This year in Key West, Fantasy Fest didn’t come with a parade, a street fair or an official Zombie Bike Ride.

Organizers canceled those large-scale marquee events, citing the pandemic.

So, did the famously bawdy 10-day event, known to attract 75,000 people, still deliver big crowds?

“Absolutely,” said Errin Harrelson, a bartender at Rick’s on Duval Street. “It’s really impressive. We’re really happy to have people coming down.”

Fantasy Fest, which began in 1979, runs through Sunday. And there have been tell-tale signs that it is going strong.

“People still came regardless,” said Key West City Manager Patti McLauchlin, who said downtown streets were crowded enough to prompt the city to close some blocks to traffic each night. “We’ve closed the streets earlier than we have in the past.”

The city closed the 100 to 200 blocks of Duval Street to cars at night Saturday through Thursday, she said Friday afternoon. Also, police made some arrests, including DUIs.

“We had a couple indecent exposures last night,” McLauchlin said.

With no street fair, several restaurants were busier than expected, she said, with one pizza place nearly running out of slices.

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Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Fantasy Fest was scrapped altogether last year because of COVID-19. And as this year’s event approached, event after event was scratched, including the Goombay street festival, the headdress ball and the Masquerade March, known as the locals parade.

Even the pet costume contest got canceled.

But people in Key West, as they’re known to do, improvised. The theme remained “All a Daze for a Holiday!”

For example, a few hundred people on Sunday dressed up as zombies and rode bikes to Duval Street, McLauchlin said, as police took to the streets to make a safe path. Organizers of the official Zombie Bike Ride, which draws some 8,000 people, canceled their event in light of the pandemic.

Tourists have been flooding Key West this year anyway. But Harrelson, the bartender, estimated about three-quarters of the crowds she has seen are definitely here for Fantasy Fest, where private parties include the “Kinky Carnival,” the toga party at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a homemade bikini contest and some clothing-optional pool parties.

On Friday, the Southernmost House hotel was the setting for a “Playboy Bunny Infiniti Pool Party,” where admission was $25 and guests were invited to sunbathe topless as long as they wore bunny ears.

Locals and visitors saw their share of the barely clad, the body-painted and the silly.

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Errin Harrelson, a bartender at Rick’s in Key West, said the island was crowded with tourists this year for Fantasy Fest. Provided by Errin Harrelson

“There’s a lot of people who think they can walk around in their boxer shorts and that’s a costume, and it’s not,” Harrelson said. “There’s also a lot of people I’ve spoken to that had no idea they were coming during Fantasy Fest.”

Harrelson sent those visitors to local shops like the adult-themed Fairvilla and the casual boutique clothing store Graffiti.

“We love what we do and we love entertaining,” Harrelson said.

Fantasy Fest announced that its 2022 theme will be “Cult Classics and Cartoon Chaos.” It’s set for Oct. 21-30, 2022.

This story was originally published October 29, 2021 5:31 PM.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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