CLEARWATER BEACH – A local favorite Intracoastal Waterway tavern and tackle shop was damaged by fire Monday night and the cause of blaze remains under investigation, according to Clearwater Fire & Rescue.
The Bait House, located in the Clearwater Beach Marina at 51 Causeway Blvd., caught fire just after 10 p.m. The fire started in the kitchen.
Christian Harms, co-owner of the business, was thankful that “no one was hurt.” He was also thankful that firefighters were able to contain the fire to the kitchen. “I now have two new skylights in my kitchen,” he said lightheartedly.
The restaurant closed at 10 p.m. Minutes later a fisherman who was nearby saw smoke coming from the building, according to a report from the Clearwater fire department.
When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke and fire coming from the building. Almost three dozen firefighters fought the blaze.
Strong winds moved the fire toward the StarLite Majesty dining yacht, which is a 115-foot yacht next to the Bait House. Firefighters fought the blaze and kept it contained to the restaurant. The yacht wasn't damaged.
The Bait House has been a Clearwater Beach institution for decades. Founded by Ernest Barger, captain of the Li'l Tiger charter fishing boat, it has provided local anglers with live bait and fishing tackle for nearly seven decades.
Craving to preserve an old Florida seafood joint with plank floors and views overlooking the water, Harms and co-owner Justin Pfaelzer opened the restaurant in 2009.
Harms was at the business early Tuesday morning sweeping debris from the floor of the bar area which it along with the bait shop was unscathed by the fire. While the kitchen will likely not reopen for 2-3 weeks until repairs are complete, he expects the bait shop and bar to reopen this week.
Another blessing, he said, “The (live) bait survived; the cooler is still working and the beer is still cold.”