The first time I ever visited the infamous Mars Bar, it was sometime during the ’90s. It was your typical run-down dive bar. It also had the only bathroom I was hesitant to use – and in the Lower East Side area of NYC, that’s saying a lot.
I went back a few more times, but I wouldn’t say I was a regular. Back then, my hang outs of choice was Max Fish (original location), Coney Island High and Mother’s. Later on, I would visit The Raven Cafe and this small gay bar across the street from Raven called The Cock. In the late ’90s, The Cock would have this outrageous party ever Saturday night titled ‘What Would You Do For $100?’ Trust me, at that particular party, I’ve seen what people would do for $100, but that’s for another blog post.
Before Mars Bar closed down for good, it’s glory days were pretty much over. Last time I was there, must’ve been sometime in 2008 or 2009. There was barely anyone inside. In 2012, its doors shuttered. Now some overpriced bourgeois restaurant stands in its place. Like New York City needs another un-affordable eatery.
So fast forward to 2015. My friend who was a Mars bar regular informed me about an open call for art at the Whitebox Gallery. Quickly I grabbed some of my framed work to hang at the group show.
There was two parties at Whitebox. One was the installation party, in which mayhem was already in full bloom when I arrived. Free beer was flowing and music was blasting as the Mars bar reunion ensued. It wasn’t long when half-filled beer cans was being thrown at some of other attendants.
As for the exhibit itself. The opening party was called ‘Last Night At Mars Bar.’ It was part of a bigger exhibit called ‘The Last Party.’ The Last Party was curated by Anthony Haden-Guest and highlights NYC nightlife from 1975 to the early 90s. Anthony Haden-Guest is a writer/cartoonist/art critic and has documented NYC underground downtown culture at its zenith. I was personally lucky to have gone to such places like Limelight, Tunnel, The World, and Danceteria. Especially when I was under-aged during the Danceteria days. Dancerteria was one of the first places I ever clubbed at, back when I was in high school. (I also went to Studio 54 when I was in junior high back in the early ’80s, and yes, that’s also another story within itself. I couldn’t, however get into Boy George’s birthday party over at Palladium, because I was under-aged. I did sneak into Palladium a year and half later, for another party. Once again, another story.)
Anyway, back to Mars Bar. You see, Whitebox is a non-profit gallery which focuses on ‘culturally relevant work.’ Yes, that dive bar has become ‘culturally relevant.’ Before the ‘Last Night At Mars Bar’ event, I visited Whitebox once before. It was a part of some Lower East Side art crawl festival. What was the theme – pizza? I can’t remember. Just a lot of free beer, and the night’s curator getting really upset when elderly old Chinese ladies dropped by to collect the discarded beer cans for recycling money. The female curator tried to shoo the ladies out, but since the ladies probably didn’t know any English, the curator was simply ignored. While the well dressed curator had this sour expression upon her expensively made-up face, someone in the crowd commented ‘Welcome to the real New York, lady.” The curator was not amused.
Whoever put this latest show together didn’t seem that bothered by the old Mars bar crew. In fact, the security guard was actually pretty chill. Meanwhile, the Mars Bars reunion was in full effect. East Village nostalgia.
The next night was the opening party. It pretty much picked up where the installation party left off. The show was the opening party was ‘Last Night At Mars Bar Variety Shit Show’ hosted by Johnny Bizzare. A band called The Sunnyside Social Club performed as well.
At the end of the opening party, a tad bit of sadness came over me. New York City has changed. Although there is less crime than back in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s organic creative chaos is gone. There’s still bits and pieces here and there but it’s more hipster contrived now. Nice, and safe, and guaranteed not to offend in the age of political correctness. Completely bland.
Hopefully this current state of NYC with its overpriced rents is a temporary thing.
I watched the rest of the crowd sing merrily in the street, then head over to some watering hole nearby, in true Mars bar fashion. Since there were responsibilities to take care of the next day, this was my cue to head home. If you want to see the exhibit yourself, and you just happen to be in the NYC area, you have up until Aug. 23rd. At least I could now say I had my work shown in the infamous L.E.S.