I Guess I’ll Have the Red Sauce: Mars 2112

We're looking back at some of the entries of The New York Grimpendium with unpublished photos and adapted accounts of my visits to these macabre oddities. Pick up the book today!

February 4, 2018 — I reckon that with all the flashing lights, marketing stunts, strange characters, and general chaos of Times Square, were an extraterrestrial spaceship to land in its vicinity, nobody would notice. And if those same aliens opened up a restaurant at their landing site, people would notice just as far as it was a new place to grab dinner and drinks. And then those extraterrestrials would wire home that humans were a pretty cool lot.

I knew that the address to the science fiction-themed eatery that is Mars 2112 was 1633 Broadway at 51st Street, and when we were about a block away I could see the tall metal shaft that was its sign blazing its vertically arranged name in red. But I couldn’t see the restaurant, which was strange because themed restaurants usually go overboard to extend their theme to their facades to grab people’s attention, especially in a crowded marketplace like New York City. So where was it?

Finally, as we got closer to the sign, we saw the restaurant. It really was at 1633 Broadway. Well, under 1633 Broadway, anyway.

Below us was a large, square courtyard sunk about a story or so into the ground. It was too regular for it to be the crater that the Martians had created on landing, but would have made for a great underground base. Yup, while shake the perimeter fences of Nevada’s Area 51 and scour the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the aliens were calmly serving us burgers in mid-town Manhattan.

The only object in the bare subterranean courtyard was a spaceship. Only is a bad modifier there. The identified flying saucer was about the size of a small car and set on a seven-foot-tall column. The entrance to the restaurant itself was across from it in a side wall of the submerged courtyard.

We walked in and were greeted by a less than enthusiastic man in sci-fi duds and a Doc Brown wig. He asked us if we wanted to go straight to the restaurant or hit the simulator first, which, he was careful to explain, wasn’t a simulator anymore but just a movie.

Operating under the general assumption I have in life that a broken simulator is better than no simulator, we opted for it and were ushered into a small theater room designed to look like the interior of a spaceship. We chose a couple of the two dozen or so seats that faced the screen, and, a few minutes of CGI-animated journey through space later, we “landed” on Mars and were ushered into the restaurant.

Or, more accurately, were ushered into a rocky tunnel which wound past an arcade room, a bar, and a few fake space hatches. Eventually, this tunnel opened out onto the main hall of the restaurant, which the website describes as “a 35,000-square-foot, bi-level, multi-dimensional, immersive environment.”

I’m going to agree with that description while adding that it was, well, extremely red. The entire interior was decorated to look like a large underground Martian cave, lit or painted red, maybe both, and the glowing red atmosphere made me feel like I was suddenly seeing in a different spectrum of light. The ceiling had a fake skylight showing a night sky and was covered with helium balloons that children had let go in the course of their Martian spelunking.

One rocky wall was taken up by a giant screen where some kind of alien newscaster talked about the news on Mars for the day. Meanwhile, three costumed actors wandered the area, posing for pictures, handing out balloons, and generally just trying to act alien. One was a short, three-eyed, mascot-type costume, another wore a skin-tight leotard with a reptilian mask, and the third was an extravagant Martian queen dress with fiber optic highlights and a pointed forehead. Mars 2112 is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Like most themed restaurants, the food was unmemorable…because it wasn’t the point. We ordered fish and ribs from whatever the local fauna of Mars is and got an expensive tab in return, especially because we ordered a few of their space-themed cocktails. It cost NASA $280 million to get a small robot rover onto the planet, so having to import whatever liqueur tastes like butterscotch probably affects the pricing.

Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of interactivity to the theme of the restaurant. You’re in a big red cave trying not to make eye-contact with a three-eyed mascot and checking your bank balance on your smartphone, wondering if you can afford another cordial since the only thing that whets alcoholism more than being in a surreal environment is being in a familiar one.

And if you have one too many of those, it’s no problem. All the exit signs are clearly labeled, “Earth.”

NOTE: Mars 2112 closed in January 2012, about a year after I visited. Another one for the dead oddities pile.

This fascinating site and some 250 more can be found in the dark depths of The New York Grimpendium. Buy it today.