Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Hemingway's favorite bar the subject of legal row


In life, Hemingway liked a good conflict. And he certainly enjoyed a good drink. So the author would probably have enjoyed the row which has erupted between two bars in Key West, both of which are claiming to have been his favorite.

Forty-three years after his death, the owners are at odds over which is the "original Sloppy Joe's," the reputed preferred watering hole of the Nobel Prize-winner during the 12 years he lived in Florida.

At stake is US$10 million in marketing and merchandising rights.

Chris Mullins, chief executive of Sloppy Joe's Bar, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against owners of the neighboring Captain Tony's Saloon, demanding they cease describing their pub as the original.

"We just want to protect our mark," Mullins said.

"Sloppy Joe's is world famous, Captain Tony's is not," he said.

But locals say both are right -- that the first Sloppy Joe's opened in a former morgue on the site now occupied by Captain Tony's in 1933, but that Hemingway, known to regulars as Papa, drank in both and even bankrolled landlord "Sloppy" Joe Russell's move to the new location in 1937.

"The story goes that the owners raised the rent by a dollar, so Joe and his customers just picked up everything, the bar, tables, chairs and their drinks, and moved them all into the new building one night," said Jimmy Weekley, mayor of Key West.

"Captain Tony's is where the first Sloppy Joe's was, so for most people here they're the original," he said.

"But both bars have been there a long, long time and it's never been an issue before," he said.

Lawyer Robert Chaskes said Sloppy Joe's wanted to protect its brand name, but Captain Tony's was "pushing the envelope."

"If they said `Hemingway drank here,' we couldn't care less. Even if they said `the site of the original Sloppy Joe's,' we wouldn't mind," he said.

Hemingway is still the leading tourist draw in the Florida Keys.

His former house is a popular attraction and this week sees Key West's annual Hemingway festival week, during which dozens of large, bearded men take part in the Papa Look-Alike contest.

A hearing date has yet to be set, but Weekley said the author would have been concerned that a dispute over his name should end up in court.

"It's sad that it's come to a lawsuit. In Hemingway's day, it would have been settled over a beer," he said.

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