The future of a sprawling Duval Street country bar and attached Mexican restaurant remained a mystery Thursday to the general public -- and to the 50 or so shell-shocked and unemployed workers who showed up to work last week and found Cowboy Bill's Honky Tonk Saloon and Salsa Loca closed by sheriff's deputies.
Deputies closed the property that comprises 618-620 Duval St. due to a legal dispute in which the owners of the property, Historic Tours of America and Old Town Key West Development, sued their tenant, bar owner R.D. McGregor, for more than $125,000 in unpaid rent.
The bar and attached restaurant were shuttered with plywood by Tuesday and had become the subject of much downtown discussion, especially with spring break crowds expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
Many people said they expected businessman Jim Gilleran, who owns the 801 Bar, to take over the property.
"As of now, I have not acquired the property or the business," Gilleran told The Citizen on Thursday, adding that "the real story is the tragedy of what happened overnight to all those employees."
McGregor did not return a phone message left Thursday.
Gilleran's girlfriend, Tammy Hernandez, was inside Cowboy Bill's on Feb. 22, the day it closed, handing out applications to bewildered employees who showed up for their usual work shifts at the bar and Salsa Loca.
"I'm a mess," said Susan Howle, who tended bar at Salsa Loca for more than a year -- until last week. "I worked last Thursday night, and everything was fine. Then on Friday, I started getting calls from co-workers who said they had been escorted off the property by police."
Howle said she wasn't scheduled to work last Friday, but went down to the bar to see what was going on.
"When I got down there, a woman named Tammy, who I believe is Mr. Gilleran's girlfriend, handed me an application and asked me what I had done there previously. But no one told me what was going to go into that space, or even whether Salsa Loca would reopen."
Howle said she sat down and filled out an application in the place she had worked the night before.
"Tammy said they would start calling people Sunday and Monday, but I haven't heard anything. I've been out looking for a job. Nobody saw this coming," Howle said.
Property owner Ed Swift told The Citizen on Thursday, "Everybody is talking to us, but I have not signed leases or anything at this time."