Ben Recalls The Brown Derby, the Only Real Submariner’s Bar in Key West.
Ben, his wife Gloria smiling broadly across the table, is former US Navy Submarine sailor stationed here in the ‘50s when Key West was the only U.S. Submarine Base in the country, and The Green Parrot, or rather it’s previous incarnation, The Brown Derby, was the only real submariner’s bar in Key West. Speaking with Ben recalled our corner’s history as a submarine sailor’s bar, and guys just like him and their stories. Ben, a regular at The Brown Derby, went on to describe how he came to be at the center of an epic Key West brawl. His story begins with him as Master at Arms at the submarine base the day the USS Balao (SS/AGSS-285), a Key West-based, combat-tested World War II vessel arrived at Key West Harbor as usual but the sub, rather than being painted its standard battleship-grey, was painted an unimaginable bright pink, having been cast, with some of its crew as well, in the 1959 WW II Cary Grant, Tony Curtis comedy film, Operation Petticoat. Ben as Master at Arms that day was duty-bound as such to provide all waterborne security and when told of the arrival of the outrageous pink submarine, he voiced a strong opinion over the PA, stating clearly that he was unsure that either the pink vessel, or, for as far as he knew, their pastel-uniform-wearing crew, should be granted passage into the harbor. What Ben did not know, was that his deprecating remarks were broadcast to officers and crew of the now-disparaged pink submarine, and as soon as they came ashore, the equally-disparaged Key West-based submariners, scrappy, sea-weary, dolphin-wearing salts every one, made a bee-line for The Brown Derby, just down the street from the docks, angrily looking for the Master at Arms who had questioned their right to tie-up. Ben said that once identified, he was fiercely set upon and the battle-royale that ensued went on for nearly two hours. He went on to mention, rather proudly, that while he was by no means the victor, there was never a thought given to call either local police or Shore Patrol to intercede in the melee. And, he went on to add, philosophically, the bar was a great bar then, and thinks it probably still is now.