Storm slows, lashes coast

W. Palm Beach pub stays open so it can `ride out the storm'

Hurricane Frances

September 05, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The neon "OPEN" sign peeking out of a boarded-up strip mall at 7 a.m. yesterday was not a mistake. Sheriff's deputies who came by to check on the restaurant pub figured it might be the only business still open in the entire county.

"We're going to ride out the storm here," said Becky Young, owner of the Player's Choice Pub & Grill. "We told our customers and friends, if you need a place to go, we'll be here."

Young, 39, set up a futon mattress with sheets and pillows in the corner of the pub in case she needs a nap over the next day or two as Hurricane Frances hovers over the coast, lashing the area with high winds and driving rain.

Apart from the dozen employees and patrons at Player's Choice, the rest of the residents in Palm Beach were in shelters or -- if they had power -- glued to television sets in their storm-shaken homes.

The first gusts of Hurricane Frances had clocked in at 60 mph, downing trees, sending palm fronds skittering along the streets, blowing out traffic signals and covering the roads with debris. More than 18,000 residents were holed up at 23 county shelters, three of which had lost power by 5 a.m. yesterday.

Young told her employees that she wanted to keep Player's Choice open, but let the staff know they didn't have to come to work. She did point out, however, that the bar has a walk-in cooler where they can huddle for safety if necessary.

A 10-month-old Belgian Sheppard named Maizie was there to provide security.

"We're like a big family here," said day manager Brenda Clark, who was also planning to spend the night at the sports-themed bar. "We want to be open for our customers. Plus, it's more fun when you're here with people."

The pub is decorated with dark wood walls, beer signs and Florida Gators pennants. It is known for its brew and burgers, but yesterday morning at 7 a.m., the cook expanded his menu to bacon, eggs and biscuits.

"It's not like Burger King will be open," Young said. "Our stoves are gas, so we can cook. It just made sense to be open."

On a normal day, the bar wouldn't open until noon.

Clark said that when her husband visits the pub, sometimes he'll jump behind the grill and cook for a while.

He specializes in regular pub fare: mozzarella sticks, chili and chicken wings.

"We all pitch in," she said.

Katrina Lewis, 44, walked in breathless at 8 a.m. looking for some morning caffeine.

"You don't happen to have coffee brewing, do you?" she asked.

Lewis had been driving around for a half-hour looking for a cup of joe for her future mother-in-law, who was staying at Lewis' house in West Palm Beach. The electricity went out early in the morning, rendering their coffeemaker useless.

As she left with her coffee, she thanked the staff at least five times just for being open.

"You are real troupers," she told them.

Ricky Rowell, 38, walked in minutes later, barefoot and wearing his Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned. He bought a pack of Marlboro Lights and drank a bottle of Budweiser.

"It's a hurricane party, I figure," he said, eyeing his beer.

As the morning turned to afternoon, the winds became more intense and 460,000 homes lost power and cable service.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ed Bieluch declared a curfew for 8 p.m., and prohibited the sale of alcohol and firearms after 1 p.m.

Young said she would stop selling beer and wine but would keep the grill fired up.

"I can't exactly send people home now," she said. "The winds are picking up. The sign outside the store is about ready to blow away."

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