The Dive Bar's Dilemma

by BILLY GRAY · October 19, 2009

    Sometimes it seems like you can divide downtown bars into two categories: those that thrive on celebrities and those that shun them. The trendy spots are pretty obvious, although in constant flux. The Box, Beatrice Inn and Jane Ballroom are all recent Page 6 magnets. But what happens when the Botox-and-Restylane set leaves its comfort zone and mingles with the proles?

    Mars Bar is one of the unlikeliest celebrity joints in Manhattan. It's a punk relic of the East Village, with bathrooms that haven't been cleaned since the Reagan administration and a crew of antique regulars that might predate the East Village itself. So it came as a surprise when Drew Barrymore dropped by in August for a Nylon photoshoot. And then again when "preternaturally pretty" Gossip Girl actor Penn Badgley sat down with a Times reporter for a Sunday Styles profile.

    When a glossy star visits a filthy dive, does it boost the celebrity's cred or hurt the bar's? In the case of Mars Bar, most patrons are either too old to know who Drew or Penn are, too blitzed to recognize them or too cool to care. Besides, with "Mars Bar: The Last Bastion of Indecency" scrawled in marker across its door, you can't expect the place to go all reverse snob and actually keep anyone out.

    It's easier for rich actors to take a step down the nightlife ladder than for the unwashed masses to climb it. But as long as there's enough warmed over Budweiser to keep Mars Bar going, crusty barflies and famous interlopers should be happy.