Bartender Mark “I wear as little as possible” Watson gives you the inside scoop on Key West Pride

As one of the anchors for Key West’s nightlife (and day-drinking) scene, 801 Bourbon Bar is one of the most famous bars on the Duval St. strip.

The drag shows upstairs are well-known throughout the island for entertaining visitors, while the sidebar at 1 Saloon has a loyal following of local men who prefer their beers with a side of leather. The 801 Bourbon Bar street party on New Year’s Eve, with drag queen Sushi dropping at midnight in her giant red shoe, is legendary.

Watching over all the shenanigans in the main bar is Mark Watson, who has been a bartender at 801 for about 20 years and is a well-known member of the Key West family.

Wanderlust chatted with Watson about his love of the island, and why Pride, June 5-9, has become one of Key West’s best events of the year.

Why is Key West a great place to live?

The island takes care of its own, we’re One Human Family, and it attracts people who buy into our mantra. Every house party is a Fellini film. And you can crack a beer at 8 a.m. and no o

ne would think twice about it, let alone pray for you.

What do you mean, ‘every house party is a Fellini film’?

It’s a cast of characters from all walks of life. You never know who is drinking next to you. I went bar-hopping with Drew Barrymore. We both threw up in the same trash can after countless Makers shots. That’s kinda the norm.

Pride in Key West is one of the biggest parties of the year on the island. What is your favorite event?

Stoli has the finals of their nationwide bartender competition here, the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, and have for years. It’s a year-long competition that ends here, with lots of Stoli sponsored events and celebrity judges. It’s a big deal.

Why do you think Pride celebrations are so popular?

As I am a man of a certain age, and in light of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy, I think it’s reclaimed its purpose, to remind us of who we are. That it’s OK to be us, in a world and political climate that doesn’t always make us feel that way. When a 15-year-old commits suicide for being gay and having nowhere else to turn, it’s becoming more and more important and vital. Sad to say that in 2019, but it’s sadly true.

What is your favorite cocktail?

I have a signature Key Lime Pie Drink that I perfected 18 years ago and is now a featured frozen drink at 801. Apart from that, I’m a beer, red wine, and whiskey guy.

What is your favorite restaurant in Key West?

There’s tons of good restaurants in Key West, hole-in-the-wall places. Go to Harpoon Harry’s for breakfast. If you’re wanting a Key-Westy experience for dinner, 915 is really nice.

What hotel would you recommend for visitors coming to Key West for the Pride festival?

Pick a guest house in Old Town that speaks to them. Everyone vacations differently and finds something about their personality that attracts them to a guest house, then they become loyal.

Do you partake in naked swimming at the clothing-optional pools?

I don’t own a bathing suit. Never in 21 years have I needed one. I live in the tropics! I wear the bare minimum when it comes to clothes. I only wear underwear at work so I’m not violated by the array of bottles at crotch level. But if I needed a bathing suit, I’d go to Graffiti on Duval.

Photos provided by Mark Watson