When most people today hear Pan Am, they think about the airline’s heyday from the ’50s to the ’70s, when it was a darling of the jet age. As the launch customer of the 747, Pan Am was the major international airline for decades. An entire industry has evolved around nostalgia for the airline, including the Pan Am Experience, which we got to experience a few years ago (which will hopefully be returning to welcome guests soon).
I bet that many of you didn’t know that Pan Am started in 1927 as a passenger and mail carrier between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. That was the first scheduled international flight from the U.S. The lucrative mail contract was the basis for the airline but they also sold tickets between the two cities and the original ticket office was located in downtown Key West.
In fact, the building is still there, at 301 Whitehead Street.
The building has gone through several owners over the years. In 1992 the building was converted into a restaurant called Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill. It was named after its owner, actress Kelly McGillis, a former Key West resident.
In 2017, the owners of one of our other favorite Key West restaurants, Nine One Five, purchased the restaurant and gave it a makeover (to the level that Key West lets anyone change a historic building, which isn’t much).
The major change is that the establishment has embraced its roots as Pan Am’s first office and has changed the name to First Flight Key West Island Restaurant and Brewery. The brewery goes by the unsurprising name of Southernmost Brewery.
For us, one of the most important features was the large outdoor patio. We still weren’t comfortable eating inside restaurants at the time of our visit, and this fit the bill perfectly for a quick bite after our sunset sail.
We weren’t expecting much, but we were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food. I went for the burger made from Kobe beef with bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings. As far as burgers go, it hit the spot.
Since we visited at night and there are trees everywhere, we didn’t get any good pictures. Here’s a look at the promo video from the restaurant to get a better idea about the location.
Walking around inside, there’s a large gift shop featuring logo merchandise from the restaurant in the former office areas. Sprinkled in are some Pan Am items and posters on the wall.
And for all of you Kelly McGillis fans, the brewery continues to pay homage to the former owner by serving the Maverick IPA.
Unlike our past visits to the location, I can now say that it’s worth a visit for nostalgia and to check out some of the great food and beers.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary