Entertainment | Restaurants & Dining | October 2009
|Mark's Bar & Grill: A Love Story|
Roberta Rand - SF Productions
October 02, 2009
Like so many successful partnerships, Mark and Jan McMahon, proprietors of Mark's Bar & Grill in Bucerías, are a study in contrasts. Mark is the taciturn "man's man" from Michigan, who purchased the cantina at the corner of Lázaro Cárdenas and Calle Galena on a whim in 1986.
|Mark's Bar & Grill is located at Lazaro Cardenas #56 in Bucerías, Nayarit. For more information visit MarksBucerias.com For reservations, call (329) 298-0303. |
Jan, who entered the picture a few years later, is the ebullient New Zealander with a flair for marketing, who took Mark's utilitarian sports bar with its no-fuss menu of hotdogs and potato chips, and elevated it to a sophisticated restaurant serving Mediterranean-inspired seafood dishes, savory pizzas and handcrafted breads baked in a brick and stone oven that looks like it was plucked out of a 300 year-old bakery in Provence.
Mark first visited Mexico in the early 1970's, and was immediately drawn to Mexico's culture and people. He eventually studied Spanish at the North American Cultural Institute in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City. He first became aware of Bucerías during trips to see a Mexican girlfriend in La Cruz.
The romance didn't last, but the seed of an idea was planted. Years later, on a subsequent trip to Bucerías, Mark spotted the "Se Vende" sign in the window of the dusty cantina on Lázaro Cárdenas. Mark opened his restaurant in 1990.
Diners at the time consisted of fishermen from the US who occupied a trailer park down the road. After bonding in the morning over their fishing poles, they'd while away the afternoons at Mark's, downing Coronas and watching sports on the TV behind the bar.
"In those days, we had an unbroken view of the ocean through a coconut grove," says Mark. "Days would go by and you wouldn't see a soul on the beach."
Jan, in the meantime, was a world traveler who finally came to settle in Bucerías in 1991. She had a theft-prone perfume/lingerie shop in Puerto Vallarta - and a nascent interest in cooking. The fates seemed to be conspiring to bring her and Mark together.
"Mark had to sell his pickup truck to buy a liquor license," says Jan. "And she had two vehicles," Mark deadpans, "...so I married her."
Jan got the last laugh, however. She sized up the line of rednecks at the bar with their sunburned lower backs exposed where their jeans left off - and promptly dubbed them the "bum cleavage crowd." She vowed to make some needed changes to the menu - and the clientele.
Growth in Bucerías, and at the restaurant, came in spurts. Tablecloths with the Corona logo - premiums from the beer company - were the first nod to something called ambience. After Mark and Jan married, the hotdogs gave way to meatball sandwiches.
Over time, stately columns were erected and new chairs purchased for the dining room. Little by little, Mark's Bar & Grill went upscale. Jan, a self-taught chef, studied books on French, Italian and Mediterranean cooking. She and Mark spent a month in Tuscany studying wines and pizza crusts. Today, the menu boasts entrees like New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Spicy Tempura Tuna Roll and Filet Mignon.
Perhaps the most significant development at Mark's was the brick oven constructed by a blue-eyed Mexican bricklayer named Florencio, overlaid with stones and mortar, and studded with seashells from Jan's native New Zealand. When first built, the enormous oven stood outside in the elements. Eventually, the couple constructed a state-of-the-art kitchen around it.
Jan's signature European style is visible everywhere at Mark's - from the wine bottles, spice jars and savory olive oils artfully arranged on shelves, to her kitchen staff, decked out in crisp white chef jackets and black pinstriped aprons. Mark's Bar & Grill has come a long way from its hotdog and potato chips days. The restaurant has been named in several "Best of" categories by Virtual Vallarta reader's polls.
Jan converted Mark's old bedroom into a gift shop crammed with traditional Mexican pottery, handicrafts and her own signature line of dinnerware. Two years ago, she and Mark purchased the lot across the street and constructed a gallery and home décor store.
Mark's Bar & Grill still retains an air of casual conviviality from its early days. Many members of the bar and kitchen staff have literally grown up while working at the restaurant. Jan points to Pancho, Mark's bartender, who started working at the restaurant at the age of 14. The couple's giant Labrador Retriever, Trombone, saunters through the restaurant at will, and "talks" to the guests.
Jan is proud to point out that Mark's has a long list of loyal "regulars" - people who've dined at Mark's two or three times a week - for years. "Mark's is a place you can just hang out, table hop and chat with your friends," says Jan. "Women can come in here alone, sit at the bar and not worry about being bothered."
She adds, "The 'power' females of Puerto Vallarta routinely gather here to network and exchange gossip - all of them fascinating women." No doubt, the bum cleavage crowd are spinning on their barstools - where ever they are.
It's dusk in Bucerías. Mark and I walk down an alley past the condos that now block the restaurant's view of the beach. Rain is on the way, but the sea and Vallarta in the distance seem to be lit from within by the sun's rays, which splay out from beneath a scrim of bluish-purple clouds.
The air has a peculiar insular quality; the waves and our voices seem amplified, yet distant - swallowed up in the vastness of the seascape. A lone fisherman, neck-deep in the waves, casts his line into the sea. I feel like I'm in church. As we watch the play of shadows on water and pelicans diving in the distance, I ask Mark, "Do you ever miss the old days?"
"Oh, I don't know," Mark answers. "There are perks to all this," he says, waving toward the condos. His paint contracting business boomed as the buildings went up - even as they slowly obscured his view. "I get to play tennis on the court over there," he says, motioning to a high wall with an ornate iron gate.
As the sun drops into the ocean, we make our way back to the restaurant. I suppose Mark has the right idea. You can't turn back time - or stop the changes it brings. The evolution of Bucerías and Mark's Bar & Grill has brought Mark McMahon business success, love and friendships - even if those things were at the expense of the bum cleavage crowd.
Directions: To get to Mark's Bar & Grill, exit the Bucerías Highway just before the first light coming into town and turn left toward the bay through the gateway to the Royal DeCameron Complex. At the bottom of the hill where the road dead ends at the Royal DeCameron, turn right on Lázaro Cárdenas and go about a mile to Mark's at 56A.
Known for its delightful decor and excellent cuisine, Mark's Bar & Grill is located at Lazaro Cardenas #56 in Bucerias, Nayarit. Whether dining at the bar with great conversation or on the outdoor patio under the stars, the Mediterranean and Asian inspired food will exceed your expectations. For reservations, call (329) 298-0303. For more information visit MarksBucerias.com
Click HERE to learn more about Mark's Bar & Grill.
Roberta Rand is Public Relations Manager for SF Productions TV, a full service production and marketing company in Puerto Vallarta. Prior to relocating to Mexico from Colorado Springs with her dog, Bo, Roberta worked as a magazine editor, web editor and marketing copywriter. She is also an essayist and author, whose book "Playing the Tuba at Midnight" explored the quirks of living single.
To learn more about SF Productions, click HERE or visit SFProductionsTV.com.