The news of Mars Bar's demise is much in the air these days. I can't look to the future, the fat glass tower of nothing that will rise on the corner of Second Avenue and First Street, so I'm looking to the past. The deep past. (I'm not the only one doing this today.)
NYPL: looking north at 1st St.
Imagine, sometime in the early part of the 20th century, you step out of your tenement loft above the dreary Woolworth Theatre, the building that will one day house something called the Mars Bar in a world you can't even begin to imagine. The theater is shut down, empty, its hollows sectioned into stores for lease.
NYPL, looking west along 1st St.
It's a warm day. You are bored. Across the way are the Second Avenue Baths, but you're not in the mood for a schvitz. You're schvitzing enough as it is. You walk to 1st Street and look west, but the million barber shops of Bowery do not beckon to you. You head north instead.
NYPL, looking north up 2nd Ave. from 1st
The block is a riot of signage for hotels, chiropodist offices, haberdasheries. The Happyland Restaurant tempts you with something cold. You consider going into the Photoplays to see a double bill of Blue Skies--that Helen Twelvetrees always makes you cry--and Come Across, the drama of socialites, gangsters, and dancing girls, but you're not in the mood for a picture today. You're not in the mood for anything.
Blue Skies gets that Irving Berlin tune into your head, and now you're whistling it as you continue up the block. At the 2nd Avenue theater, you look at a poster of Molly Picon, star of the Yiddish stage. Tonight she'll be singing and dancing in a musical by Rumshinsky and Kalich, but right now her voice blasts out of a phonograph, singing the joys of Coney Island hot dogs.
Further up the block, a circus museum has set up shop, offering a ten-cent glimpse of "Human Freaks and Wonders" like Zip and Pip, the pinheads. An outside talker regales you with tales of the amazing and the astonishing. "Not for the faint of heart," he says. You continue walking, but inertia quickly takes over. You stop into the dairy restaurant for an egg cream, then head home again, back to the Woolworth Theatre, to the corner of 1st and 2nd.
You look into the empty window on the corner, past the For Lease sign, and wonder what will move in. Cupping your hands to the glass, looking in at the dusty space, you hope for a barroom. They say Prohibition will be over soon. Wouldn't it be nice to just walk downstairs, prop your elbows on the wood, and knock back something refreshing?
The SW corner of 1st and 2nd