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Sad goodbye to Mare Chiaro

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Maybe you never noticed Mare Chiaro on Mulberry Street. It was the bar - the only bar - on Mulberry Street. In fact, it was one of the only two bars I know of in Little Italy. Since I moved to New York, it had been one of the last places you could get a glimpse of what Little Italy had been like before it became "Little Italy" the tourist theme park. I don't know when Mare Chiaro opened, but I believe ownership had been in the same family for at least a couple of generations. In a fashion typical of an old family business, it made no efficient use of its space or location. It was just the way it was.


A very large, high-ceilinged, rectangular room, roughly divided into two areas by a wooden partition, it boasted a solid old bar, illogically stretched across the narrow end of the room nearest the door. This meant that if there was any kind of crowd - and to be honest, there rarely was - it would be clustered around the short bar, leaving the rest of the space pretty much empty. It was a cigar-smokers bar, when that was permitted, with a sweet-smelling fug. Most of the male customers were no strangers to hair cream and pomades. The juke box played not only Frank Sinatra, but also all those Italian singers you've never heard of who had once hoped to be Frank Sinatra.


A large painting of the bar in its heyday, featuring the then owner, hung on the wall opposite the door, alongside a full-length portrait of a gentleman I believe was his father. The huge mirrors behind the bar were messed up with a few wise-guy stickers and some photos of customers. An odd assortment of furniture was scattered about the tiled floor.


So, I am walking past this institution on Saturday morning, when I notice that the windows are uncommonly full of posters. Looking up, my heart sank. It is no longer Mare Chiaro. It is "The Mulberry Tavern". Among other things, the posters propose Karaoke Nights and chicken in a basket. The penultimate insult was a large photograph of "Tony Soprano", signalling unmistakeably that what had once been a Little Italy bar had now become a "Little Italy" bar.


Inside the saloon, now crowded with tourists, looking beyond seven or eight flat-screen TVs showing a rodeo event, I found the ultimate insult. The portrait of the owner's father still hangs as before. But right across the bottom half, someone with the soul of a snake-oil salesman, had pasted the upcoming football schedule.


You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

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  • 15 years later...

This is so sad for me. I worked at the old NYPD HQ at 240 Centre Street and the Annex @ 400 Broome Street from 1964 to 1967.  The official name for this bar/restaurant in my day was MARE CHIARO, but everyone called it "Tony's." They used to serve the greatest Italian food. Owner Tony personally greeted everyone who came in, cop or gangster. Over the years I have seen Tony's in DONNIE BRASCO and THE SPORANOS. It brought back great memories. In 1969 I was in the U.S. Army on military leave from the NYPD and had not had  Italian food for over a year. Before going home, the first thing I did was to eat a veal parmigiana at Tony's!

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