During the last week of June, rumored to be the final days of Mars Bar, longtime devotees of the infamous dive came together to trade their wildest Mars Bar stories and create a few more while they still had the chance. Others came to gape, letting the stench of decades’ worth of spilled beer, urine, and vomit seep into the fibers of their Polo shirts — to be smelled later as proof that they had ventured into the stinky little pit of New York’s past before it was demolished and replaced with the scentless condo towers of New York present. By July 18, the actual last day, the hubbub had died down and the impromptu candlelight vigil was attended almost exclusively by bar regulars, including a man who called himself Johnny Bizarre — who I once saw hammer a nail into his penis in Mars Bar for the customers’ amusement — and a few members of the local press.
Mars Bar was proof that the New York of old-timer lore really did exist, and there was a sense that once it was gone, that would be the end. “This place is the last of its kind,” said a regular with a spiked bi-hawk and a studded leather jacket, who introduced himself as Super Sexy Cisco. “Just like me; I’m the last living gutter punk.”
The last few weeks at Mars had the air of an Irish funeral; refusing to wallow in self-pity or lament their loss, the iconic shithole’s friends and family mustered all the boisterous abandon they could to give it a proper sendoff — writing their good-byes in Sharpie on the already-covered walls, and sometimes screaming them aloud as if in some drunken, derelict Baptist church.
The fact that no definite date had been set as the last night just added to the desperation. It made it feel more like waiting for actual death — you know it’s coming, sometimes you even know it’s coming soon, but you don’t get the relief of knowing exactly when.
Eventually people got sick of showing up every night just in case it might be the last, only to walk by the next day and see the bar fully operational. “There’s nothing wrong with a victory lap,” said a longtime regular who calls himself King Crazy Dave the Awesome. “But then five victory laps, that ain’t so cool.”
One man came in several times during the last weeks, trying to get patrons to pre-order pieces of the scratched, scribbled-on, booze- and blood-stained wooden bar, which he said he would mount on plaques. During the last week of June I saw a few people buy pins from him. The next week, as he was calling out his wares, “for the memories,” one patron replied, “I’ve gotten a blowjob in the bathroom here, I don’t need a piece of the bar.”
There had been speculation for months about whether the mystery around the end date was intentional. Moonshine, a Mars Bar-tender, pointed out, “look at how people treat this place when it’s their home — imagine what they would do if they knew it was over,” indicating the graffiti and filth on every surface of the bar. Whether it was a ploy or whether the owner was actually as far in the dark as the patrons, it was only fitting that in the end Mars went out the way it lived, celebrated by a devoted few, and considered quizzically and from afar by the rest.