After a (hardly!) disparaging announcement that your flight out of the Florida Keys – specifically, the southernmost city of the continental United States – is delayed, do as the native conchs do. Saddle up to the bar at the Conch Flyer, and listen to a former pilot tell tall tales of the this southernmost city.
The Conch Flyer bar and restaurant is owned by John Richmond, who used to pilot DC-3s, and his rich store of memories includes turning departing planes around at the runway’s end to go back for tardy ticket-holders, discovering Miami-bound passengers rolling dice in a plane’s wide aisle and watching the late bar owner Captain Tony Tarracino lead groups of pretty new flight attendants on bar-hopping “Key West orientation tours.”
“There would be like 15 of these cute little girls and Tony,” says Richmond. “He would get them all drunk, and we would have to cancel flights the next day.”
Today, the renovated Key West International Airport includes a 4,400-square-foot space in the airport’s new terminal building.
Despite its larger size and outward gloss, it’s still the same welcoming place it always was. The walls are lined with photos and posters depicting the history of the airport and Pan Am, which was launched in Key West, and scores of “people” shots.
“The pictures are people that have worked at the airport throughout the years, a lot of people who have died, all the old bartenders … people that have been here over the years that aren’t with us anymore,” he said. “Key West to me was always about the people that I found here.”
Behind the long bar and above the door are replica 1927 engines that Richmond commissioned. Also displayed are treasured model airplanes handcrafted by an old friend named Rudy, who never mentioned his hobby until he presented Richmond’s father with the first of the collection — an exact model of the plane Richmond Senior had flown in wartime.
The construction of the new Conch Flyer was overseen by Richmond, who admits he loves the creativity of designing and building. Once it was finished, he started working on a second bar and restaurant beyond the airport’s security screening area in the soon-to-be-completed departure lounge.
“The restaurant is going to be modeled after a beach shack, and in between the buildings there’s going to be an open-air beach with sand and walkways and a waterfall,” said Richmond. “As far as we can tell, it is the only airport in the world that has its own beach inside the airport.”
Whether customers laze on the beach before boarding their plane, or enjoy a cold drink and a bite at the Conch Flyer, Richmond’s goal is to give them a taste of the authentic island atmosphere.