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Activists Plan March to Mourn Mars Bar

EAST VILLAGE — A group of neighborhood activists plan to party outside the recently shuttered Mars Bar as part of a demonstration this weekend timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park riots.

John Penley, a longtime local documentarian and agitator, organized the event to address some of the recent changes in the East Village, including the loss of Mars Bar and the Guggenheim’s recent opening of a temporary arts space just across the street.

“I’m doing it by popular request,” said Penley, 59, who will lead the group past the pop-up art space on its way to Mars Bar to party in honor of the notoriously gritty saloon, which closed after nearly three decades to make way for a new condo complex at the site.

“We’re asking people to bring barbecue sauce,” he added. “We’re going to serve barbecued real estate developer and beer.”

Penley said he was invited by Guggenheim staff to participate in the wide array of programming included in the space’s 10-week run, but declined because the crowd is not his type.

“It was just bunch of white people who looked like art patrons from the Upper West Side,” he said, adding that he plans to contribute to the traveling exhibition’s theme of “Confronting Comfort” by making guests feel as uncomfortable as possible with street performances by panhandlers.

The action, Penley explained, gets back to the root of what originally caused the Tompkins Square Park riots in 1988, when activists and the homeless squared off with police after the city moved to rid the park of squatters.

“It’s something more than just another concert in the park,” he said of the Tompkins’ yearly anniversary concerts. “They’ve kind of forgotten the original reason they’re doing it.”

The demonstration also includes a stop at a highly publicized East Third Street building that was converted into a single-family mansion, resulting in the mass eviction of tenants.

“I enjoy stuff like this. This is the way I have my fun,” Penley said, adding that he hopes the demonstration elicits an equally strong reaction. “I want the police there.”

The march begins at the corner of East Third Street and Second Avenue at 8 p.m., Sat., Aug. 5.