NEW YORK — “Something that lasts this long is almost like a social bear trap; everyone comes through it,” says John McDonald, owner of SoHo mainstay MercBar, which celebrates its 13th year in business this week. Indeed, since the Adirondacks-inspired watering hole opened on Mercer Street in 1993, luminaries from Sarah Jessica Parker to Jerry Garcia have passed through its discreetly marked doors.
Its heyday was undoubtedly in the early Nineties, before Marc Jacobs and Prada had colonized the street. Most of the neighborhood storefronts and lofts were empty and the Mercer Hotel was merely another building under development and stuck in bureaucratic limbo. McDonald, then 24, opened MercBar with the naïveté only someone his age could. “I really wanted to have a lot of fun and have a party every night,” he recalls. “I never envisioned it lasting. I knew these things lasted about a year.”
One year turned into two and then Billy Gilroy, now owner of West Village boîte Employees Only, opened the restaurant Match across the street and suddenly the pair of hot spots became the dynamic duo of the New York nightlife scene.
But the chic set can be fickle. Eventually Match shut down and the partiers moved on to places like Moomba, Lotus and eventually Bungalow 8. Yet, MercBar has managed to stay afloat by subtly weaving its way into the fabric of the ever-changing neighborhood. “MercBar became a great spot to come after work, when you’re shopping, after a movie at the Angelika, to meet before dinner, meet after dinner,” McDonald says. “If you can plug yourself into all those different scenarios, that’s what drives it.”