by Steve Dollar
I remember the first time I visited the Mars Bar. It was 1997, and a friend dragged me there very late one night. It was the kind of East Village dive, just a block off the Bowery, that seemed like a hallucination: dank, dark, walls covered in graffiti and gonzo artwork, lots of cheap canned beer, a jukebox stuffed with Stooges, Motorhead and local scum-rock acts, and a clientele from... Mars. There were only three people in the place, besides us and the bartender, a young woman who looked exactly like the kind of neighborhood siren who you saw, naked, in an R. Kern
photo collection: a dwarf, a blind man and a Native American. Was this a Tom Waits
song? Somehow two of them got into a fight. And then someone was forcibly locked into the bathroom. More drinks were served, and eventually everyone was back at the bar, a thick haze of cigarette smoke (ah, the '90s!) the ideal ambience for the murder beat lurching out of the juke's tinny speakers.
"You've been in that bathroom?" Jonas Mekas
asked me after I told him the story, in a tone one might use when debriefing a refugee from the abyss.
Now 89, the New York filmmaker and archivist speaks from experience. Mekas has spent a third of his life drinking at the Mars Bar. The dive at the corner of Second Avenue and First Street opened in the early 1980s, when Mekas was busy renovating the future site of his Anthology Film Archives
, a block away.
"We came into existence together, so it was friendship," he said, chatting over Lithuanian beer and vodka shots at the Anyway Cafe, one of several East Village bars he frequents more often since Mars Bar closed last June (and was subsequently demolished). The demise of the bar, a refuge for the neighborhood's old-school bohemians, artists and rogues, prompted the filmmaker to edit more than 15 years of casual video footage into My Mars Bar Movie, which runs this weekend at Anthology.
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