J. Justin Wilson · January 8, 2016

Key West, a city known for warm waters, cold drinks, and free spirits, apparently doesn’t want to become “Margaritaville.” At least that’s according to the city’s Director of Planning Donald Craig, who cited the song in defense of the city’s opposition to opening a third tattoo shop in its historic district. As you may recall, after a long day of “Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watchin’ the sun bake,” Jimmy Buffett had “nothing to show but this brand new tattoo.”

The city “fears that rash tourists will obtain regrettable tattoos, leading to negative association with Key West.” But the city’s “margaritaville defense” failed to woo Federal Circuit Court Judge Jill Pryor and two of her colleagues, who, citing the First Amendment, overturned the city’s opposition to allowing a third tattoo parlor in the historic district.

Judge Pryor wrote:

“We do not simply take the City at its word that the ordinance serves the aforementioned interests. Instead, the City must demonstrate that it had a reasonable basis for believing that its regulation would further these legitimate interests. This burden is not a rigorous one. But a municipality cannot “get away with shoddy data or reasoning.” It “must rely on at least some pre-enactment evidence” that the regulation would serve its asserted interests…

“The City concedes the absence of any ill effect as a result of the two tattoo establishments it currently allows to operate in the historic district. And it fails to explain why allowing additional tattoo establishments to operate there would sour the district’s historical flavor, especially since the first two apparently have not done so.”

But perhaps the most intriguing part of the ruling comes in a footnote:

Jimmy Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” was referenced twice in the record, once by Mr. Craig in his deposition and once by the City’s attorney in oral argument before the district court, to support the claim that inebriated tourists are likely to get and then regret tattoos if more tattoo establishments operate in the historic district. But the singer in “Margaritaville”—seemingly far from suffering embarrassment over his tattoo—considers it “a real beauty.”


Word is still out on whether the city’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” defense will prevail in substantiating its ban on McDonald’s (ok, not really).