Why we will miss this grimy little bar

It is surely some sort of metaphysical joke that in the end Mars Bar — which opened in 1984, when the East Village was a more vibrant and menacing place, and closed yesterday — was done in by health code violations owing to too many fruit flies on the premises.  The fruit flies were undoubtedly the healthiest thing in there.  But neighborhood gentrification had threatened Mars Bar for so many years that it seems almost a miracle it survived long enough for the Health Department to shut it down this week.  I took the nighttime photograph below three years ago and even then Mars Bar seemed a last holdout on a once skanky block of East 1st Street that had been bought up to make way for the enormous and dreadful Avalon complex, whose cheap reflective-glass facade was designed by the Miami firm Arquitectonica — as if their work on the monstrous Westin Hotel off Times Square did not constitute enough damage done to this city.

The photograph below (top) was taken this Sunday; as it would turn out, this was Mars Bar’s last full day of operation.  The man seated in the office chair (his usual perch) is owner Hank Penza and due credit must be given to him for the fact that Mars Bar remained an appropriately fetid little place to the end.  Around the corner on the Bowery, there was once the music club CBGB — now a John Varvatos store but famous as the birthplace of American punk and launching pad for Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, and others — but it had become a shell of its former self long before it closed in 2006 and its legendary owner Hilly Krystal passed away; the famous graffiti wall around another corner on East Houston Street (see my post about it here) is really a commercial recreation of a free graffiti space from the 1980s.  But Mars Bar remained rough, dank, and uninviting to the end.  It was a place tolerant of regulars who appeared beset by bad life choices and cold to usurpers who represented the arrival of new money displacing the East Village community of old.  As the mural on the side entrance asked years ago, when the bar first seemed doomed, “After the Mars Bar, what?”

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Click here to see examples of the street art that was done on the walls of the buildings adjacent to Mars Bar, which will also be torn down, and the streets nearby.

 

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