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Photo by Marie Torio
Madam Marie’s brings
the boardwalk to Astoria
BY REBECCA PATTON
Th e fi rst thing you’ll notice about
Madam Marie’s is a glowing, neon Tillie
Face in the window that, to the uninitiated,
could easily be mistaken for a clown.
And for good reason: Th e Tillie Face is
Asbury Park’s unoffi cial logo and features
a grinning carnival worker (likely
George C. Tilyou, who founded both
Coney Island and Asbury Park), his hair
parted down the middle and curling
up at the ends. Madam Marie’s, a new
bar on Broadway, is a dizzying homage
to Asbury Park, although owner Mike
Higgins says the theme was inspired
by the Bruce Springsteen song, “4th of
July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” Th e lyrics
describe the characters who frequented
the boardwalk, including the famous fortune
teller Madam Marie, whose booth
was an Asbury Park staple.
“I’m a Jersey boy myself,” Higgins said.
“Grew up on the boardwalk, worked on
the boardwalk, was under the boardwalk
a few times.” He wanted to bring that feel
and energy to Astoria.
Higgins and his business partner, Barry
Spellman, also run the similarly quirky
Judy & Punch bar on 30th Avenue,
which they opened about four years ago.
Th ey saw that there was room to expand
in Astoria and began renovating the
space — previously a Croatian soccer
bar — for Madam Marie’s last year. Paul
Raff erty, a bartender at Judy & Punch, is
also a co-owner of Marie’s, and they have
another partner named Ted Gaylor, who
also owns a sports bar in Brooklyn.
Higgins and Spellman did all of the
renovating themselves, with help from
Spellman’s brother, Mark.
“We probably made a thousand trips
to Home Depot,” Higgins said. Th eir
soft opening was on Dec. 15, 2017, and
they’ve been spreading the good word of
Marie’s through social media and wordof
mouth. Although he said fi nding the
bar’s decorations was “a nightmare,”
their work paid off : Eclectic, slightly
deranged objects line the walls, like a
mounted stag head draped in Mardi
Gras beads. And then there’s the vintage
arcade game, Tic Tac Strike, which
Higgins and Spellman found on eBay.
Ironically, the only one they found was
located in Asbury Park.
Th e bar’s main attractions, however,
are three spray-painted murals, which
were done by Brooklyn muralist Danielle
Mastrion. Higgins met her through a
mutual friend, who knew that Higgins
was looking for a muralist and that
Mastrion excelled at carnival-themed artwork.
Mastrion lives in Sheepshead Bay
and grew up in Coney Island, so she was
perfect for the gig. Th e biggest of her three
murals is located along the bar’s back wall
and depicts a Madam Marie-like fi gure
holding a crystal ball up to her eye, which
is magnifi ed through the glass.
For inspiration, Mastrion was given a
folder of reference images — “a mood
folder!” she laughed — fi lled with photographs
like Springsteen playing at the
Stone Pony, vintage carnival signs and
people on the boardwalk. She described
herself as a kid in a candy shop looking
through the lookbook.
“I never had a client do my homework
for me,” Mastrion said. “I really feel like
we all really collaborated and worked
together to make the vision they had
come to life.”
Higgins is happy with the results, too.
“I’m glad we got her because she did a
fantastic job,” he said of Mastrion.
In addition to painting the walls,
Mastrion also helped Higgins and
Spellman fi nd the soon-to-be-famous
Tillie Face light, which hangs in the front
window. When she found out they were
looking for some vintage signage as decoration,
she recommended her friend
Tommy Holiday, Coney Island’s sign
painter. Holiday had previously made the
neon light and was trying to fi nd the right
home for it.