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Pete's Bar selling to new ownership in Neptune Beach, Thanksgiving tradition to continue

During prohibition, the bar's first owner, Peter Jensen, used to sell bootleg liquor from his nearby grocery store.

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — Owned by the same family for almost eight decades, a historic beach bar that has become a cultural institution is now changing hands, according to one of the owners.

Pete's Bar has served as a Neptune Beach watering hole for the masses for over 80 years. It's a place where the smoke is thick, the drinks are strong and you're always bound to run into a friendly face. 

A Pete's Bar bartender confirmed that Monday evening is "the last night for Pete's as we know and love...so come on down and share some love," they told First Coast News.

Tom Whittingslow, one of the owners of the bar, says Pete's will stay pretty much the same despite the change in ownership. 

Whittingslow says the new buyers are beach locals who understand the tradition that comes with Pete's Bar and it's legacy. He says they plan to keep all the same traditions and yes, that includes Pete's Thanksgiving.

Pete's Bar will close Tuesday and reopen in a week after some minor renovations are done. Whittingslow says two new service wells are being added, and jokingly noted that they probably should have been added awhile ago.

Pete’s Bar was the first bar to open in Duval County after Prohibition was repealed in 1933 at the corner of First and Lemon streets. The establishment actually precedes the founding of Neptune Beach as a city in 1931. 

Often called by its various nicknames such as Pedro's, Pierre's-by-the-Sea or Club Ped by regulars, the bar has become a haven for beach rats and bikers, hospitality staff and tourists, and everyone in between.

To know Pete's is to know Neptune Beach.

Credit: beachesmuseum.org

Historical pictures and photos of events line the wall of Pete's. One of the most notable is the yearly Thanksgiving celebration. 

An event that began with a small group of college buddies that wanted to catch a buzz before Thanksgiving dinner, that blossomed into an event with thousands of people.

RELATED: Pete's Bar Thanksgiving Day celebration returns to Neptune Beach

It's a bar that's regularly filled with people from every walk of life, one that could have easily inspired the Toby Keith hit.

We got cowboys, we got truckers
Broken-hearted fools and suckers
And we got hustlers, we got fighters
Early-birds and all-nighters
And the veterans talk about their battle scars
Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, I love this bar

Some famous folks have even bellied up to Pete's bar. 

"Hemingway was here one time, many, many years ago. I think Jimmy Fallon was here," Nancy Jensen previously told First Coast News.

Other notable names? J. D. Salinger and author John Grisham. Grisham not only wrote about the bar in his book, "The Brethren," but allegedly wrote part of the book in the bar while staying at the beach. 

In the 1920s, what is now Pete’s Bar was known as Jensen’s Market. 

During prohibition, the bar's first owner, Peter Jensen, used to sell bootleg liquor from his nearby grocery store. When prohibition ended in 1933, Pete's Bar was the first in Duval County to receive a liquor license. 

Credit: Pete’s Bar
In the 1920’s, what is now Pete’s Bar was known as Jensen’s Market.

Ever since Peter Jensen started the business, it has been passed down from generation to generation.

He ran the bar for several years with his son, William Jensen. 

William later married Clara Jensen, and together they were responsible for much of the current design and atmosphere of the bar. It was Clara who took over ownership of the bar after William Jensen, died in 1979. 

Pete's Bar says Clara was a beloved face around the Neptune Beach area, with many people calling her “Godmother.” Her employees all said that she treated everyone as if they were her own children. To her, the bar was more than just a business. It was a legacy and a family. She ran the bar until she retired at 79 years old. She died in 2001 at the age of 81 after a battle with cancer. 

Her daughter Nancy Jensen would take over the bar. 

Nancy Jensen and her four children: Tom, Steve, John and Nancy Jo were all part owners of the business up until now. They bragged that the secret to their continued success of the bar was to change nothing.

Walking into the bar is like walking back in time. Wood paneling covers the walls and neon reflects off the haze of cigarette smoke that hangs in the air. 

Besides an update to the bar's restrooms a few years ago, an electric jukebox the addition of credit card machines, the bar looks exactly like it did 40 years ago.

The bar says as the next generation of the family is growing into their careers, Nancy and her children all agree, the grandkids all need to go to college and have careers of their own. 

The bar's website says once they get older, "the bar will be waiting for them."  A pipe dream that never panned out.

"The Jensen family is going to miss the bar, but they have been assured that beach traditions will continue," said Whittingslow in a statement.

We sure hope so. 

Long live Pierre's By The Sea.

Have a story you'd like to share involving Pete's Bar? Email cfeindt@firstcoastnews.com

RELATED: Pete's Bar assures customers its doors will 'fly open' when given the OK

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