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Hemingway's favorite Key West bar reopen from virus shutdown

Sloppy Joe’s, the iconic Key West bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented during the 1930s, reopened Thursday after closing six months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

By noon, the bar had already reached the 50% capacity allowed by law, including three Ernest Hemingway look-alikes. Concerns about COVID-19 had forced cancellation of the 40th Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest held at Sloppy Joe’s each July during the subtropical island’s annual Hemingway Days festival.

Charlie Boice, who won the contest in 2015, traveled nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Jupiter, Florida, to attend the reopening.

In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Ron and Gayle Pates chat with server Yani Kopkovael, center, at Sloppy Joe's, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Key West, Fla. The iconic Florida Keys bar reopened Thursday after being closed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bar's management plans to operate at 50 percent capacity, maintain strict social distancing and require patrons to wear face coverings except when seated to eat or drink. (Rob O'NealFlorida Keys News Bureau via AP)

“Coming back to Sloppy Joe’s is a wonderful thing," Boice said. “For most people, it’s just a destination on a cruise or a destination on vacation. But for the Papas, this is home.”

The three-night competition typically draws about 150 stocky, bearded entrants from the U.S. and other countries, as well as their supporters and hundreds of spectators. The Duval Street bar has been associated with the legendary author since he lived in Key West during the 1930s.

With the noted exception of the Key West Marlin Tournament, most other area festival events were canceled as well.

The reopening of Sloppy Joe’s comes three days after bars were allowed to resume business operations throughout most other Florida regions.

“With the pandemic, we did the best we could to minimize our costs," Sloppy Joe’s brand manager Donna Edwards said. "We had limited income with online sales, so we’re very happy to have the doors open and to be able to share Sloppy Joe’s Bar again with everyone in the world.”

Besides operating the bar at 50% capacity, management is maintaining strict social distancing and requiring patrons to wear face coverings except when seated to eat or drink.