Photos: Christina Key
On Saturday, we catered dinner for 30 guests at historic Stiltsville. The client was a leading nature conservation organization and discussions covered the importance of protecting Florida waterways. To pair with the evening's topics, the menu featured local, sustainable, ocean-based ingredients such as grilled Mahi-Mahi, Florida Lobster Risotto and Shrimp Ceviche.
Cater and produce an event a mile offshore with no land access, and close the evening with happy clients, check! Thank you to Peter Key, director of operations.
A familiar sight to weekend boaters enjoying the waters around Miami, Stiltsville is a collection of 7 surviving homes on stilts. The houses hover above the shallow, turquoise waters a mile off the coast of Key Biscayne.
Even on the hottest days of summer, a gentle offshore breeze blows through these intriguing wooden structures that now sit in an area belonging to Biscayne National Park. On any weekend, you'll see kayakers paddling through the shallow sea grass beds beneath the structures, or gatherings of people who have rented a house for the day or the weekend.
Stiltsville’s remote, idyllic location captures the imagination of everyone who sees it. The site has a rich and illustrious history, and many stories about Stiltsville might be news to the most knowledgeable South Florida natives.
8 FACTS ABOUT STILTSVILLE
1: “Crawfish Eddie” built his shack in 1933. Famous for the chowder he made with crawfish caught right under his house, he also sold bait and beer and apparently hosted gambling, which was supposed to be legal one mile off shore. Hurricane King destroyed Eddie’s shack in 1950.
2: In the 1960’s, 27 houses were scattered throughout the shallow “flats,” but only 7 houses were left standing after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, none of which were the original houses from Stiltsville’s heyday.
3: The Calvert Club, built in the 1930s, was the first social club in Stiltsville. A photo of members of the Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club posed for a photo in front of the Calvert Club in 1938 and the image graced a postcard (pictured below.)
4: The Quarterdeck, an exclusive, gentleman’s club located near “Crawfish Eddie’s,” opened in 1940. A LIFE MAGAZINE article in February 1941 wrote: “… An extraordinary American community dedicated solely to sunlight, salt water and the well being of the human spirit ....... a $100,000 play-palace equipped with bar, lounge, bridge deck, dining room and dock slips for yachts.” The Quarterdeck was severely damaged by hurricanes in 1950 and 1960, and completely destroyed by a fire in 1961. Rumor has it the fire was deliberately set by the owner’s jealous wife.
5: The Bikini Club opened in 1962 and was closed down in the summer of 1965 for selling liquor without a license. It was damaged by Hurricane Betsy a few moths later and burned to the waterline in 1966. A 1967 edition of Argosy Magazine wrote: "Off Key Biscayne is a renegade village on stilts where weekend residents live by their own laws. Their town hall is a floating Bikini Club that swings both day and night.”
6: Ted Kennedy held his bachelor’s party in Stiltsville in 1958.
7: Three Carl Hiaasen novels ("Skin Tight," "Stormy Weather" and "Skinny Dip") are set in Stiltsville, as is Les Standiford’s “Done Deal,” and A.J. Stewart’s “Crash Tack.” Multiple episodes of Miami Vice (1984-89) were shot there and a few feature films including Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Bad Boys 2” in 2003.
8: Florida’s governor from 1955-1961, LeRoy Collins, was a regular guest at Jimmy Ellenburg’s Stiltsville shack. Governor Collins wrote: “Jimmy Ellenburg, when the time comes when I say so long to this life, I hope the great beyond seems a lot like your cabin in the sea.”