27 July 2011

Mars Bars, A Last Look

There's been a tidal wave of coverage about the recent closing of the East Village dive Mars Bar—more tears were shed over the beloved dump than were over Yankee and Shea stadiums combined. I hardly need to add to it. I actually paid my final respects to the place weeks ago. It was touch and go there for so many weeks; nobody knew exactly when it would shutter. So I just went in one night and pretended it was the last night.

It could have been the final night. The owner and a crowd of his regulars/admirers were huddled in the back celebrating. It was definitely the end of the bar to be. The rest of the bar was pretty much deserted. It looked like a sticker-and-marker bomb had gone off, ruining stools, windows and scattering paper, posters, graffiti and decals all over the walls and ceiling. But Mars always looked that way. I wasn't surprised when the Health Department shut them down earlier this month. I was surprised they didn't get shut down until now.

I drank my bottle of beer, kept to myself and studied the walls for one last time. I knew taking pictures would mark me as irretrievably uncool. But I took them anyway. Surreptitiously. Damn, it's hard to take pictures in that dank hole. At least with my basic digital camera.

They say Hank Penza is planning to either reopen the bar when the shiny glass condo that's being built on the spot is done, or will open a new bar somewhere in the East Village. I can't see how he can do either and retain his following. It took years for Mars Bar to accrue its patina of flotsam-and-jetsam grime. And I've always imagined that unique collection of crap constituted a great part of Mars' charm. You can't accomplish that overnight. But I wish him luck.

These pictures aren't very good. But, it seems to me, taking good pictures of the Mars Bar might be viewed by its owner and patrons as something of an insult.

I don't know whose shot this was. It had been abandoned.


Ed said...

The pictures are pretty good.

While the dismantling of Yankee Stadium was worse (are you seriously complaining about losing Shea?), at least they built a replacement stadium that is actually pretty nice. I don't think we are getting a replacement Mars Bar, and in fact dive bars in general are slowly disappearing.

The Mars Bar actually outlasted not only its era, but the supergentrification of its surroundings. It probably should have closed when Avalon Place went up, approached from the wrong angle it looked like someone had stuck it in a suburban strip mall. But what the closing does is to confirm that 70s and 80s New York is dead and not coming back. It also removes any reason to go to that particular section of the East Village, coming after quite a few closings of other establishments in that area.

My complaint about what has been happening to the city isn't the vanishing of the old stuff, which is normal here, its more about the new stuff that replaces it. Its the suburban-like quality of the new restaurants, bars, buidings, shops that are killing the city's spirit.

A few weeks before the place closed I spent a typically vagabond Monday afternoon there. I did go back one more time after that, but I prefer to think of the afternoon visit as my last visit there.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I agree with you absolutely, Ed.

It's not just the old stuff that's going, it's the awful stuff they replace it with. That doubles the insult against New York's glorious past, like ripping out a rose bush to make more room for kudzu.

Tinderbox said...

You did a good job with these. Never worry about being uncool. The pictures last, the momentary feeling of uncoolness doesn't. ;)