Health Department Shutters Mars Bar

Mars Bar Beer on SidewalkJoshua Davis Owner Hank Penza sat outside Mars Bar as beer was taken away for what could be the last time after the Health Department ordered the bar closed.

Update | 7:34 p.m. Mars Bar, a symbol of a bygone era in the East Village, was widely expected to go out with a bang — a blow-out party before its home on the corner of East First Street and Second Avenue is demolished to make way for a condo tower. Instead, the bar has fallen to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which today ordered the shutters pulled down for what regulars expect to be the last time.

A spokeswoman for the department confirmed that the bar was closed after an inspector found approximately 850 fruit flies in the bar; conditions “conducive to a pest infestation;” cracked and chipped walls and unsecured gas cylinders.

News of the bar’s closure was first posted by EV Grieve, with other outlets quickly following suit. Calls to the bar were met with gruff confirmations that it had been closed but further details did not immediately emerge.

Outside Mars Bar this afternoon, regulars and staff appeared in a foul mood, threatening reporters and photographers and refusing to answer questions. Owner Hank Penza told a Village Voice reporter that he was “tired” and that was why the bar was closing.

Around 4 this afternoon, a yellow Health Department sign had been spotted posted on the bar’s door but within a half hour it was covered by a makeshift sign that simply read “closed.”

IMG_0390Khristopher J. Brooks The scene outside Mars Bar earlier today.

The impending closure of Mars Bar has been well chronicled by city media and local blogs and in graffiti on the walls of the bar itself since The Local first reported on the plans for a mixed-income development on the site last December. After developers filed for a demolition permit in May, divining the precise date that the bar would close became something of a sport for neighborhood residents. Each weekend was said to be the last, until news of the next week’s beer order leaked out.

Whenever the end finally came, outside observers and regulars alike expected the bar would go out in a blaze of glory, but the mood among the crowd that patronizes the venue was glum this afternoon. Raymond Bell, 60, joined other regulars who hunched over the bar at Milano’s Bar on Houston Street. “I wanted to have a last party for all the regulars,” he said over a glass of red wine. “Not going to happen, forget about that.”

Mr. Bell said he was at the bar when the health inspectors arrived, around 4 p.m. by his reckoning. “They were looking for every little thing they would find, to give them an excuse to close the place down,” he said.

The feeling among neighborhood blogs this afternoon was increasingly one of finality. EV Grieve posted a photograph of one artist retrieving his work from the apparently doomed bar and Mr. Penza looked on as the bar’s supplies of beer were carted away.

But the Department of Health regularly shutters businesses for health code violations only for them to reopen within a few days. Mars Bar’s management has the option of correcting the violations and applying for a reinspection, which would open the path to the bar reopening. The Health Department has yet to confirm whether that step has been taken.

Mars Bar was last inspected on May 23. Inspectors found cockroaches and filth flies present but the bar was scored at 16 points, equivalent to a grade “B” in the health department rankings. For venues with low scores, the department of health makes monthly inspections, but it has not been confirmed whether today’s inspection was scheduled.

Khristopher J. Brooks, Joshua Davis and Todd Olmstead contributed reporting to this post.