While cruising down a beach road not long ago in my truck, a tune came on the radio called “Bar at the End of the World” by Kenny Chesney. There are a few lines from a verse in the song that go like this…
It’s like nowhere else you’ve ever been
And we’ll write your name on a dollar bill
Put it on a wall, it’ll still be there
Next time we come back girl, to the bar at the end of the world.
It reminded me that we all live just a short boat ride away from one of the most iconic bars at the end of the world, the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant.
Cabbage Key is located in upper Pine Island Sound between Useppa Island and Cayo Costa and is accessible only by boat. Look for channel marker green number 61 and make a left hand turn if you are traveling north on the Intracoastal Waterway.
My first trip there was with my brother back in the late ’70’s. We had been fishing Pine Island Sound for the usual seatrout, redfish and snook when hunger pangs took over. He asked me if I’d like a cheeseburger in paradise.
I remember my response was mostly curious. “What, like the Jimmy Buffett song?” Yep, that’s what he was referring to. To this day it has long been rumored that a stop at Cabbage Key by Buffett and his crew was the inspiration for the song, Cheeseburger In Paradise. There’s been much speculation about its origins, but all Mr. Buffett will admit is that several unnamed locations played a part in the creation of the tune.
We pulled up to the dock and were greeted by the dockmaster, Terry who passed away in 2008. Some say he was gruff and mean-tempered, but I’d have to disagree. If you listened to his instructions and did what he asked, he was quite pleasant. However, I could see where his job was trying at best. A good many boaters who arrive at Cabbage Key have very little boating experience, especially in close quarters and shallow water. It had to be a frustrating job, but he did it for 27 years. I miss Terry.
The restaurant and inn sits at the top of an ancient Calusa Indian mound and is surrounded by lush trees and plants. There are a few rooms available in the main building and there are also remote cabins. My wife and I have stayed in both, but agree that the cabins, when available, are the way to go. The Dollhouse Cottage is our favorite.
While the restaurant, inn and cottages are the destination of most guests, I like the bar. Go figure. Yes, I like my fruity drinks, but the bar at Cabbage Key is special. It’s very small and pleasantly dark, especially on hot, humid days. You may have to wait your turn for a barstool, but it’s worth it if you want good conversion and the latest fishing tips. It you don’t pry too much the bartenders will share a bit of information about what’s biting and where.
On that first trip I remember asking one of the staff how many cheeseburgers they served each day and the short answer was “hundreds.” I don’t doubt that, even today. I took a look at the plates being served that afternoon and almost all of them had cheeseburgers on them.
And don’t forget to bring a dollar bill with you. A long running tradition has been to write your name and hometown on the bill and then either tape or staple it to a wall, post, or whatever space is available. There are thousands of them. I love looking at them and seeing how far folks have traveled just to have a cheeseburger and a cold one at a very special bar at the end of the world.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.