Room 901: The art of conversation

Tired of loud bars with shitty acoustics? Amanda McMahon and Jon Stine can fix all that.

click to enlarge A book lover's dream. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
A book lover's dream.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but when I go out to eat, I want to be able to hear what my dining companion's saying. Ditto for a casual drink with friends.

The problem is, most local bars and restaurants don't cater to conversation.

I get it, St. Pete. People like noise and excitement. We have fantabulous local bands. I really do understand that.

But when I go out to eat and the restaurant's so loud I can't hear the person across the table from me — and not because of music or televisions — I don't want to go back. Case in point: Stillwaters. Guys, I love your food but your acoustics suck.

Turns out I'm not the only one with this beef. Restaurants cater to four senses: The food smells and looks good, tastes good and feels good in our mouth. However, we have a fifth sense, too, and shitty acoustics can cancel out everything else the restaurant does right.

click to enlarge Amanda McMahon and Jon Stine - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Amanda McMahon and Jon Stine

Amanda McMahon and Jon Stine are working to change that. What's more, they're using functional art.

Case in point? Room 901 on Central. The walls are covered in books — not bookshelves, but books arranged as art. Why?

To soften the noise.

When Peg Wesselink and Tony Dodson wanted to open a "conversation bar" in St. Pete, they worked with McMahon (of Design: Amanda Le) and Stine (of Stine Custom Woodworks) to not only have a talking-friendly bar, but one that

click to enlarge L-R: Jon Stine, Peg Wesselink, Amanda McMahon and Aron Retkes. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
L-R: Jon Stine, Peg Wesselink, Amanda McMahon and Aron Retkes.

Stine took McMahon's concept and made it reality — using unwanted books and a bar made to look like a card catalog, the entire venue celebrates the cerebral. 2,500 books — all donations slated to become paper towels (according to McMahon, that's what happens to books when they get recycled) line the walls, although Stine had to cut down the books to make them fit along the bottom half of the walls. Along the top, books open to random pages line the bar. All that paper softens the noise, and you find yourself sitting comfortably with a big ol' glass of wine, able to hear your friends. 

The project caught my eye during well before Stine installed it at 901; I'd visited Stine to talk about a project he was working on for me (Stine is my preferred builder of kick-ass wood things), and his workshop at Anderson Lumber was piled with old books. He played coy as I tried to guess what he was building (at the time, everyone on the project was keeping mum) but promised he'd let me know when I could come see it.

click to enlarge Alcohol: Making the Dewey Decimal system fun. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Alcohol: Making the Dewey Decimal system fun.

The books line the walls, but Stine's bar is the centerpiece of the place: He recreated a card catalog for the backdrop, complete with pulled out "drawers" staggered along the piece, each designed to hold a bottle of wine. When lit, it looks like something from The Librarian movies.

With Room 901 open, artistic and quiet, McMahon and Stine have moved on to the next project. They've asked us not to give too much away, but we are allowed to say this: They need all your old tennis balls, no questions asked. 


About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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