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Pinellas Park’s Bottles Pub offers refuge during Hurricane Irma
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Bottles Pub kept regular hours during Hurricane Irma as a refuge for those in the neighborhood who lost power or had nowhere safe to go. The bar never lost power during the storm.
PINELLAS PARK – While many Pinellas County residents attempted to stay out of Hurricane Irma’s reach by evacuating the area or prepping their homes and remaining indoors, Bottles Pub’s staff opened the bar during the Sept. 10 storm for those with nowhere else to go.

A week before Irma was projected to hit, owner Debi Klenk decided that Bottles, 5619 Park Blvd. N., would stay open on Sunday as a refuge for those who lost power or were simply looking for something to do, she said.

“We opened up Sunday so people would have somewhere to go,” she said, “because the bar wasn’t flying away no matter what hurricane weather there was.”

The building where the bar is located formerly housed a United States Post Office branch, she added, and is sturdy enough to withstand such a powerful storm.

Klenk advertised that that bar would weather the hurricane in local newspapers and also distributed 10,000 flyers by attaching them to Central Pizza’s delivery boxes the week prior to Irma’s arrival.

With the help of staff and the bar’s regular patrons, she and her husband, John, readied the bar for the hurricane by bringing in lawn chairs and boarding up windows.

“Everyone put in the effort to make sure everyone was safe there during Irma,” she said.

She and her husband remained at their own home as the storm besieged the area, however, because they were watching over her mother and grandchildren. So bartender Valerie Welch took the helm at Bottles during Irma.

“Thank god that Val is always there willing to lend a hand and be my right arm through everything,” Klenk said. “She deserves kudos for stepping up.”

As Klenk and her husband set up the bar Sunday morning, people began trickling in before it even opened at 1 p.m., she said.

“We didn’t kick anyone out,” she said. “We just wanted to be there for them.”

She stressed that keeping Bottles open was an effort to give back to the community. Nobody was required to purchase any drinks while there, and she even had servers grill food for all attending.

“We weren’t out to make the almighty dollar,” she said. “We were there to keep the community safe and give people somewhere to go that maybe didn’t have anywhere to go. We could have closed like everyone else.”

Welch said in many ways it was like any other night at the bar. A few dozen people came through for drinks, for company and to play some tunes on the jukebox.

“The songs were all storm-related, of course,” she said. “[The Doors’] ‘Riders on the Storm,’ [Scorpions’] ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane.’”

The bar also never lost power throughout the storm.

“So we had cold beer all night long,” Welch said.

What impressed her the most about the night, though, were the number of people who were visiting Bottles for the first time.

“A lot of people were surprised that we were open and also that they had never been there before,” Welch said.

She expects many of them will return.

But it wasn’t all fun and games.

“You couldn’t hear the storm unless you were standing by the door,” she said. “But people knew what was going on out there. They kept going to look outside to watch the wind and rain. It was scary.”

The next day was business as usual for Bottles, as well.

Once again, staff kept regular hours, and Klenk’s brother and bartender Don Hudgins manned the bar and grill during a double shift.

“People had no power. They had nothing else to do. Why not go down to Bottles?” he said. “We still had cold beer and never lost power.”

Klenk added, “Kudos to Don for working Monday and [making] sure people could eat and come somewhere with electricity.”
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