They contacted him out of the blue, with no warning and no prior affiliation with his establishment.
He said they called themselves the “debate club,” and they were looking for a place to host their watch parties during the Republican primaries over the summer.
That’s all Fat Cat Tavern owner Bill Soleau knew about how his bar came to be the only establishment in Pinellas County to hold an official Republican watch party for the debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday night.
“They came to me and asked to book the room tonight,” Soleau said of the special event room of his U.S. 19 bar.
“They had held four watch parties here prior to this, and then right around the time of the RNC, they booked it again.”
“They” turned out to be the Republican Party of Pinellas County. And according to District 51 chairperson Pam Hinds, she picked Fat Cat due to the large special events room and Soleau’s willingness to play host to the parties.
“We had called different places to find out if owners were willing and able to accommodate us, and this one was,” she explained.
“The first party was before the primaries in August, and the turnout was great. The food is excellent, the service is excellent, and we had a number of local Republican candidates show up.”
According to Jill Bader, communications director for the Republican National Committee, the party has been encouraging their local branches to plan these events in order to continue with the "grass roots" theme of their campaign.
“We depend on our people on the ground to come up with the locations,” she said prior to the start of the debate. “We don’t know all the locations in the area, so it’s good we have people in the field we can trust.”
For his part, Soleau is happy with the increased business. He said he has plenty of staff on hand to handle the groups because “anytime you get a party of 40 people or more, we always do well.”
And what about his party affiliation?
“As a good restaurant owner, I need to stay neutral. As long as they eat a lot of food and drink a lot of beer, I don’t care who they vote for!”