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Buffalo couple brings a taste of home to the Florida Keys

A Buffalo couple flees the snow and opens a pub in paradise where the only thing freezing is their ice cold beer. That sums up the story of Kathy and Tim O’Connell, the owners of Overseas Pub & Grill in Marathon, Fla., situated right along the Overseas Highway, about halfway between Key Largo and Key West.

After vacationing in the Florida Keys for decades, they eventually got a case of “Keys Disease” and decided to live in paradise full-time.

As business owners who managed bars like McQ’s in Niagara County in the 1970s, they decided to take a chance on the Marathon property that features two bars, indoor and outdoor dining and a liquor store. After a massive renovation project, the Overseas Pub is now successfully serving Buffalo favorites like chicken wings and Sahlen’s hot dogs.

On a recent trip to the Keys, I caught up with Tim to talk about bar life amid an 85-degree wind chill.

Question: How do your Sahlen’s hot dogs go over with customers?

O’Connell: They don’t charcoal their hot dogs down here – most kids don’t like a burn to their hot dog, but adults love them. Sahlen’s is trying to build up its Florida market and obviously the best way is to go through people like us with a Buffalo connection.

Overseas Pub features Sahlen's umbrellas at its outdoor bar and patio where kids can enjoy soft serve ice cream, a rare treat in the Keys. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News.)

Q: Do customers enjoy your authentic Buffalo wings?

A: Yes! Down here, they call them Buffalo wings, but they bake them or grill them. We do two things – we can do Buffalo style in regular grease and we also have "Broasted," where they’re pressure cooked, not deep fried.

Q: You advertise 32-degree beer. How do you keep it so cold?

A: People from up north come down and want to be outside so we purchased Chill-Rite, a draft beer system with a temperature gauge between 27 and 32 degrees. We have chilled glasses and a frozen drink rail to keep drinks cold to the last drop. It’s very unique and you build the bar around the system.

Q: Was that part of your renovation project?

A: Yes, in 2013, we bought the property and had no idea how hard it is to get things done in the Keys. As the weather gets hotter, it’s more difficult to get things done. It took three years to get the building going. We opened June 7, 2016. We’ve been doing good since. It’s a locals’ bar and we’re starting to get tourists.

The Overseas Pub & Grill dates back to 1937 and underwent a major restoration led by Buffalo natives. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News.)

Q: Do you get a lot of visitors from Buffalo?

A: With Facebook, we get Buffalo people every week and we get Niagara University people – my wife and I went there.

Q: How did Hurricane Irma impact you?

A: We were the first restaurant to open after the storm. The electric company is right across the street so we had power and we had water. All we sold were Buffalo wings, hamburgers or cheeseburgers. Because we had DirecTV, people could come in and see the news and charge their cell phones. We lowered prices to help people out and we had two pig roasts – it’s a great feeling to help the community.

Q: How is island life treating you?

A: Marathon is so different. At 5 p.m., everything stops for happy hour and by 9 p.m. most people are in bed, although we do stay open later. In the morning, people are back up fishing or walking and enjoying the sunshine. We’ve really become part of the community down here. We do fundraising to help children and a lot with the Rotary.

We do miss Buffalo. We needed to get away from the snow. Our two daughters moved away so that’s why we didn’t mind moving from Buffalo. I wish everyone well.

You can find signs of Buffalo mixed in with island decor at Overseas. (Elizabeth Carey/Special to The News.)

INFO: Overseas Pub & Grill, Mile Marker 49, 3574 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Fla., 305-290-4666. Opens at 11  a.m. daily.

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