T-shirts and posters were stapled to the walls. Stale cigarette smoke and spilled booze were the dominant smells. But people loved the place that called itself “a dive music bar.”
They loved the friendly bartenders. They loved the unpretentious atmosphere. And they loved the eclectic live music ranging from hip-hop to underground country.
Pabst Blue Ribbons and shots of Jägermeister were popular, too.
But there just wasn’t enough support to keep Pastimes Pub, a mainstay in the Sarasota entertainment district of Gulf Gate, in business. On Friday, the beloved venue closed its doors permanently.
“We loved our customers,” said Dennis Hoover, co-owner of the pub formerly operating at 6540 Superior Avenue. “Unfortunately, the sales weren’t really there.”
He added, “I developed a lot of nice friends there over the seven years and I’m going to really miss the original entertainment. I was never one for some of the music until I heard it performed live by a good band, and then I became a fan of a lot more music.”
Music was the main reason Pastimes Pub existed.
Hoover and Lucca Rizzi worked together behind the bar at Gecko’s on State Road 70 before bringing in pal Jonathan Abrams to take over the space that formerly housed Octave in 2006.
"We try to stick with original music, and we try to have any kind of music that there is a demand for," Rizzi told the Herald-Tribune. "We're not trying to be the Five-O or the Gator Club," he said. "We're trying to do something different, instead of relying on cover bands all the time."
Kate O'Shea, who operates Root Cellar Entertainment, started booking acts at Pastimes shortly after it opened. Her last show there was a March 15 performance by the alternative rock band Green Jelly. O'Shea estimated 100 people came to see the guys who had an MTV hit with "Three Little Pigs" two decades ago.
She also noted that shows by Devon Allman, son of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former Sarasotan Gregg Allman, were also well attended. But many acts only drew about 25 people or less.
“Over the last few years it’s gotten harder and harder to get people out,” O’Shea said. “For me, punk rock and underground country, it’s an aging scene. People have to worry about rent and getting up for work the next day and prioritizing their money.”
Although not completely surprised, O’Shea found herself deeply saddened when she learned Pastimes had closed. To help cope, she grabbed a smiley face balloon, a candle, some beer and with about 10 friends gathered outside Pastimes’ closed doors Saturday night.
“We had a candlelight vigil for it,” O’Shea said. “It’s really the end of an era for a lot of us, we all feel like we have been orphaned.”
Nikki Mabalot, the fashion designer better known as Punk Rock Betty, has been a Pastimes Pub regular since 2008. She’s thrown popular fashion shows there like the recent Blood Bath Halloween Party. Her husband, Ray Mabalot, was the DJ for Pastimes’ final St. Patrick’s Day bash.
“We’re heartbroken, we love that place,” Nikki said. “It was a dirty grunge bar, a stinky bar, but it was home.”
She added, “We’re going to miss Luca and Dennis, they were the ones behind the bar always being super friendly. We’d like to throw a cookout for them”
Dennis Hoover, age 56, would probably appreciate it.
“This is the first time I have not had a job since I was 15,” he said.