Second rum distillery wants to move downtown
BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff
A rum company named after one of Key West’s favorite literary giants has plans to open up in Old Town, where the island’s first legitimate rum distillery sits about 400 feet away.
Hemingway Rum, which makes Papa’s Pilar rum , has filed its first application with city hall to start the approval process required to turn 201 Simonton St., the old Key West Hand Print Fabrics building, into a “light industrial rum distillery.”
The move comes less than six months after Paul Menta opened the island’s first legal rum distillery in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant at 105 Simonton St. His company makes the rum from scratch in a still and from only local ingredients. He cures the barrels with saltwater from Simonton Street beach.
“This is great,” Menta said Thursday. “Let’s make Simonton ‘Spirits Row.’ We wanted to be the first. At the end of the day, we all want people to come to Key West.”
Hemingway Rum, based in Delray Beach, is already well-known in the liquor trade for its Papa’s Pilar “blonde” and dark rums that come in bottles crafted to resemble old-time soldier canteens, with a medallion that pays tribute to Key West with a fire engine-red rooster.
Carlton Grooms of Key West was named general manager of the planned Simonton Street business last winter.
While the application calls to open a distillery called Hemingway Rum, the name bandied about in the liquor industry for the Key West outlet is Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery and Experience Center.
The name combines writer Ernest Hemingway’s nickname, “Papa,” with “Pilar,” a name that holds many meanings in the family’s lore.
Hemingway’s first wife, Pauline, was known affectionately as Pilar, and he named his beloved yacht the same name. Pilar is also a main character in “A Farewell to Arms” published in 1929.
Now it’s on bottles of rum from a company that banks its marketing design heavily on Hemingway couture, from the Pilar connection to special edition bottles wrapped in leather holders that come with a Moleskin notebook and pen.
The dark rum runs about $40 a bottle, boasting the blends of rums aged up to 24 years, while the blonde rum costs less and is made from rums about three years old.
The backers behind the move to Key West couldn’t be reached Thursday but the application calls for a “renovation” of the 5,720 square feet of existing commercial space inside the brick building at 201 Simonton St.
First, the planning board has to approve the application. Hemingway Rum’s private planners estimate the city approval process could take until October to finalize.
Menta, a Key West history buff, pointed out Hemingway first lived in Key West on Simonton Street at the Casa Antigua in the 300 block, while the Hemingway House and Museum is over on Whitehead Street.
Key West locals don’t have to worry about distilleries popping up all over Old Town, Menta said, recalling the thicket of federal law he had to get through in order to open up.
“When you’re talking brewery or winery, the government treats it like they’re licensing a slingshot,” said Menta, 48, a Philadelphia native who has also worked as a chef. “Soon as you apply and want to go for a spirits’ license, now [it’s as if] you’re building bombs. That’s how different it is. I had my place built, my lease signed and my equipment in, and then I was allowed to apply for the government license.”