KEY WEST, Fla. — Each July visitors can spot the spirit of Ernest Hemingway (or even scores of spirits) on the island where the legendary author lived and wrote during the 1930s. That’s because as many as 150 stocky, white-bearded aspiring “Ernests” converge on Key West in July to compete in Sloppy Joe’s annual Hemingway® Look-Alike Contest.
Set for Thursday through Saturday, July 21-23, the contest takes place at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St., a historic saloon where Hemingway often enjoyed cocktails with cohorts. The event is a highlight of the annual Hemingway Days celebration of the literary legend’s writing talent and exuberant Key West lifestyle.
Look-alike contestants come from around the United States and other countries to vie for the title of “Papa,” a nickname adopted by the author. Many compete in khaki safari attire or heavy turtleneck sweaters — even in the Key West summer — to emulate his signature garb.
Spectators can cheer for their favorite contenders during preliminary rounds set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 21 and 22, and the finals at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23.
The Hemingway hopefuls are to be judged by previous contest winners including Zach Taylor of Ambrose, Georgia, who triumphed in 2021 after an astonishing three-way tie.
Before Thursday’s preliminary round, the “Papas” are to celebrate the 123rd anniversary of Ernest’s July 21 birth and announce the recipients of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society’s scholarships for Florida Keys students.
Scheduled too is a Wednesday evening “meet and greet” at Sloppy Joe’s, where contestants and their fans can mingle with former winners.
Look-alikes also take center stage at Sloppy Joe’s “Running of the Bulls,” a spoof of the renowned annual event in Pamplona, Spain. More a parade of “Papas” than a fast-paced sporting challenge, the offbeat run features manmade mock bulls and begins at 1 p.m. Saturday outside Sloppy Joe’s. It is preceded by a noontime photo opportunity for look-alikes and the enthusiasts flocking to support them.
While living in Key West, Hemingway wrote literary classics including “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “To Have and Have Not,” a novel set primarily in the island city.
Look-alikes take center stage at Sloppy Joe’s “Running of the Bulls,” a spoof of the renowned annual event in Pamplona, Spain. Images: Andy Newman
Look-alike contestants come from around the United States and other countries to vie for the title of “Papa,” a nickname adopted by the author.