Islamorada Embraces Its Dark Side With 'Bloodline'
The Netflix series "Bloodline" recently released its third and final season. The show is set in Islamorada and did a lot of shooting there.
"Bloodline" paints a pretty dark portrait of the Florida Keys. It's the story of the Rayburn family, owners of a fictional hotel in Islamorada. The series starts with the return of Danny Rayburn. That has consequences for his siblings that include drug dealing, human trafficking and even murder.
In real life, Islamorada is a pretty upscale place, known for sportfishing and beautiful shorelines on the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay.
"I'm born and raised here, so at first I was worried, because it really did make us look like we were a town full of bad people," says Liz Huddleston, owner of the Miss Monroe boutique. But she soon saw the show's benefits.
"It's really raised awareness about how beautiful Islamorada is, whether or not it makes us look a little seedy," she said.
Huddleston's shop even got some air time. The character Belle Rayburn, married to brother Kevin, works in the shop.
"One of the main locations was Kevin's marina, which is right behind us," Huddleston says. "So we would watch them over the fence all the time, always spying on them, and then they needed a store scene so they look at a few but they just had to roll the cameras up here and re-arrange us. So we got lucky."
Now Huddleston says she gets a steady flow of "Bloodline" fans who visit the store because it was on the show. And she sells Rayburn House T-shirts, along with "Rayburn For Sheriff" bumper stickers (brother John Rayburn runs for Monroe County sheriff in Season 2).
A lot of the people who find Miss Monroe do so because of a book. Brad Bertelli and David Sloan wrote "A Local's Guide to Bloodline" last year.
Bertelli says some locals do feel the show is too dark, reminiscent of the '70s when drug smuggling and related mayhem was more common in the Keys. But they also appreciate its realism.
"A lot of the characters on the show are reminiscent of Keys characters, the Keys rats who come down here and just want to go fish and they're trying to run away from something," Bertelli says. "There's a lot of that element of this is a place to escape [to]. I came here to escape 16 years ago."
The Moorings Village & Spa served as the set for the Rayburn House, the hotel owned by the family on the show. Visitors can see the property — if they're registered guests. Cottages start at $459/night and go up to $2,800, depending on the size and number of people they accomodate.
And there's the less upscale side of the Upper Keys. Coral Financial Jewelry & Pawn in Islamorada has seen a bump in business. It's featured in an episode of season 2, when character Eric O'Bannon goes to redeem the necklace with a seahorse pendant that he pawned there. That necklace has a repeated role throughout the show.
Between that and a mention in Bertelli and Sloan's book, pawn shop owner Bill Wiggins says he's gotten a lot of visitors to check out the shop. And a lot of them ask if he has seahorse pendants.
"We just haven't been able to come up wiht a source," he says, "or I would have a lot of them."
Wiggins says he was sorry Florida did not renew its film incentive program. "Bloodline" brought a lot of benefit to the community and not just in direct spending for the crew.
"I sold them five guitars to shoot one scene," he says. "They were breaking the guitar and they needed backups in case the shoot didn't go well."
A study by the Monroe County Tourism Development Council after Bloodline's first season found that the production spent almost $6 million in the Keys making the show — and was responsible for more than $65 million in tourism spending.
Fans are even making their way down to Long Key State Park, where one of the darkest scenes is shot. No spoilers, but it comes at the end of season 1 when brothers John and Danny Rayburn, played by Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn, finally have it out. It doesn't end well and the reverberations from that day drive the plot for the rest of the series.
"I actually don't watch 'Bloodline,'" says park ranger Heather Milne. It's not anything against the show — she doesn't watch much television generally, she says. But she knows where to guide a visitor looking for that crucial location.
"There were several scenes shot out on the shoreline here," she says. "And, excuse my ignorance, but somebody's brother was murdered?"
Somebody's was indeed.