The Old Men and the Sea

For the past 41 years, around July 21, fans of Ernest Hemingway have been throwing him one of the most unusual annual birthday parties around. At Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Fla., hundreds of silver-haired (and -bearded) Hemingway look-alikes arrive from around the country to take part in a weekend-long contest to name the next “Papa” — a nickname Hemingway earned in Key West when he lived there in the 1930s.

The “Running of the Bulls” parade down Duval St., July 23.

Festival goers enjoy refreshments and air conditioning at Sloppy Joe’s after the Running of the Bulls parade.

On the recommendation of John Dos Passos, Hemingway visited and then quickly moved to the small island in 1928 and fell in love with it, writing many of his best-known novels, stories and nonfiction books (including “A Farewell to Arms,” “Death in the Afternoon” and “To Have and Have Not”) over the 12 years he lived there. His routine of writing in the mornings and then spending the rest of the day drinking, fishing, hanging out and getting into trouble with other locals became legendary in the town.

A break in the contest’s final round, July 23.
Paraders wear traditional running of the bulls attire in an ode to Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” July 23.

Nowadays, a similar spirit of boisterous conviviality fills the air inside Sloppy Joe’s as the contestants show off their best Hemingway impressions, the crowd cheering, laughing, sharing bad jokes and bearhugs — all exhibiting Hemingway’s lust for life. A first-time competitor, 56-year-old Michael Creech, dived back into Hemingway’s writings in preparation, and in doing so found that he had more in common with the man than just looks.

This year’s contest winner was 65-year-old Jon Auvil, center, from Dade City, Fla.
A competitor makes his way toward Sloppy Joe’s by scooter.

“I’ve come a long way in my life, much like he did,” Creech said, before quoting from “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”

Scott McIntyre is a photographer based in Miami. His work has appeared in The Times, The Washington Post and The New Yorker, among other publications.

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