was our first priority.”
As for what’s next at Bourbon Street Pub? Dane says innovation is already underway. “We’ve added new dancer boxes throughout the bar that allow them to remain appropriately distanced.” In the end, Dane and the Bourbon Street staff say whatever the ‘new normal’ is, you’ll be able to find it there. “We’ve made plans, upon plans, upon plans for how we will operate once restrictions are lifted again. Honestly though, it’s a lot of day-by-day changes, keeping up with new restrictions. The world is changing, and we’re gonna change with it!”