Oysters and cocktails amid salvaged beauty.
October 8th, 2013
Jazz warbles from custom made, retro-inspired speakers. Patrons sit on Bentwood chairs underneath light bulbs encased in vintage gloves. Oyster selections—tonight there are British Columbia Kusshi and Cape Cod Barnstable among the offerings—are scrawled on a chalkboard. A bowtie-donning bartender carefully stirs a Sazerac. Mar’s is the name of this dimly lit joint, and it is not found on a picturesque street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, but a corner in Astoria.
“People tell me it reminds them of New Orleans, but to me it feels Viennese, maybe even a little French,” says Evan Roumeliotis, the Greece-born, Queens-bred owner of Mar’s. “I wanted it to be old man-sexy.”
When he took over a run-of-the-mill Greek taverna, Roumeliotis, who also helms neighborhood watering hole Sparrow, didn’t immediately envision a seductive oyster bar serving classic cocktails in its stead. “I find the space first,” he points out, “then I toy with the concept.” One look around, and it’s hard to believe Mar’s hasn’t welcomingly held court here for decades. Along with his design-savvy pals Tom Fade and Clemens Kois, he gutted the restaurant and transformed it into an ode to old-timey glamour.
Across the street from Mar’s—a nod to both the sea and Roumeliotis’ daughter Maria—is the supermarket Bravo. But to a large swath of Astorians, the space will always be Tupelo, the divey rock and roll bar with the disco ball that shuttered in 2005. Roumeliotis owned that, too, and although its loyal patrons still miss the music and camaraderie his bar engendered, they also remember it as a showcase for Roumeliotis’ thoughtful approach to design, like the bar fashioned from old church doors. That same devotion to detail is on display at Mar’s.
Road trips to the likes of Albany and York, Pennsylvania, yielded a number of salvaged gems for Mar’s. In back, the big, flung-open slanted doors discovered at nearby Build it Green! are the very same ones that appeared in a Lady Gaga video. The floor is crafted from reclaimed lumber, cut into thin, elegant plinths. And a panel of layered, poured glass casting a dreamy sheen comes from a church—as do the pews, which Roumeliotis hand upholstered and rechristened as banquettes. On eBay, he learned about a stash of circa-1800s his and hers armoires, but by the time Roumeliotis got to them, all that remained were scrappy frames, which he cut and reworked along the back wall.
A hulking I-beam in the center of the room at first frustrated Roumeliotis, but as the bar’s graceful form took shape, “dictated by the column,” he admits it has become Mar’s centerpiece. Making it all the more alluring is a façade comprised of old pews plucked from a courthouse, and the handmade beer tower incorporating the roll top of a dismantled secretary.
This is what happens, notes Roumeliotis, “when you put together a restaurant piecemeal.”