For Locals, Shock at Mars Bar’s Closure

Mars Bar umbrellasJoshua Davis Former patrons of Mars Bar customers gathered outside the now-closed bar Monday night for an impromptu candlelight vigil.

Occasional customers and regulars at Mars Bar were shocked Monday night to learn that the Department of Health ordered the bar to close. City health inspectors found several sanitation violations and slapped a yellow “Closed” sticker on the bar’s front door Monday afternoon. Many East Villagers believe that Monday was the last time they’ll ever see Mars Bar open to the public.

Julie Turley, East Village resident since 1995 and a librarian at Borough of Manhattan Community College, said she loved the art on the walls at Mars Bar.

“I didn’t realize it was closing so soon. I don’t even drink really, but I always said if the Mars Bar closed, I would have to leave New York because it would be sort of the last slice of cake for that area — that represented this city’s grungy past. I never felt like I belonged there, but I’m still sad to see it go.”

There was talk around the neighborhood that Mars Bar would have one last big blowout party before closing in a few days. However, in order for that to happen, the owner Hank Penza and his staff would have to clean up Mars Bar and get an approval from the Health Department to reopen.

Raymond Lycholat, the manager of Big Bar on East Seventh Street, said if he were in Mr. Penza’s shoes, he wouldn’t try to reopen Mars Bar for a final closing party.

Mars Bar WallJoshua Davis Former patrons at Monday’s vigil.

“He’s got to go downtown and fill out paperwork and pay a fine,” Mr. Lycholat said. “At this stage of the game, I wouldn’t do it. And he doesn’t care either. He owned the building, so I’m sure he’s already got money for the building and space. So God bless him, he’s been there long enough.”

Because Mars Bar was slated to close in a few days anyway, one local businessman wondered why city health inspectors conducted an inspection in the first place.

Mark Trzupek, manager of Life Cafe on East 10th Street, wondered if said city officials had unfairly targeted the bar.

“A lot of the things that New York City does doesn’t always make a lot of sense. You have to pay heavy fines every time the health department finds violations like that, but why bother?”

Health Department officials say they found hundreds of fruit flies, standing water and other health code violations during their inspection.

Eden Brower, an East Village resident, musician and Mars Bar regular for a decade, said Mars Bar had a “great vibe” and she will miss dancing in the small bar and reading the newspaper while sitting on a bar stool.

“The East Village is losing the last real divey bar it had, in my opinion. Other bars tend to annoy me as they are sports bars or just ones filled with hipsters, trendy students or jocks. I didn’t know the DOH shut them down. Mars was cleaner than many other places in the area, including fancy bars and restaurants. The closing day was coming up and it just seems like today was that day.”

Not only were customers publicly speaking about the closing of Mars Bar, they took to social media Web sites to express their thoughts.

Mars Bar hugJoshua Davis Patrons consoled each other at the vigil.

Joey Arak, a former East Village resident who recently moved to Brooklyn, elaborated on his tweet.

“I think the chaotic, confusing and unceremonious way the Mars Bar ended perfectly fits the chaotic, confusing and unceremonious way the Mars Bar operated. CBGB is now a John Varvatos boutique and the 2nd Avenue Deli is a Chase bank, so even Stevie Wonder could have seen the writing on the wall these past few years, but that doesn’t dull the sting of losing such a unique slice of the East Village. The place had so much character it should be given a posthumous lifetime achievement Oscar.”

Also on Twitter:

@CeeBee posted: “RIP MARS BAR nyc. saw some pretty gnarly fights around the corner from there during hardcore matinees back in the day”

@travishuggett posted: “In only 1 bar was I ever punched in the face by a homeless Russian man. Today that bar closed. So long Mars Bar.”

Many, such as Rob Kornhauser, Damon James, and Rich Pecci, chose humor to mourn the loss of the neighborhood icon.

Not all were so sad to see it go, though. Gramercy East resident Zena Tsarfin left a simple, “Good riddance” on Twitter but followed up with an explanation.

“I love a good, dingy dive bar, but Mars Bar required a Hazmat suit. I went there a few times before CBGB shows, and when I looked forward to the respite of that club’s bathrooms, I knew there was no reason to go back to Mars.”

Mars Bar candlelightingJoshua Davis Lighting candles at the vigil.

Twitter user @pattymo left a succinct, sarcastic message:
Quick! Everyone fake mourn the Mars Bar!

But the prevailing sentiment appeared to be of sadness for an era of New York City that’s seemingly gone for good and irreplaceable. In a series of tweets, Michael Dolan seemed to punctuate the feeling:
Even though it was just a filthy dive, the Mars Bar is now a lost piece of old #NYC we can never get back. You can’t buy character.

What some felt was Mars Bar’s distinct character was celebrated Monday night at an impromptu vigil outside the shuttered bar.

Once news of Mars Bar’s closure by the Health Department had spread, a vigil was hastily organized and as a thunderstorm rolled over the city, regulars at the bar began gathering on the sidewalk on East First Street shortly after 8 p.m.

A man who called himself Johnny Bizarre was acting as a ring leader of sorts, trying to stir the crowd of 25 or so onlookers into song. Topless, he boasted that he was at last call on what may have turned out to be the last night at the bar.

A few people were already sipping from bottles in brown paper bags when Mr. Bizarre announced that he was heading to buy beer at Whole Foods on the other side of Houston Street. Ambling through the traffic, he said it would have “gnawed” at him to have missed the last night. He added that his band Juggernut had played one of the last shows at CBGB’s, the defunct punk venue down the street from Mars Bar.

Mars Bar Art RemovalJoshua Davis Artists removed their work from the bar.

Inside the grocery store, Mr. Bizarre picked out three cans of Crispin’s English cider and went hunting for cold cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Being told there were none, he plumped for Copper Bell, Whole Food’s own brand beer. Asked whether the spirits of Mars Bar might object to the choice, Mr. Bizarre replied in the negative: “That’s the way the neighborhood is.”

The crowd back outside the bar certainly did not object, raising a cheer when Mr. Bizarre returned and promptly letting off two flares, or perhaps fireworks left over from the Fourth into the storm.

A musician with shaggy brown hair and wearing black drainpipe jeans who goes by the name Daddy Longlegs began playing a harmonica. The gang of regulars posed for photos in front of the bar’s graffiti painted walls. At one point, Mr. Bizarre stripped down to his red briefs.

After a while, Daddy Longlegs walked off in the direction of the Bowery Poetry club. He said he was meeting friends for a quick shot of liquor before heading back to the little street party. “This is where the last vestige of the true artists would hang out,” he said. “Everything in the Lower East Side had gone and changed, and now this had too.”

Not quite gone, perhaps, he predicted that the night’s party would last well into the early morning.

Ian Duncan contributed reporting to this post.