A Day in the Life of Mars Bar

Phillip Kalantzis Cope Mars Bar closed its doors Monday.

It happened a little before 4 p.m. The patrons were let out, the door was shut. And with the resignation of a whimper in place of the much anticipated bang, Mars Bar closed, forever.

On any other afternoon, the iconic bar — a symbol of a time gone by for a neighborhood experiencing an era of commercial development — would be sprinkled with regulars yakking away about the day’s gossip with a sympathetic young bartender.

Debates over the distinction, if any, between bands like Foreigner and Journey would be overheard as music from John Fogerty to Wesley Willis bounced off the bar’s graffiti-laden walls. Glasses of whiskey and discount red wine would be filled to the top, and the beer was always served ice cold.

But by late Monday afternoon, Mars Bar had finally served its last drink.

Raymond Bell, 60, a longtime regular with a taste for red wine, described being on the scene Monday afternoon when the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene closed the bar down — only a few weeks before the building’s demolition to make way for a new 12-story condo.

“I didn’t even get to finish my last drink,” he said. While other customers lingered outside, Mr. Bell said he “just walked away.”

Mars Bar Closed DoorJoshua Davis A hand-written sign marked the end of an era.

Shortly after 4 p.m, the bar’s most tenured bartender, Amy Koteles, posted on Facebook stating that, “I am now, officially, without a job. Please hire me. Okay, thanks.”

On countless afternoons, since the bar’s opening in 1984, the space was a regular hangout for neighborhood locals, some of whom also stuck around late for the infamous nightlife that gave the bar its name.

Most days, the metal gate cracked open shortly after noon, allowing some rays of sun in through the tagged up plate glass windows. Regulars like Mr. Bell, a Vietnam veteran and former heroin addict, Erazerhead, 57, a musician who, he says, got his nickname from Frank Zappa for erasing an original recording by the iconic musician, and other artists, punks, and workers getting off their overnight shifts slowly appeared.

The owner of the bar, Hank Penza, would usually arrive by mid-afternoon to claim his seat on the corner of Second Avenue and First Street, where he posted up in a beat-up office chair drinking from his popular “sippy cup.”

“It’s one of those holes in the wall where you feel comfortable,” said Erazerhead. “It’s sort of a shrine, a local shrine.”

Luis Rodriguez, who came to New York from Mexico City 10 years ago in search of the artistic community that the East Village had come to represent, said though he was intimidated at first, it was easy for him to become a regular at Mars Bar.

“The gentrification that I heard about didn’t really happen at the Mars Bar,” he said. “This is the quaintest, cutest little bit of the town that you can be in.”

One late afternoon in June, Mr. Bell unfurled a dollar bill and headed for the jukebox.

Mars Bar Interior, East Village, New York CIty 84Vivienne Gucwa The jukebox at Mars Bar.

“Is this your exit song?” asked the bartender, before initiating a playful guessing game with a few patrons as to whether Mr. Bell was calling it a day.

As Mr. Bell returned to his barstool, the first notes of “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” by The Spaniels came on the jukebox. “Good night sweetheart, well it’s time to go,” sang Mr. Bell, almost whistling the tune while waving his hand in the air as though he were conducting an orchestra.

Just before the song could end, Mr. Bell lifted himself up, started toward the door and said, “And that’s when I say I’ll see y’all later,” before disappearing into the city streets.

Mr. Bell said Monday after the Mars Bar closed that he was disappointed that he could not have “one last party for all the regulars.” He says he looks forward to the possibility that Mr. Penza will open another bar in the neighborhood, but says that “there are other bars” including Milano’s where he will go.

As for a sendoff, the night shift regulars, legends of their own universe, took to the sidewalk Monday night armed with candles, beers and even a couple flares to ensure that the Mars Bar was sent off with the bang it deserved.

Ray Bell and Closed Mars BarJoshua Davis Raymond Bell, a regular patron at Mars Bar, outside the shuttered bar earlier today.