[Photo by Goggla]
Word is circulating that Hank Penza, who owned the Mars Bar, died on Oct. 29.
There isn't much information about his passing at the moment. A member of the Facebook group "Mars Bar was a riot in the Nineties" confirmed his death with a Penza family member. He was believed to be 81 or 82.
His bar ownership began in 1957 on the Bowery Among them: Hank’s Crystal Palace, Willie’s, the Penthouse and Bowery East.
Penza opened the Mars Bar in 1982 (or 1984 depending on the source) on Second Avenue and East First Street, where it continued until its demise in July 2011.
In 2005, the Observer published a colorful feature on Penza. To some excerpts:
His father came to New York from Italy as a boy and worked on the Brooklyn Bridge before serving in World War I. He was, said Mr. Penza, a “great provider” and a “stark-raving-mad right-winger” who hated Franklin Roosevelt and the smell of perfume.
Young Hank started working early. He and his pals in Corona, Queens, would go “junking”: loading up a horse and wagon with milk bottles and stuff to sell.
Soon he was helping out at crap games, doing what were called “mopey pinches”: Whenever the bookmakers got busted, they’d pay Hank $50 to go to court, and he’d be back on the street in hours.
At 19, he got a $200-a-week job at the “21” Club. He wore a tux, took reservations and ran errands. If a man dining with his wife needed to make contact with his mistress at the Stork Club, he’d deliver the message.
He joined a crew called the 40 Thieves and started making money by “cleaning up” bars (i.e., getting rid of undesirables). Once they spent two weeks getting rid of some ruffians from a bar by sending them to another one across the street. A month later, they paid the ruffians $3 each to return to the first bar so the 40 Thieves could get the job back.
But he said he declined offers to join the Mafia.
“Nobody can make me, man,” he said. “I’m a made man. My name is Penza-we’re made, period. We don’t need that shit. That’s all movie stuff.”
His reputation grew. Two British guys gave him $1,500 to clean up their bar on lower Fifth Avenue, which had been overrun by pimps.
In 1957, he bought a bar at 12 Bowery and renamed it Henry’s.
After the Mars Bar closed, rumors circulated that Penza would open a new bar nearby. Thiose plans never materialized, though he was reportedly a partner in the business that eventually opened in the Jupiter 21 building on Second Avenue and East First Street.
Back to the Observer profile…
Still, he said, even now, New York is the only place to be. “I love it,” he said. “It’s the greatest place in the fucking world. There’s no place like this, man, and I’ve been all over the world. I love this city because they make me somebody. When I go somewhere else, they don’t treat me as well as they do. Here, they treat me with elegance. In Florida, I’m a little fucking scumbag.”
[Photo by Goggla]
The New York Times published a feature obit today.
Per the article:
In addition to his son William, he is survived by another son, Mark; a daughter, Kim; and three grandchildren.
William and Mark Penza own Billymark’s West, a bar of the Mars Bar stripe, on Ninth Avenue at 29th Street.