Captain Tony's Saloon
Favorite watering hole of such legends as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein and Jimmy Buffet, Captain Tony’s Saloon is not just a bar it is a piece of living history.
428 Greene Street
Key West , FL 33040
Phone: (305) 294-1838
Open to the public: Yes
Demographic Rank: 6
Vistor Rating: 0.0
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History information is some background and history about the location. This is meant to be a basic summary. Below the history records you will find sources in which you can click on to find out more information. There may be multiple history records per location.
Said to be the oldest saloon in Florida, the establishment is home to a tree that grows through the middle of the chamber. It is said to be the tree from which executions were carried out. Captain Tony's is an iconic divey beach bar named after a modern maritime icon who was once a fishing boat captain gunrunner, gambler, and Mayor of Key West. The late, great, captain Tony who died in 2008. He was father to 13 children by five wives, Captain Tony served the U.S. government as a gunrunner during the Bay of Pigs. Before becoming a popular watering hole, the building served a few different roles. It was an ice house, the city morgue, a wireless telegraph station, a cigar factory, a speakeasy and even a bordello. It was also the original home of the famous Sloppy Joe's Bar.
The bright yellow building has been patronized through the years by many well-known artists, writers and celebrities. In fact, an interesting feature of the bar is that when any celebrity visits, a bar stool is added with that patron's name. You will find bar stools painted with the names of famous people such as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Duane Cahill, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffett, Shel Silverstein and even John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman, among others and legends like Bob Dylan still show up for impromptu performances. The bar interior reflects its colorful heritage, with a decor that includes old licenses and ID cards glued to the wall and autographed bras dangling from the ceiling. Above the sign outside the building is a large Jewfish that Captain Tony caught and had preserved. .
Built in 1851, Captain Tony's Saloon has a history as colorful as the town of Key West itself. The building on 428 Greene Street was initially an ice house and morgue - a natural progression because of the need to keep bodies cold. The wide building's doors made it easy for horses and their ice shipments to fit through since electric refrigeration had not yet been invented. Ships left port loaded with bananas headed for New England and returned with huge chunks of ice cut from frozen northern lakes. The ice was used as ballast in place of cargo on the return voyage to Key West. One use for that ice was to keep dead bodies from rotting until they could be buried. Not only was the building used as Key West's first morgue, it was also the location of the infamous Hanging Tree," which was responsible for hanging pirates and one woman who had stabbed her husband and two children to death.
Throughout the 1890s, the building housed a wireless telegraph station.
In 1899, during the Spanish-American War, the first word of the USS Maine being destroyed came through on wire at the building. The news came from Havana to Key West and was reported all over the world from this location. To this day, there is a hole in the top of the roof where the telegraph pole went through.
The building became a cigar factory in 1912, and then several speakeasies, the last of which was called The Blind Pig - which specialized in gambling, women and Hoover Gold (the locals' nickname for bootleg rum).
Joe Russell opened Sloppy Joe's at 428 Greene Street in 1933. It is this Sloppy Joe's where Ernest Hemingway went to drink everyday at 3 pm while he lived in the Keys from 1928-1938. After a rent dispute in 1938 where the landlord was going to raise the rent by $1 per week, the owner of Sloppy Joe's moved the bar half a block down. A clause in the lease stated that all fixtures must stay if he ended the lease, which is why he decided to move the entire bar in the middle of the night (including the fixtures) a half block away to the corner of Duval and Greene Street. During the move, Ernest Hemingway apparently insisted on possession of the urinal. He said, "His hard earned money paid for it." The urinal can still be viewed at the Hemingway House where it remains as a cat trough. Originally, there was a long wooden bar was on the left side of the main bar area, the booths went to the back of the building and there was a large room off to one side used for gambling. The room had ceiling fans and sawdust floors and the only means of light came from two large French doors. Gambling consisted of roulette, craps, blackjack, one-armed bandits, faro and celo. Rumba was the music of the time and one could dance all evening to live music.
Morgan Bird, became the the new owner of the building in 1940, where he operated a gay bar in the 1940s called the Duval Club which was decorated in Victorian decor and 50s called the Silver Slipper and served as the dance hall. In the early hours, Bird had Happy Hours that drew in military men. After the Navy placed the Duval Club "off limits" because of its clientele, sales declined by 80% . Unfortunately, without the revenue of sailors on leave the club shut down and Bird sold the building.
Anthony Tarracino became the next proprietor at 428 Greene Street in 1958. (He worked as a gunrunner, bringing weapons to the rebels in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, all before buying the building). 1960 he opened the bar Captain Tony's pub, He sold the bar for $650,000 in 1989, at about the same time he won election as Key West's mayor after a half dozen tries to Joe Faber who is the the current owner.
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
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History of 428 Greene Street
The location at 428 Greene Street has a colorful history. Built in 1851, this location originally served as an ice house, which doubled as the first city morgue in Key West in the days before electric refrigeration. The saloon is also the home of Key West's 'Hanging Tree.' This infamous tree was used to hang 17 people until death; 16 convicted pirates and one woman who stabbed to death her husband and two small children. She became known as the 'lady in blue' as she was not only hung in a blue dress but also turned blue in color as she hung from the tree. Her spirit haunts the saloon to this day.
In the 1890's, 428 Greene Street housed a wireless telegraph station. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, news that the battleship Maine was destroyed came from Havana to Key West. That news was reported all over the world from this building. This location became a cigar factory in 1912, and then several speakeasies, the last of which was called The Blind Pig, specializing in gambling, women, and Hoover Gold (the local's nickname for bootleg rum).
In 1933, a local Conch, named Joe "Josie" Russell opened Sloppy Joe's at 428 Greene Street. Ernest Hemingway frequented Sloppy Joe's during this time. In 1938, Josie Russell, in a dispute with the landlord of 428 Greene Street over a $1 rent increase and a clause in the lease stating that all fixtures must stay if he ended the lease, decided to move the entire bar in the middle of the night (including the fixtures) a half block away to the corner of Duval and Greene Street. During the move, Hemingway insisted on possession of the urinal. He said, "His hard earned money paid for it." The urinal can still be viewed at the Hemingway House where it remains as a cat trough.
In 1940, 428 Greene Street's landlord leased the building to Morgan Bird, who opened the saloon as the Duval Club. He was openly gay, and decorated the saloon in late-Victorian style. He threw large, lavish "gay" parties in the Duval Club, where the gay patrons propositioned sailors. This led the Navy to place the Duval Club "off limits" for the sailors, leading to such a loss of business that Morgan was forced to close the Duval Club.
1958 brought the most recent chapter to 428 Green Street, when Captain Tony bought the bar from David Wolkowsky. Captain Tony's Saloon has been thriving in that location ever since.
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
Stories are just that. Stories and personal accounts that have been reported about the location.
An island icon, Captain Tony's Saloon has an intriguing past - one that includes murder, mystery, and even a bit of mayhem. Before becoming a popular watering hole, the building served a few different roles. It was an ice house, the city morgue, a wireless telegraph station, a cigar factory, a speakeasy and even a bordello. It was also the original home of the famous Sloppy Joe's Bar.
The Trouble Begins
It was 1865 when a tumultuous hurricane hit the Florida Keys and water came crashing through the city, smashing nearly everything in its wake. The city morgue that would later become Captain Tony's was no exception to the devastation. The many corpses that were awaiting burial or autopsy were washed away except for one. History tells us that the one body recovered was lying in front of the building and was later buried beneath the building, surrounded by holy water, and enclosed by a wall where the poolroom now resides.
Lady in Blue
Later, the local pub would expand, building around a tree that was once used for hangings. Many were lynched and hung from this tree, including a woman who murdered her two sons and husband. She was immediately hung in the blue dress that was covered in her victim's blood. Many say she is the first ghost to inhabit Captain Tony's. She's been seen so many times that she's referred to as the "Lady in Blue".
During the building's construction, while removing old flooring, workers discovered the skeletal remains of several people and a grave marker of a woman named Elvira. It is believed that these may very well be some of the missing bodies that were lost after the hurricane.
Another horrific tale surrounding the bar is the story of a young woman who came into the building when it was a speakeasy in search of her husband. She had her infant child with her, and when discovering her husband drunk and carousing, she had a mental breakdown. She ran into the ladies room and killed her child then put the body under a blanket and left. And it is with these and other grim events that the Haunted story of Captain Tony's Saloon begins.
The Ghostly Encounters
Many who've visited this legendary bar have experienced some sort of inexplicable encounter. Often, the events surround the ladies restroom where patrons have reported various mysterious occurrences. One woman reported that she tried to go into the first stall but it was locked. When she went into the second stall, she noticed that no one was in the first. Before leaving the bar later that evening, she went back in only to find the stall still locked; and before she knew what was happening, the outside door to the restroom opened and closed; although no one could be seen. When she went into the back stall, she heard the door of the first stall unlock and slam. Alarmed, she jumped up to see what was happening and still no one was in sight; and the first stall was again locked.
The bar's owner, Joe Farber, who considers himself to be a skeptic, reports that he too had several experiences that were not just spooky but terrifying. One night alone, around 4am, Joe heard a voice calling out to him. He got up from his desk to investigate but saw that no one was there. He walked to the back of the bar and noticed the back doors were wide open - even though he'd locked them hours before. Unable to explain the voice he heard, he simply brushed it off - until a few years later when the same voice called out to him again.
This time the voice said: "Don't leave." Joe ran to check the back doors and this time they were locked. He found nothing out of the ordinary throughout the bar so he went home. Hours later, around 6am, Joe got a call from the police saying they found the body of a young teenage girl in front of the bar. It seems she called her mother just after overdosing on pills to commit suicide. Her mother called the police and later they found her body in front of Captain Tony's. Joe believes the voice was telling him to stay - that he might have been able to save that girl's life. Only that spirit knows for sure.
Other Eerie Occurrences
Many other bar patrons have described similar and strange experiences: Cold spots in the hallway near the ladies restroom, doors opening and closing without anyone around, stalls locked with no one inside. One patron reported getting third degree burns on his hands an hour after touching the tree that stands inside the bar.
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
Captain Tony's Saloon in Key West, Florida, is one happening place. The buildings walls have seen both literary and rock royalty pass through. Ernest Hemmingway frequented the bar while he lived in Key West, and Tennessee Williams and Shel Silverstein were both known to throw back a few at the saloon. Jimmy Buffett began his singing career on the bar's stage, and legends like Bob Dylan still show up for impromptu performances. It's the history above all else that draws so many spirits (living, dead, and the kind you drink) to this haunted hot spot - a history laced with lynching's, accidents, and murder.
Built in 1851, 428 Greene Street was originally home to two businesses operating under one roof: an icehouse stocked by ships sailing down the East Coast, and the city morgue. In 1865, a massive hurricane hit the Florida Keys, and the sea surged fifteen to twenty feet, smashing almost everything in the way. The building at 428 Greene Street took the hurricane's hit on the chin, sending doors, inventory, and fresh corpses drifting into the murky aftermath.
"All of the bodies were missing after the hurricane hit, except one," said Joe Faber, the current owner of Captain Tony's Saloon. "According to some old Conchs that I spoke with when researching the history, they found one body that was near the outside of the building, which is now the inside of the building where the pool room is. They never found the others, so what the Bahamian people did is decide to make that an unofficial grave site. They buried the body they found, built a wall around the area, and put bottles full of holy water in the wall."
The Greene Street building has weathered many storms since then, and at different times has housed a wireless telegraph station, cigar factory, bordello, and speakeasy. The place went legit as prohibition ended, and the building entered its final incarnation as the saloon so many locals and tourists have come to love today.
Captain Tony's pub expanded throughout the twentieth century. Besides building around the hanging tree, owners expanded the saloon to include a billiards room, building over and around the wall containing holy water. In the 1980s, while taking up the old plywood flooring, the bones from between eight and fifteen bodies were discovered. A skeletal reminder of the find hangs behind the bar today. Also unearthed was the grave marker of a young woman named Elvira, which is now exposed in the cement next to a pool table.
There's a tree growing through the roof of the building with bras and other miscellany hanging from it. Eighteen people were hanged from it during the 1800s, all but one of them for piracy. The one exception? In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a local woman brutally murdered her husband and two sons. She chopped their bodies into pieces and set the bloody chunks out in the backyard for the animals to dispose of. A neighbor caught a glimpse of the scene and called others over to investigate. They saw the carnage, and then found the exhausted murderess inside her home wearing a blue dress covered in blood. The crowd turned lynch mob and dragged her to the hanging tree for some instant justice.
Today the legendary "Lady in Blue" is Captain Tony's best-known haunting. People spot a bluish blur passing through the room, or maybe see the apparition out of the corner of their eyes. Some have even claimed to photograph her. But the specter in blue isn't alone; there are others.
Joe Faber first came to Captain Tony's Saloon in 1976 when he was in college. He heard about some of the ghosts from Captain Tony Tarracino himself, and although there are variations on the bathroom story, the gist of the legend dates back to the building's early days as a saloon. For instance, according to Faber, a woman brought her young child into the speakeasy, where she found her husband drinking and carousing. The mother snapped. "She killed her child in the bathroom, which is a pretty hairy thing, and she took the kid's body out under a blanket," Faber said.
In January of 2005, one of Captain Tony's female patrons had an eerie experience in the lady's restroom that left her rattled.
"I tried to go in the first stall, but it was locked. I figured someone was in there that I didn't notice, but then I heard the outside door close. Just before we left, I went in again. I again went for the first stall - the back one gave me the chills and eerie feeling - and realized it was locked from the inside. While in the back stall, I again heard the outside door close and I looked around the corner. No one walked in. I was feeling strange but continued what I was doing when, all of a sudden, I heard that first stall door slam. I jumped out of the back stall and saw that no one was there, and that the first stall was still locked from the inside. I ran out and never looked back."
Joe Faber considers himself a skeptic. He's neither seen the Lady in Blue nor sensed a presence in the women's restroom. But he has had two experiences in the bar he can't explain: voices that seemed to offer a kind of warning of events to come.
"About eight or nine years ago, I'm in the bar alone at about four o'clock in the morning," Faber said. "I was sitting there doing paperwork, and someone . . . called me. All I heard was, 'Hey, Joe.' I thought that was pretty odd, so I got up to look around to see who was looking for me. I walked out of the back of the bar, and the back doors were wide open. I had just been out there maybe half an hour earlier."
Faber described the back lot of the bar as being completely fenced in; there was no way someone could have come in or gone out that way. He figured that if the disembodied voice had any supernatural meaning, it was simply to lock the doors.
"I didn't think much of that voice until several years later," he said. "I was sitting at the bar at the end of the night doing paperwork, and I hear that same voice again, but this time it says, 'Don't leave.' Now I've got the chills. I got up, and I ran to the back to see if the doors were open. I checked, and everything was locked down. So then I checked the entire building, because I'm thinking this may be a warning that there's going to be a fire or something, but nothing was wrong."
Finding nothing amiss, Faber went home. A few hours later, his phone rang. "I get a phone call about six o'clock in the morning from the police saying that a girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old, committed suicide in front of the bar. Apparently the girl called her mother from her cell phone, said that she had just taken some pills to kill herself, and that she was in front of a yellow building that she thought was a bar, under a green awning. Her mother called the Key West police, who went from bar to bar and found the girl in front of Captain Tony's, dead. Had I stayed at the bar that night, maybe I would have found the girl and been able to help her.
"Now, do I know what the hell that is? Absolutely not. But I do know that I've been there twenty years, I've heard it twice, and it was meaningful both times. Everybody can speak about the Lady in Blue, the bathroom, and things like that, but I means nothing to me until I actively see it or hear it. But from what I've experienced, and the stories I've heard, I know something's going on."
Considering that a number of people were executed on the hanging tree, and lives were lost here by the storm surge, in addition to the other deaths that took place in and around the property, maybe something or someone is still around.
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
Said to be the oldest saloon in Florida, the establishment is home to a tree that grows through the middle of the chamber. It is said to be the tree from which executions were carried out; 75 unfortunate folks were said to have been hanged from it. The apparition of one of them, a woman in a bloody blue nightgown, has been seen at the saloon. The pool room, always cooler than anywhere else in the place, is said to be haunted. Locals will tell you the building served as an ice house and morgue in pre-electricity days, and folks who didn't arrive alive at the port of Key West were buried - you guessed it - right where the pool room stands today. Another point of interest are two tombstones inside the bar. One reads "Elvira, daughter of Joseph and Susannah Edmunds died Dec. 21, 1822 Age: 19 years 8 months and 21 days." The other is the tombstone of Reba Sawyer, said to have had a longtime affair with a married man. They would meet in secret at the bar, but years after Reba's death, her husband discovered the details of the secret affair. He was mad enough to pluck Reba's tombstone from the cemetery.
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
Captain Tony's Saloon is located just half-block west of Duval Street at 428 Greene Street in Key West. The bright yellow building housing Captain Tony's Saloon has a history as colorful as the town of Key West itself. When constructed in 1852, it originally served as an ice house and doubled as a city morgue in the days before electric refrigeration. Sailboats took bananas to Boston and shipped ice back as ballast cut from frozen lakes in the north. The wide doors allowed for easy access for horses to wheel the ice inside. It was conveniently located as the hanging tree where murderers and pirates were executed by vigilantes stood right beside the morgue. This tree from which 75 people were hanged now grows through the center of the building. Believe it or not, 16 skeletons were found when they were laying a new foundation. There is actually a tombstone in the pool room where the coroner buried his daughter.
In the 1890's this building housed a wireless telegraph station. In 1898 during the Spanish-American War when the battleship Maine was destroyed, the news came from Havana to Key West and was reported all over the world from this location. In 1912 it became a cigar factory and then a bordello which was popular with the Navy until it was forced out of business. After that it became several speakeasies, the last of which was named The Blind Pig, specializing in gambling, women, and Hoover gold which was the local's nickname for bootleg rum.
In the 1930's a local Conch named Joe "Josie" Russell bought the business. He also had a charter boat business and owned a small speakeasy at the end of Duval Street. Josie Russell held the lease until the end of Prohibition. In 1933 the original Sloppy Joe's Bar was legally opened and remained at this location from 1933 to 1938. This is also the spot that was most often visited by famous author Ernest Hemingway until he left Key West for good in 1938. Sloppy Joe's in a dispute with the landlord of the building over a rent increase moved out overnight to its third and final location on Duval Street.
In 1940 it became the Duval Club and was decorated Victorian style. The owner Morgan Bird threw large, lavish "gay" parties in the Duval Club, where gay patrons propositioned sailors. Despite warnings from the Navy, Morgan proceeded with his parties, until the Navy placed the Duval Club "off limits". The Navy board's action caused an 80% decrease in business, so Morgan was forced to close.
In 1958, Captain Anthony "Tony" Tarracino brought the bar from David Wolkowsky and Captain Tony's Saloon was born. Captain Tony was the father of thirteen children by three different wives. He has been a charter boat captain and a gun runner for Cuban mercenaries during the Bay of Pigs. A "B" grade movie called "The Cuba Crossing" starring Stewart Whitman who portrayed Captain Tony was shot on location in Key West at Captain Tony's Saloon.
Tony Tarracino, known as Captain Tony to parrot heads, passed away in November, 2008 at the age of 92 after being hospitalized for a week with his wife Mary of 38 years and seven of his children by his side. Captain Tony, owner of Captain Tony's Saloon and former Key West Mayor, was immortalized by Jimmy Buffett in the song "Last Mango In Paris". Captain Tony arrived in Key West from New Jersey in 1948 with $18 in his pocket. Ten years later, he purchased the bar on Greene Street, calling it Captain Tony's Saloon. The bar still has the name though it was sold in 1989.
The bar has been patronized through the years by many well-known artists, writers and celebrities. In fact, an interesting feature of the bar is that when any celebrity visits, a bar stool is added with that patron's name. You will find bar stools painted with the names of famous people such as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Duane Cahill, Jimmy Buffett, Shel Silverstein and even John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman, among others. Above the sign outside the building is a large Jewfish that Captain Tony caught and had preserved. It is said that if you throw a quarter into the mouth of the fish, good luck will follow you until you leave the island. The bar interior reflects its colorful heritage, with a decor that includes old licenses and ID cards glued to the wall and autographed bras dangling from the ceiling.
There is live music every night, and on weekends the bar tends to be packed with people. It is just one of those classic dive bars where you sit and enjoy a few drinks with friends, however, this location is said to be one of the most haunted places in Key West being subject of many strange paranormal occurrences and sightings. One tale of a particular haunt is a woman who killed her husband was hanged from the tree that stands inside Captain Tony's. Her apparition has been seen wandering around the premises believed to be looking for a new husband. She can be seen wearing the same gray nightgown that she was hanged in. Sometimes she is referred to as "The Lady in Gray".
There are also tales of one of the bathrooms being haunted, particularly the women's bathroom. People have found that doors become locked for no apparent reason. Reports of strange and eerie sensations that overcome you when entering the bathroom have deterred many from using it. Could this be related to the ghost of the "widow" looking for a husband?
Added by: sdonley on 07/06/2016
Here are the paranormal claims for this location. These have been found through Internet research, reports from members, or reports from personal interviews. To add a claim, please contact PANICd.com, and we will review and add your information.
|Claim #||Added||Added By||Claim|
|2357||07/06/2016||sdonley||Cold spots in the hallway near the ladies restroom|
|2358||07/06/2016||sdonley||Billiards room colder than the rest of the building|
|2359||07/06/2016||sdonley||Doors opening and closing without anyone around|
|2360||07/06/2016||sdonley||Ladies room stalls locked with no one inside.|
|2361||07/06/2016||sdonley||Apparition of Ernest Hemingway has been said to roam the building.|
|2362||07/06/2016||sdonley||One patron reported getting third degree burns on his hands an hour after touching the tree that stands inside the bar.|
|2363||07/06/2016||sdonley||Apparition of a Lady in Blue|
|2364||07/06/2016||sdonley||Apparition of mortician|
|2365||07/06/2016||sdonley||Disembodied voices with messages|
|2366||07/06/2016||sdonley||Reports of strange and eerie sensations that overcome you when entering the bathroom have deterred many from using it.|
Paranormal evidence is based on claims that have been reported for this location. There can be several types of evidence; however, we have grouped them based on media type for better organization. Here you will find evidence that are logs, audio, video, or photographic.
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