KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Just as swallows fly to Capistrano each year, flocks of stocky white-bearded Ernest Hemingway look-alikes make an annual pilgrimage to Key West. Spectators can applaud their favorites Thursday through Saturday, July 19-21, as 125 or more aspiring “Ernests” compete in the annual Hemingway® Look-Alike Contest.
The competition takes place at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St., where the legendary author often enjoyed cocktails with cohorts when he lived in Key West during the 1930s. The event is a highlight of the July 17-22 Hemingway Days celebration of his writing talent, sporting pursuits and energetic lifestyle.
The contest’s preliminary rounds are set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 19 and 20. The winner is to be chosen during a final round beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21, the 119th anniversary of Hemingway’s birth.
Past look-alike entrants have come from as far away as Australia and Kazakhstan to compete in the quirky contest, dressing in safari togs, wool fisherman’s turtlenecks and other garb associated with the Pulitzer and Nobel winner’s “Papa” persona.
Some are longtime repeat contenders, and all must prove their resemblance to a judging panel of past contest winners including 2017’s Richard Filip of Fayetteville, Texas.
Look-alikes also take part in many other Hemingway Days activities, including Saturday’s offbeat “Running of the Bulls” that is a lighthearted salute to the annual event in Pamplona, Spain.
At noon Saturday, before the rowdy run, “Papas” are available for photo opportunities outside Sloppy Joe’s. At 1 p.m. they stage the popular sporting spoof, promenading alongside fake bulls on wheels, and later host a “birthday party” honoring Hemingway.
Additional look-alike events include a Wednesday evening welcome party for contestants and their fans, and the Hemingway Look-Alike Society’s yearly scholarship presentations to Florida Keys students.
Many “Papas” show their strength in Sloppy Joe’s final festival event, an annual arm-wrestling championship. Registration and a bloody mary bash with the bearded brethren are set for 10 a.m.Sunday, July 22, with the contest at 11 a.m.
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY