Two days after a devastating fire tore through Jerry’s Crystal Bar, Bob Geddes could be seen walking around the burnt-out shell of the building.
Geddes, one of the building’s owners, appeared to be in a bit of a daze — as he maneuvered through the aftermath, clutching a battery-powered drill in his hand.
The fire was on May 2, 2019 — and it wasn’t certain what the future would hold.
After all, the beloved Gall Boulevard watering hole had been the longest-operating bar in Zephyrhills.
Founded in 1954 by his parents, Bob and Geraldine, the bar had become a community fixture.
It wasn’t just the loss of a building.
The yellow caution tape around the parking lot’s perimeter signaled the end of an era.
After the fire, Crystal’s Facebook page was flooded with stories about people finding love there, having fun there and feeling ‘at home’ within the bar’s walls.
People wondered: Will the bar be rebuilt?
Shortly after the fire — while the pungent smell of burnt wood still lingered in the air — Bob Geddes wasn’t certain.
But, last month that question was answered, as the iconic business held a soft opening of a new building that looks different from the previous bar, but seems to have preserved the loyalty of its patrons.
The new bar appears to be two stories tall.
The structure also is closer to Gall Boulevard, with a wide sidewalk out front and parking in the rear — changes required to the city’s form-based code, for a reimagined U.S. 301/Gall Boulevard corridor area, according to Kurt Geddes, another one of the owners.
Rebuilding the bar was a unanimous decision for him and his five siblings who share ownership, he said.
They wanted to rebuild because it is their legacy, he explained.
“We’re all townies. We all went to school here and graduated here. We got married here. The bar is an icon, an institution. It’s a rite of passage to go to the Crystal to have a drink.”
He is quite the popular figure, as he sits at the bar.
A sea of familiar faces gathers — vying for his attention.
Next to him is Maria Laudenbach, of Zephyrhills, a patron at Crystal for 15 years.
She points at Kurt Geddes and says, “They’re not just family (meaning all the Geddes siblings) — they’re everybody’s family.”
Rene Hill, another sibling and owner, expressed how she couldn’t contain her happiness in the days leading up to the soft opening – which happened to fall on her late mother Geraldine’s birthday.
“Every time I’ve come into work, I’ve had a smile on my face. I haven’t smiled in two years,” Hill said.
Others enjoying the evening also had their stories about what the reopening meant to them.
Rob Hubbard, of Zephyrhills, said he first came to the bar as a young boy in the 1980s – when his mother was a bartender there.
Sipping his beer, he summed up his feelings this way: “This bar means a lot. I’ve known the (Geddes) family a long time and they’ve always been good to me. It’s just a great place to come.”
He admitted: “It’s a little odd now, because this place is completely different. It’s a lot bigger place, it’s a whole different look.”
But that didn’t stop him from dropping by.
Norman ‘Stormin Norman’ Bureau, of Zephyrhills, was at the soft opening playing billiards with his friend, Bill Therrien.
Bureau, a patron at the bar for 30 years, compared its vibe to the “Cheers” bar featured in a popular 1980s-sitcom.
“Everyone knows your name. It makes you feel good inside,” Bureau said, adding that the regulars at the bar “are tighter than Grandma’s knitting.”
Therrien, also of Zephyrhills, has a shorter history with the bar — roughly six years — but feels equally at home.
He’s also enthusiastic about the bar’s new digs.
“I love it. I love what they’ve built here, I love what they’ve done. It’s awesome,” Therrien said.
Arguably one of the bar’s most colorful characters is Jimmie Rex Harper, also known as the famous ‘Zephyrhills Shirtless Cowboy.’
At the soft opening, the 46-year-old is seated at the bar – wearing his cowboy hat, and drinking beer from a pitcher.
He’s been a customer at the bar since he turned 21.
When he began frequenting it, founders Bob and Geraldine were still alive and running the bar.
Over the years, Harper said, every single Geddes family member has thrown him out of the place for being rowdy — with the exception of the elder Bob, who had a soft spot for him.
Harper had just been allowed back into the bar — following his most recent ban — just two weeks before the fire destroyed the building.
The new building might inspire him, he said, to try to not get banned again.
The bar held its grand opening celebration on April 23, with prizes, giveaways and live music.
Bob Geddes said the family had a simple motivation for wanting to reopen.
“We were thinking that we had been here for 65+ years, and we decided we didn’t want it to end,” he said.
By Christine Holtzman
Published April 28, 2021