Peg Wesselink didn’t have a specific vision when she opened her bar, Room 901, in St. Petes’s Edge District four years ago. All she knew was that she wanted to create a space that would be quieter than the average bar, where people could have quality conversations without having to shout over loud music or baseball games blaring from the TV.
And so that’s what Room 901 became, a place for first dates and anniversary celebrations and gossip sessions with good friends over craft cocktails. For many customers, Room 901 became a second home, and Wesselink and her bartenders were like family.
By early 2020, the bar was more than hitting its stride. People online raved about its unique decor, which included upside down lamps hanging from the ceiling and shelves of open books. They called it a hidden gem and the place to go for an amazing Old Fashioned.
“February was our best month,” Wesselink said. “We were on a great trajectory. Everything was firing on all cylinders.”
Then Covid-19 happened, and all of Wesselink’s hard work began unraveling. Room 901, along with bars and restaurants statewide, was forced to close during the second week of March.
“It was very disappointing and shocking to wake up one morning and not be able to do the job you love,” she said. “And it went on longer than I thought it would.”
The shutdown didn’t make Wesselink angry or sad – she mainly just felt stunned. She’d see social media posts where people talked about appreciating every day and thought to herself, “I just want the day to be over. I want it to be the next day.” She felt lost without her work, but tried to fill the time with little projects at the bar and around the house. She got a head start on needlepointing Christmas stockings for her grandchildren. She even started looking for jobs in case things didn’t work out.
Fortunately, Wesselink had saved enough money to be able to cover her rent and utilities during the shutdown, and she was able to pay an employee who was unable to get unemployment through money from the CARES act. Finally, in early June, Wesselink announced Bar 901 was reopening for business, and she was prepared. She implemented a reservation system and brought out the patio furniture she’d bought pre-pandemic so people could sit outside. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked pretty well.
Wesselink said she “never dreamed” they’d shut bars down again, but just weeks after reopening, that’s exactly what happened.
“We got closed down via Twitter,” she said, referring to a June 26 tweet from Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulation Halsey Beshears. “That was one of the strangest transmissions of public policy I’ve ever seen.”
Wesselink watched as bars scrambled to get around the regulations by applying for restaurant licenses. She felt certain that the state would close that loophole so she didn’t apply for one, but it didn’t happen. At the same time, she was also facing another challenge – her lease was up in February 2021, and she couldn’t get her landlord or her property manager to speak with her. Gradually, she realized the inevitable – she was going to have to close.
“To restart again now would be very hard,” said Wesselink, who believes the building that housed Room 901 will be torn down. “It just wasn’t enough time to recover.
Room 901 operated as a bottle shop until mid-July to sell off its inventory. Wesselink went to her employees and sadly told them they’d need to find other work.
“I said that if by some miracle things changed, I would try to reopen for the last few months of my lease,” she said. “But there was no miracle.”
Now, Wesselink is spending some time out of state and contemplating her next chapter. She considered retirement, but she’s just not ready yet. As for Room 901, someone else is cleaning out the space. It would be just too painful for her.
“It’s hard not to be there, but I can’t imagine watching it go down,” she said. “It truly was a labor of love.”