Rumors had swirled for months like whiskey in a smudged glass: Mars Bar would close soon, at some indefinite date in the near future, to make way for a condo building.
Like everything else at Mars, the writing was on the wall, the bar, the windows; the signs were everywhere that the local hangout’s last days were numbered.
No one knew exactly when it would happen but just knowing the end loomed near spiked passion and curiosity for a place that had stood in hideous glory at the corner of East 1st Street and 2nd Avenue since 1984.
Mars Bar was a dive, a hole-in-the-wall, a shrine to an East Village becoming unrecognizable to long-time residents and a monument to anarchy’s last stand in the gentrified neighborhod.
It meant something to regulars and non-regulars alike. It was a place to stop in during the afternoon to read the paper and gossip with the bartender or to drink yourself blind during the wee hours surrounded by the likeminded. Anything could happen at Mars, from bloody fights to raucous good times. The only rules enforced involved dropping attitude and flying freak flags high.
The word most commonly used to describe the place, before the Department of Health closed it on July 18th, was ‘notorious.’
In its last weeks Mars was described by bloggers and journalists as “a little scary and a lot gross,” “the last of the filth-rotted Second Avenue saloons,” and a “unique mix of nastiness and beauty.”
A walk past its lurid exterior could confirm those views in an instant.
As one die-hard fan wrote in a review, “Maybe it’s disgusting but at least it’s dirty.”
But filth was part of Mars’ unique charm…as were generous pours and ice-cold beers.
It was a graffiti-covered lair that welcomed the ragged, the rare, the lost, and the trying-to-get-lost.
It could make an outcast feel right at home.
The bar’s drawn-out closing inspired nostalgia and defiance in regulars but never protest. The reason is simple: this was one story with no clearly-defined good guys or bad guys. The development company behind the 60-unit, 12-story building that will rise where Mars Bar now stands has built hundreds of affordable housing units in the East Village. The residents in the Mars building are supportive of the project. (They will each get two-bedroom apartments for $10. ) Even Mars’ owner, Hank Penza, is for the project. He plans to re-open in 2013 practically in the same location in a space three-times the size of his current establishment once the new condo tower is complete.
So one last round was poured out for Mars Bar, its regulars, its famed staff and epic bartenders not in one massive blow-out but across weeks and then finally nights and then lastly with a low-key candlelight vigil and the shooting off of a few flares. The end of an era for some; goodbye to an eyesore for others.
Look closely before it disappears.
Revel in its ugliness and garishness.
You won’t see anything like it again in the new East Village.