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Monday
Mar122012

Ghosts

Once in a while I go and look at the bar list over at my blog, A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars. The other night I went and looked at posts of three bars that meant a lot to me and are now closed. The three bars are: The P&G, The Stoned Crow and Mars Bar. I thought I’d post some photos of those places that I took for 365 Bars and go out and see what they look like tonight. It’ll be kind of like looking at ghosts.

The original iconic P&G neon sign. This sign was like a beacon on the Upper West Side on the corner of Amsterdam and 73rd for 66 years. It had been featured in the movie Donnie Brasco and in an episode of Seinfeld.

Needless to say, it was a little disappointing to see this plastic sign hanging at the new P&G, a few blocks away from the original location on Columbus, when I went back to the new location on the bar crawl.

It was great to see Steve Chahalis again, he’s a fourth generation owner/bartender at P&G. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but sure as shit on a red-hot shingle, as soon as he saw me he bellowed out, “Where the hell have you been!” It felt like old times.

Steve took me to the back room and showed me the mirror from the back of the original bar and the wooden railing from the bar itself. It lined the wall in the room.

As I looked at it I wondered how many hours I had spent with my elbows on top of it. I was happy for Steve and hoped he would make a go of it. I knew the odds were against it.

Here's where the original P&G once stood on the corner of 73rd and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A sidewalk shed hides the spot where the iconic neon sign once blazed.

It's now a fancy bakery/wine place. Ugh.

And here's the site of the second P&G bar. It sits vacant over a year since they closed in this location.

This sign fills me with dread thinking what will come in here next. A chain store? A cupcake shop? Another buck a slice pizza place?

Here’s a shot of the Stoned Crow from the bar crawl. It was a basement bar and a great place to hang out.

The bar had two rooms. The front was the large wooden bar with colorful pictures and posters hanging on the wall behind it.

There’s pool tables and more photos and art hanging on the walls in the large back room.

And speaking of photos, the bathrooms were filled with them and if you wanted a copy of one, all you had to do was ask the owner Betty.

Speaking of Betty, here she is the night she told me the news that they were going to close on New Year’s Eve of 2010. I snapped the photo before she told me. It’s the last time I saw her smile.

This is the bar on New Year’s Eve, early in the evening. The mood was grim and kind of felt like you were at a wake. Maybe it got better as the night wore on, but I had a couple beers and left. A sad evening.

A final goodbye obligatory-mirror shot in the bathroom before I left The Stoned Crow for the last time.

And two years later, the space is still empty. Memories and ghosts are all that's left of the Stoned Crow.

Everybody always asks me what my favorite bar on the bar crawl was and I never hesitate to tell them: “Easter Sunday at Mars Bar!”

Everybody was drawing on a mannequin that day, so I joined in after Terry let me borrow a marker.

I always loved that there was a Marty sticker on the cash register in there!

Nothing says, “Happy Easter” like the crowd at the Mars Bar.

After a few hours of drinking, I decided we needed an Easter Dinner at Mars Bar. I ordered in a couple pizzas from Two Boots and everybody was appreciative and sent several drinks my way. I don’t remember going home, but it was the best Easter Sunday and the best time I had on the whole bar crawl.

The following year I was doing my Marty After Dark blog and wanted to do something special on Easter Sunday that year at Mars. They were having a barbecue outside the bar, so I thought I’d bring dessert. I got a cake and decorated it and ended up with the infamous “Jesus Fucking Christ” cake. It was a big hit at the bar.

Several hours and a lot of drinks later, Goggla, Ed and I were at the bar and we noticed the cake was melting. I stuck a chicken wing in it and it started what I like to think of as a combination performance art/sculpture. It was mainly Goggla, Ed and I that worked on the cake, but others joined in and I thought it was a great way to end another Easter Sunday at Mars Bar. I wonder where I’ll go this year?

July 17th, 2011. Little did we know that this would be our last moment at Mars Bar.

Today a sidewalk shed covers the construction work as a condominium grows where Mars Bar once stood.

All that remains is a portion of a piece of art that Mike Grey did featuring Mars Bar owner Hank Penza. To see the entire piece of art, check out this post at EV Grieve.

Ghosts
The P&G was my first hangout when I moved to New York City in the summer of 1993. The joint was split into two rooms. The bar was in the front room and there were booths and a jukebox in the back of the bar. I walked in there on a hot Saturday afternoon in July and sat at the bar and was eyed suspiciously by the inhabitants already there who were downing their drinks, smoking and eating potato chips out of 25 cent bags sold behind the bar. After drinking about half of a beer, a middle-aged guy sitting next to me with greasy hair and a pock-marked face accentuated by a gin blossom nose asked me if I lived in the neighborhood. I told him I had just moved to New York from Peoria, Illinois and that I lived a couple blocks away. That brought some curious sideways glances from some of the colorful patrons at the bar and I rightly assumed they were all regulars. Having spent a copious amount of time in bars since I was first served a beer when I was 16-years-old, I knew what I had to do.

“Hey bartender,” I shouted out, “since I’m the new guy here, I’d like to buy a round for the bar, please!”

The drinks weren’t even served and I had already made a bar full of new friends. I became a regular after that and spent countless hours drinking beer and shooting the shit at the P&G. Four years later in 1997 I moved downtown to 16th street. I found a new hangout closer to my apartment there, and like so many fickle New Yorkers, I kind of forgot about the P&G as I settled into the Stoned Crow, my new “local.”

About a year later, I found myself up in my old neighborhood, the Upper West Side.
I was meeting friends at a restaurant and was early as usual. I decided to stop in at the P&G and have a beer. Steve, the owner’s son and a veteran bartender in there did a double take when I walked in and sat at the bar.

“Where you been,” he asked opening up a beer for me, “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks!”

We both laughed when I told him it had been well over a year!

Time stands still in a joint like the P&G. And the clock literally stops when the greedy landlord throws you out, hoping to bring in a chain or artisanal bakery that can afford three times the rent.
When I was doing the 365 Bar Crawl, I didn’t have the luxury of having a “regular” bar for a year. I had to go to a different bar every night, so I kind of abandoned my usual bar, The Stoned Crow. On December 19th, 2010, I was getting close to the end of my journey of bars. My friend, Gene Rubbico of the BBC was in town and we went to the Amity Hall for Cheeseburger Saturday Night and the 343rd stop of the crawl. After dinner and drinks, Gene and I were wandering around and all of a sudden we realized we were a block away from the Stoned Crow. I hadn’t been to my regular bar since the previous April, when it was my 84th night of my year of bar crawling.

We stopped in, walked down to the familiar basement bar and I said hi to Josh the bartender. I apologized for being away for so long, but told him after the bar crawl was over on January 10th, I’d be back to being a weekly regular. He gave me a funny look and said, “Betty’s in the back office, why don’t you go say hi to her.”

Then he quickly shuffled away from me with a sour look on his face. He was usually a real friendly guy. I got a bad feeling in my stomach and wondered what was going on. Betty was the owner and while I was happy to say hi to her, I found it odd that he told me to go back and see her. Something felt wrong.

I went back to the office and found Betty at her desk and said hi. She smiled, said hi and asked how the bar crawl was going. I told her it was almost over and that after the new year I’d be a regular again.

The smile on her face quickly faded away. She looked pained as told me that was closing the bar and that New Year’s Eve would be the last night The Stoned Crow would be open. Her lease was up and the landlord wanted to triple the rent and she told me there was no way she could stay in business paying rent that high.

My jaw proceeded to hit the ground. I felt like someone hit me in the back of my head with large bag of wet sand. I asked her if she was going to be alright.

“I don’t know,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to hold back tears.

After an awkward silence I told her I was so sorry. It was one of those rare moments when even a motormouth like me is silenced by sadness. We hugged and said goodbye to each other.

I spent a grim hour in there that New Year’s Eve early in the evening and went home feeling depressed and I just wanted to sit at home and drink nine million beers and forget about everything. So that’s what I did.

I hope Betty’s doing okay these days. Fucking landlords.

On July 17th, 2011, I met some friends at the Mars Bar, the bar that was my favorite stop of all the bars I had visited on the 365 Bar Crawl. We were meeting for drinks before one of the legendary Chillmaster Dance Parties. The Mars Bar was going to be closing and then torn down as condominiums were scheduled to start building on that corner. Everyone was sick about the news and no one knew when the fateful last day would be. There was constant rumors and I kept running back on what I had heard was going to be the last day to have a final drink at Mars, only to find out that, miraculously, it was still open the next day. This went on for weeks and I think everyone fell under the false illusion that maybe it would never close.

We were all talking about when the last day of Mars might be that day at the bar. I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if today was the last day?

The next day I woke up with a blistering hangover and found out Mars Bar was closed—for good.
The DOH had shuttered it that morning after finding 850 fruit flies in the joint. So it turns out we were in there on the last day. In retrospect, it wasn’t really that funny at all.

Further Reading: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, Ultraclay Dot Com and Gog in NYC.

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph,
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you.

Surprise link, click on it...I dare you!

Reader Comments (23)

epic heartbreaking post! great stories and photos!!

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D

"Like being the last living cell in a dead body" - A line from the old Dick Van Dyke show. Great piece of writing today, Marty!
http://youtu.be/ez1Z8LthQEI

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaws the Cabbie

It really pisses me off that there is nothing even in the Stoned Crow space ? ... they wanted more rent ... kicked poor Betty out -- and for what ? some landlord somewhere needs a crowbar across his fat head .....

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

@Bobby D: Thanks, it's sad to see those places gone, but I'm thankful for the memories.

@Jaws: Great line from DVD! Glad you liked this and thanks for sending that link, it fits the post perfectly!

@GENE: I hear you about the Stoned Crow! I remember coming back to the bar that night and telling you the news.

March 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

@TWM .... that was a good night ..... we got to the bar - had our beers -- then that throng of people dressed in Snuggies came in and ruined it all ! UFB !

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

NYC can be cruel. Some good places go bust. Then there is the other end of the spectrum. For quite some time I lived across from Doc Holiday's in the EV. Granted I hate country music, but still, on a nightly basis, I would ask myself why that place remained opened while other places shut down.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

@GENE: Those Snuggie pub crawl brigade defined UFB!

@csp: I've never been to Doc Holiday's but I've heard the crowd in there can be trouble! Lots of bad bars in the EV these days, The 13th Step being at the top of the list!

March 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

One of your best posts. It had me longing for places I'd never even been.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterroadsidewonders

That Easter cake still cracks me up!

Aw, I really miss the Stoned Crow. That was one of my 'secret' places and a convenient bathroom stop when in Washington Square Park.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGoggla

Oh man, some really sad stories here- thank you for sharing them! A shame how many bars NYC has lost in the past year. The story of the Stoned Crow is heartbreaking. I hope she and everyone else is ok! We are losing bars but they are losing their livelihood.

Glad to have spent the last day at Mars with you guys! You are right, not funny at all. hahahah!!! I miss that place tremendously.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

@roasdideownders: Thank you! Kind of sad to put this one together, but it also brought back some great memories, which I'm grateful to have!

@Goggla: I break out laughing every time I look at a picture of that cake too! That was a great Easter at Mars Bar! And I hear you about the Stoned Crow! And it sucks it's sat there empty for two years now!

@Lindsay: It is sad and it's all the good ones. Shitholes like the 13th Step are raking the bucks in. I'm glad we all got to experience Mars Bar right up to the bitter end!

March 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Marty this really truly has your heart in it.. thank you for sharing.
i felt your pain with every word...
sad and touching.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

I agree, it's one of your best. A nice look back.
I like the 'ghostly' use of Black and White.
Well done Daddio!

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"Boris"

This post is in the Hall of Fame. No wisecracks, just nice job, Marty.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNed Sparks

@Gidget: Thanks, it was heartfelt and I'm glad it came through. I really miss all those places, but feel lucky I got to spend time in them and make friends in them.

"Boris:" Thanks, Daddio! I was hoping the B&W would evoke ghosts and dreams.

@Ned Sparks: Thanks!

March 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Beautiful places, all three. A sad but lovely post Marty.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteronemorefoldedsunset

I've never undeerstood the logic of some landlords that will raise a rent to "keep pace with the market", not get it, and then have the space remain vacant for an insanely long amount of time. Guess they never heard of the concept of a little bit of something is a lot better than a whole lot of nothing. Greed, no soul and bad businesss sense make for a charming combination.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaveW

@onemorefoldedsunset: Thanks, I'm really glad I got experience all three.

@DaveW: I hear you, I don't get it either! Your last line says it all!

March 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

@Marty, did you ever get a chance to visit the Cedar Tavern?

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuncester

Marty, I loved drinking at the Mars Bar. Great bartenders & lots of friendly women in that bar.
Just got your care package, thanks for the extra's. The Monkey is on the shelf now next to the Martian from Invasion of the Saucer Men.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdanny the freelancer

@Duncester: Sadly I never made it there, heard great things about it though.

@danny the freelancer: The Mars Bar was a one of a kind place and I feel lucky I got to experience it and be part of it in a small way. Glad the package arrived and it sounds like the monkey is in an honored spot! Thanks again for donating and being a sponsor here!

March 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Wow growing up on the UWS in the 70s The P&G was to me the real "grown up bar" One of those things I thought would always be there.

My best friend use to Bartend at the Mars, Do you remember the dog that use to drink there?

Im waiting till the Grassroots shuts down all most all of the real bars on the LES are gone.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

@Ash: I do remember that dog! I'm jealous you got to grow up here in the '70's, you must have some great memories! Back then I was only reading about New York from Peoria, Illinois, via Punk magazine! Hopefully Grassroots will live on forever, I need to stop back in there soon!

March 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

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