UPDATE: ‘There’s nothing left’: Owner reacts after fire destroys popular Clayton County tavern

MILLVILLE, Iowa – The owner of a popular tavern in rural Clayton County lived above the establishment. She had mere minutes to escape with her son and seven pets before a fire destroyed the two-story building Tuesday night.

“There’s nothing left,” Jennifer Glenis said today. “It’s just a big pile of blackened rubble.”

Seven area fire departments battled the fire Tuesday night that destroyed Bootleggers River Tavern, located off of U.S. 52 south along the Turkey River.

“We lived upstairs, and I was on the phone with my dad when I smelled smoke,” Glenis said. “I went downstairs and saw smoke billowing out of our dish room. I ran back upstairs and grabbed my 12-year-old son and all of the pets. We have two cats, two dogs, a bunny and two birds.”

Firefighters were dispatched at 6:39 p.m. Tuesday, according to a press release from the Guttenberg Fire Department.

“The first policeman and firefighter got there within five or seven minutes,” Glenis said.

The release states that fire personnel arrived on the scene to find smoke and fire inside the tavern, which was not open at the time.

“An initial fire attack was started, but the structure was quickly fully involved with fire,” the release states.

Guttenberg firefighters received assistance from fire departments from Colesburg, Elkader, Garber, Garnavillo, Holy Cross/North Buena Vista and New Vienna/Luxemburg. Other agencies on the scene were Guttenberg Ambulance, Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, Iowa State Patrol and Guttenberg Police Department.

The release states that “a large water shuttle system was set up, and the fire was brought under control at approximately 10 p.m.” The structure was a total loss.

Guttenberg firefighters returned to the scene this morning to extinguish hot spots.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire is not yet determined and authorities are investigating.

The American Red Cross is assisting the family.

“I’m still trying to get my bearings,” Glenis said.

Glenis and her dad, James Pfaffly, have owned the business since June 2018. The tavern’s location next to the floodprone Turkey River dealt the business and its owners a blow in March 2019.

“We had a flood (in March 2019), and on the first anniversary of the flood, we had to shut down for COVID,” Glenis said. “We were just starting to get out of the (COVID-related) slump (when Tuesday’s fire struck).”

Glenis said she was heartbroken for her managers, who were taking on more responsibility for the tavern’s daily operations. She said she was grateful to the tavern’s customers.

“We have such a loyal customer base,” she said.

Hours after the fire, Glenis was not sure of her future plans for the tavern.

“I’m not even thinking yet about (rebuilding),” she said. “It depends on what we get back from insurance.”