ST. PETERSBURG — As someone married to a dive bar owner, Patricia Preston Mastry considers herself an expert on unglamorous watering holes.
“They actually all look a lot alike,” said Mastry, whose husband, Rick Mastry, is part of the family ownership of Mastry’s Bar & Grill on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. “It’s going to be dark. It’s going to have a shotgun style. There’s a sameness that defines them.”
But the bathrooms set them apart, she said. The graffiti, the cleanliness or lack thereof, the layout and the artwork illustrate the type of “clientele you can expect to see there at 11 on a Saturday night.”
The 70-year-old St. Petersburg resident became so enamored with Tampa Bay’s dive bar bathrooms that she spent 2020 and part of 2021 photographing those she considered the most unique.
Now, 24 photographs — each of a different area dive bar — are on display through Sept. 7 at the Emerald Bar, also on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
By printing each on metal, she protected the photographs against dive bar elements like smoke and wobbling patrons.
And the photographs are black and white, she said, because “removing the color removes the superfluous. You can really see what I see is important — the structure, the urinals.”
Featured establishments include Mastry’s, Emerald Bar, Steve’s Tavern on the Avenue, the Wayward Goose, the Bends, Gaspar’s Grotto, Tiny Tap, the Hub and the Reservoir.
None is identified by name at the art show. Visitors can attempt to guess the bar to which the bathroom belongs. Each photograph has a QR code that, when photographed with a cellphone, provides the answer.
The photographs can also be viewed online at patriciaprestonmastry.com. The website includes a short history of each bar.
Her husband’s is “one of the oldest bars in the area, if not the oldest,” the website says, “Jack Kerouac is perhaps the most famous customer of the Flamingo Bar,” and the Hub was originally “very different than today’s version. Patrons in 1949 dressed to party in high style and danced to classic and some famous dance bands.”
The Hub in downtown Tampa has one of Mastry’s favorite dive bar bathrooms.
“It has a lot of fun graffiti,” she said with a laugh. “A lot of boobs, penises, whatever.”
Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor City might have the cleanest dive bar bathroom in the area, Mastry said. “It’s like a bathroom in a five-star hotel. It is spotless. There’s not one speck of graffiti. There is a spotless urinal right next to a tiled wall. The walls are so clean that the urinal is reflected in the wall next to it.”
Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Petersburg is among those that boast her favorite professional artwork.
“In the men’s bathroom, there is probably a 6-foot-tall painting of a beach babe wearing a bikini looking back over her shoulder at you,” Mastry said. “And, in the women’s bathroom, there is a flamingo dressed as a beach babe. It’s really fun artwork.”
The Tiny Tap in Hyde Park has the oddest bathroom setup. It is a detached structure and “hanging a good 6 feet above the toilet seat is a single roll of toilet paper. You have to be thinking ahead and get the toilet paper before you sit down,” she laughed.
Swigwam Beach Bar provided Mastry with a welcome surprise. The St. Petersburg Beach bar’s bathroom was guarded by a cardboard cutout of her late friend, eccentric Pass-a-Grille jeweler Evander Preston. The cutout was a promotion for the Evander Beer he brewed.
“I wish he was still around,” Mastry said. “He’d have loved this show.”
The concept began as a joke.
In 2014, “some people came into Mastry’s on a Saturday morning, went into the women’s bathroom, into a stall, and did what a couple might do in the bedroom,” Mastry said.
After she threw them out, regulars joked she should have taken a picture.
“So, another couple volunteered to restage it for a photo,” Mastry said. “And that started it.”
She began photographing dive bar bathrooms wherever she traveled, doing so as far away as Versailles, France.
Then, during the pandemic, when travel was limited, she decided to focus on local bathrooms.
That effort turned into the current show.
Next, she wants to publish a coffee-table book.
“I don’t think all these dive bars will be around forever,” Mastry said. “The millennial generation is not as inclined to go to a dive bar. They like to get dressed up and go to a higher-end place. So, I think they are going away and, with them, the unique bathrooms.”