Since opening in Oct. 2009, the Independent has proven to be a pivotal player in the commercial renaissance of Seminole Heights. Occupying a former 1935 gas station in Tudor revival style, the bar and cafe conjures the European ambience that owners Veronica and John Vellines grew to love while living in Germany.
The Vellineses opened the first Independent in downtown St. Petersburg in April 2005. When they decided to open a second location, Veronica said they considered locations in Orlando, South Tampa, Sarasota, as well as Seminole Heights. "I had been looking for a couple years in this neighborhood," said Veronica. She said she made offers on a couple different buildings, but the deals fell through.
Vellines also had an eye on the old gas station, and waited for its price to come down. "I always wanted an outdoor beer garden area," she said. "It's exactly what I wanted. I lived in Germany, and it fits that European niche that I wanted."
The Independent Bar and Cafe
5016 N Florida Ave.
Never wanted to go liquor: "I'm a beer and wine person," said Vellines. That's what my knowledge base is. When you have liquor, you bring in a whole different crowd. There's plenty of other places you can go and get that. Besides, Vellines said, "It's certainly easier to be a beer and wine place, license-wise.”
Most exotic beers: Deus, “Which means God,” said Vellines, an ale that's brewed in Belgium, shipped to France for finishing in the style of champagne, then recorked and shipped back Belgium. "It's the hybrid between a beer and champagne." Also Gueuze, a Belgian blend of young and old lambics (wild fermented sour beers).
Price range: Independent stocks beers costing $3 a bottle up to $70 “And they're worth it," said Vellines. "Some people will pay that much for a mediocre bottle of wine. These are the best beers in the world that we can get in florida.”
Bolster your metabolism: Independent boasts a small menu of nouveau pub grub, including a vegan b.l.t., bratwurst plate, leberkase sandwich, Bavarian pretzels, caprese panini, and an award-winning grilled cheese sandwich.
Pub with a little music on top: Though the Independent features live unplugged music every week, “We're not trying to be a music venue," said Vellines. "But I love live music. The types of music that we showcase are what other places aren't doing around here - jazz and bluegrass."
Background: Vellines grew up in Church Hill, Tenn., and came to Florida in the early 1990s to study at Stetson University College of Law. Afterward, she gained an appreciation for European beer culture while practicing reinsurance contract law in Munich, Germany for a year. She also lived and practiced in Atlanta and New York City.
Why did she stop lawyering? "I didn't enjoy that as much when we opened the bar. I love this business. I love everyting that comes with it. Everybody wants to own a bar these days. I'm actually doing it."
You can take the girl out of Tennessee... Vellines is an avid bluegrass fan and rates herself an "intermediate mandolin player."