Mars Bar was down and dirty, but it was real, and it was ours


By Lilly O’Donnell

The Village had been bracing itself for the loss of Mar Bar since last December. At first, the rumors that another neighborhood landmark was going to be flattened and turned into a condo sounded like a figure of speech, a paranoid fear, a hoax. But BFC Partners’ plans for a 12-story condo building on the corner of Second Ave. and E. First St. were quickly confirmed.

Mars Bar was a haven for anyone who was sick of behaving — it provided dark, smelly sanctuary, plastic cups of watered-down booze and an awesome jukebox, and asked nothing in return. It was a place to go if you were banned from every other bar in the city, a place where you could still get away with doing drugs in the bathrooms, sitting on the bar, breaking windows, spitting on the floor, where if new-to-the-neighborhood people looked at you with disgust or horror they were treated as the weirdos, not the other way around.

It was disgusting, filthy and too expensive for how utterly crappy it was, but it was, without a doubt, a Village institution and will be missed more than one might think a bar should be.

By June, devotees of the ultimate East Village dive bar were crowding into the narrow space every night, trying to get their last Mars Bar fixes before the legend was demolished — writing sentimental and/or angry notes on the walls and buying pins with the dates “1984-2011” on them. June 30 was rumored to be the last night, but when the bar opened for business on July 1, it was with an understanding that any night could be the last. Even the bartenders didn’t know when the bar would close, and if the owner, Hank Penza, had any clue, he didn’t share it with anyone — in the craze of the last days, the bar was doing better than it had in a while.

In an unexpected twist, the Department of Health closed the bar on July 18, due to violations including “harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist,” according to the department’s report. It was almost poetic that in the end it was Mars Bar’s own filth that ended it, not the crashing wave of gentrification and condo development.

In the weeks leading up to the closure the bar was seeing a lot of unusual patrons, clean-cut people who normally wouldn’t set foot in Mars, there to get a glimpse of the spectacle. But according to Eden Brower, who was there on the last night, it was a calm one.

“I decided to pop in late on that Sunday and am glad I did,” she said. “It wasn’t super-packed so it had an intimate feel.”

The next evening, once the place was closed for good, there was an impromptu candlelight vigil outside the closed bar, which really amounted to about a dozen people hanging out and blatantly drinking beer on the sidewalk — a fitting funeral for the only bar to deserve one.