The Tampa Bay area is awash in craft beer. But it wasn't always so. Before World of Beer, before Somewhere in Tarpon Springs, Seventh Sun in Dunedin or any other microbreweries and beer bars, there was the Independent. John Vellines, one of the unsung heroes of the Tampa Bay beer scene, closed his St. Pete institution in September.
Next week marks the grand reopening of his new concept in the same space at 29 Third St. N: Empouria, the Art of Beer. But it's not just the Independent Redux.
Part of the reason for the name change is practical: After a divorce between Vellines and wife Veronica, she kept the Seminole Heights location, opened in 2009, while John kept the St. Pete space with the proviso that he'd change the name.
"We opened the Independent seven years ago. We were the original beer bar," says Johnny V, as he is known in the craft beer community. "We were a pioneer in St. Petersburg. But a lot has changed. There's more competition, in a good way."
So while other local beer bars focus on the explosion of domestic craft beers, Vellines will concentrate on fancy imports.
"We're staying more focused on high-end Belgian, German and other European beers, like Polish and Czech. Also, we offer rare and vintage beers. I've been able to acquire and save some interesting stuff over the years."
Different beers will be featured each day of the grand opening week: Monday will showcase American craft beers, Tuesday will be Eastern European, Wednesday will unveil big bottles of highly prized cork-finished beers, Thursday's focus is Belgium, Friday is Germany and Saturday will showcase international beers from across the globe.
The somewhat gritty Independent interior has been overhauled as well, with the work of local artists on the walls and, as Johnny V says, "Brand new bathrooms — the cleanest, nicest bathrooms in St. Petersburg by far."