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 parrotheads, 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 barstool is added with that patron's name. You will find barstools 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?