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Buffett-Eye View Of a Wild Town

Sunday, January 15, 2006

With five bar stops on the Jimmy Buffett walking tour in Key West, you can easily get wasted in Margaritaville. But to avoid sidewalk spins, it might be wise to stay sober -- at least until the final watering hole.

"It's a storytelling tour," said Trails of Margaritaville guide and founder Tim Glancey. "Not a bar crawl."

Sure (hiccup) thing, Tim. However, the magician who spent 12 years touring with Buffett won't mind if you knock back a cocktail or two between visits to Key West's main Buffett sites. It's like Method sightseeing.

The two-hour outing starts, appropriately enough, at Captain Tony's Saloon. In the 1970s, Buffett performed here on a bar stool for $5 and all the beer he could guzzle. Some of the stools are painted with the names of famous patrons and performers who've stopped by. The one exception is Buffett; his seat keeps getting stolen.

Amid the Buffett lore, Glancey also weaves in some lively local history. Pointing at a flapping blue flag with a sun and queen conch emblem, Glancey explained how in 1982 the town seceded from the United States, calling itself the Conch Republic. The coup ended in an on-water food fight with the Coast Guard, which the city re-creates annually in April, rotten tomatoes and all.

But the tour's main focus is on Buffett, and whether you know the song arcana or not, you can still feel like a fan insider. For example, walking by a nondescript icehouse on the harbor, Glancey revealed its true contents: Buffett's recording studio. And while visiting the Chart Room Bar, tourists learn that the plugged hole on the bar's edge holds the ashes of Whistlepants (aka Jim Cox), a barfly from Buffett's musical troubadour days. Meanwhile, four other (open) holes await their remains, and there's room for more at the bar.

The last stop is Margaritaville, the singer's restaurant and club on Duval Street. Behind the bar, the staff keeps the Buffett Bible, a quasi-encyclopedia of his song lyrics. However, you don't need to be a Parrothead to know that in Margaritaville the Cheeseburger in Paradise comes with coleslaw, and the margaritas are frozen or on the rocks.

-- Andrea Sachs

The Trails of Margaritaville tour (305- 292- 2040, http://www.trailsofmargaritaville) costs $20 and departs daily at 4 p.m. at Captain Tony's (428 Greene St.). Reservations required.

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