Hemingway Mania, from Sarasota to Key West

By Megan McDonald July 23, 2012

The 32nd Annual Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest took place last weekend at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, so I quickly grew out my white beard and traveled there with my wife Maria to photograph the event and try my luck at competing. Indeed, when we walked down Key West’s Duval Street last Friday afternoon, it was easy to spot the would-be Papas with their safari shirts, sun visors and obligatory cigars.

Well, at least I’d bought the right clothes. 

If you’ve never been to Sloppy Joe’s, it’s a very famous sweaty music pub on Duval Street normally reserved for a much younger clientele than the over 150 “old gentlemen” who descended on it Thursday, Friday and Saturday to compete for the prestigious title of “Annual Papa Look-Alike."

Paula Deen and me. 

Paula Deen and her husband, Michael Groover, who was competing.


I went to the registration table at 5 p.m. and was given my souvenir t-shirt and name sticker. Sloppy Joe’s was already bursting at the seams and there wasn’t a chair free, except for the two rows in front of the stage reserved for the judges, past “Papa Look-Alike” winners, and their “Mamas." One notable VIP exception to get a seat was TV chef Paula Deen, whose husband Michael Groover was one of the contestants. When Deen entered the pub, she inevitably commanded more media attention than the contest participants, and everyone wanted a photograph with her.  


The night before, the judges had already whittled down the first 75 contestants to 12 finalists. Now it was our turn, and the 86 hopefuls all took the stage alphabetically in groups of 8, each of us receiving about 30 seconds at the mike to sell ourselves to the screaming hordes of fan clubs gathered to cheer on “their” Papa. And when the 12 Friday finalists were announced, nobody was more surprised than I was to hear my name. I went on stage and a “Finalist” medal was hung around my neck. I swore then I’d never take it off or wash my neck again. 

The famous "Running of the Bulls."


On Saturday at 1 p.m., we all assembled in front of Sloppy Joe’s for the traditional “Running of the Bulls”. A massive crowd had gathered to line the streets, and after the public had been invited to sit on the wooden bulls to have their photo taken with the Papas, we all pulled, pushed and sat on the bulls and walked them once around the block accompanied by the screams and cheers of the waiting admirers. 


The winner: Greg Fawcett of Cornelius, N.C., with his peers.

At 5 p.m., the 25 finalists re-assembled at Sloppy Joe’s to compete for the coveted prize. We went up in groups of five, and this time we were allowed to “sell ourselves” to the audience for one uninterrupted minute. After a short intermission, the judges announced the next round of finalists. But this time it just wasn’t to be – I wasn’t chosen, so I made my way around to the front of the stage to take photos of the final six, and eventually the winner--“Papa 2012”: Greg Fawcett of Cornelius, N.C. 


Maria says I should now enter a Sean Connery look-alike contest, but I’m done for a while and I’m ready to trim my beard. It was a memorable weekend, and one day soon I may even take my medal off and wash my neck …


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