Wednesday, January 9, 2013

For John Vellines, it's all about Bier Kunst

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 11:52 AM

John Vellines (pictured right) owns and operates Empouria.
  • Empouria
  • John Vellines (pictured right) owns and operates Empouria.

St. Petersburg's first craft beer bar owner John Vellines wants Empouria (formerly the Independent in St. Petersburg) to be all about "Bier Kunst."

"It means the art of beer in German," Vellines said Wednesday morning. "That's our new mantra."

Empouria celebrates its grand opening from January 14-19, with special beer programming every night in the updated space at 29 Third St. N.

Throughout the past 20 years, Vellines watched the beer scene evolve — firsthand as a distributor, and then as a bar owner.

"Every restaurant has Cigar City now so I've got to step up and make myself more specialized," he said.

But back when he and former wife Veronica opened the Independent in 2005, it was the only craft beer game in town.

"Now we've definitely got more competition but it's great for everybody," Vellines said. "We're all in the game of propagating love through beer — that's always been my job."

After the Independent closed at the beginning of September, Empouria opened but Vellines kept everything low-key until any kinks were worked out.

"We are up to our ears in beer now," he said. "We're going to have higher-end beers now, so to speak, really killer beers that the average beer place won't have. I have a collection of rare and vintage stuff for people to try."

The bar still has 12 taps, and bottled beer. But the bathrooms were completely renovated and Vellines said the interior also changed.

"Moving forward it may seem a little more minimal inside," he said. "We are featuring local artists inside and rotating art quarterly."

Kevin Kuenzel, Fraser Smith, and David Williams currently have art installations inside. Live music is being added to Empouria's mix as well, with a live bluegrass jam on Sundays.

Vellines said he wants Empouria to exude a European beer bar vibe.

"I know the current movement is all American craft beer, and that's great," he said. "But I'm trying to be a throwback to old world European beer, Belgian and German ales. Really refined world class stuff."

The grand opening schedule will have a different theme every night: Monday, Jan. 14, is all about domestics; Tuesday, Jan. 15, will emphasize Eastern European brews; Wednesday, Jan. 16, the bartenders will serve up cork-finished beers; Belgian beers take the stage Thursday, Jan. 17; Germany's brews take over on Friday, Jan. 18; and the grand opening ends Saturday, Jan. 19, with beers from around the world.

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