Things Getting A Little Sloppy Down South

Way down south in Key West, Florida, there’s a dispute brewing between two bars befitting an Ernest Hemingway novel. It seems the two drinking establishments in the hard-drinking author’s former home are fighting over rights to use the name of his old watering hole.

Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Captain Tony’s Saloon are half a block from each other and both claim Hemingway used to drink there.

From 1933 to 1937, Hemingway friend “Sloppy Joe” Russell ran a bar out of a former city morgue where Captain Tony’s now is located. Russell moved half a block to the current Sloppy Joe’s location in 1937. Captain Tony’s now has signs identifying it as “The First and Original Sloppy Joe’s, 1933-1937.”

Sloppy Joe’s owners, who bought the bar in 1978, are asking a U.S. District Judge to order Captain Tony’s to stop making the claim, citing that Captain Tony’s is creating confusion in the marketplace.

“Captain Tony’s products are not of Sloppy Joe’s quality, and the condition of its premises does not meet Sloppy Joe’s standards. As a result, Captain Tony’s has sullied Sloppy Joe’s distinctive style and decor,” the lawsuit said.

As well as serving food and drinks, Sloppy Joe’s has a “Hemingway Picture Wall” covered with black-and-white photos of the author. Hemingway’s fishing rod dangles from the high ceilings. His skis are encased in Plexiglas on a wall by the stage.

Captain Tony’s has bras hanging from the low-slung rafters and business cards stapled to the walls. It doesn’t sell food. There is a single bust of Hemingway, and a single photograph of the author fishing with Captain Tony Tarracino, a former owner of the bar and one-time mayor.

When asked which bar could claim Hemingway drank there, Monroe County historian Tom Hambright said: “Both, as far as I can determine.”

I’ll drink to that.

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “Fla. Bars Brawl Over ‘Sloppy Joe’ Title,” July 19, 2004.