I am ashamed. For years, I've told myself: "One day, I'm going to get to the bottom of the mystery of 1890 Brooks Restaurant in Long Island City, and uncover its shrouded history." But sloth and inertia took over, and now intrepid reader Ian Schoenherr is having all the "Eureka!"s.
In late October, a reader wrote is to inform me that the Brooks used to be called the Court Square Restaurant for many years. I did some research and found this to be true. With that, the avalanche began. Earlier this month, Schoenherr wrote in with the vital revelations that the building that houses Brooks used to be Long Island City's old City Hall in the late 19th century, and that, in 1910, two men named Martin Heilbut and Herman Kleefeld of Long Island City secured a lease of the old building, "at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Anable Street (demapped, now part of Court Square), adjoining Court House Square." According to old articles, the address (which, annoyingly, was listed under different numbers over the years) was variously referred to as Kleefeld's Hall, and Kleefeld's Saloon.
Great stuff! Still, there were holes in the mystery yet. Most significantly: who belonged to the letters "K" and "N" found in the stained-glass canopy behind the old bar inside? "K" could be Kleefeld. But the "N"?
Did Schoenherr give up? Perish the thought. He dug further:
I found a good, long article on the building when it was sold to Heilbut and Kleefeld and quote a large portion of it below. And while I've seen several mentions of it from the 1910s as "Kleefeld's Hotel" I also found some references to "Heilbut & Kleefeld":
[Regarding the ball of the Owl Bowling Club, of Winfield, held at Court Square Hall, Long Island City] "...About 1 o'clock fifty couples sat down to a course dinner prepared by Heilbut & Kleefeld, the well-known Long Island City caterers...." (The Newtown Register, February 24, 1914)
"...The Long Island City Business Men's Association will be held at Heilbut & Kleefeld's, corner of Jackson avenue and Court Square, Long Island City..." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 11, 1915)
"Heilbut & Kleefeld" also show up as certificate holders in the Annual Report of the State Commissioner of Excise of the State of New York (1912 and 1914).
Then Schoenherr makes a seemingly obvious suggestion, but one that had never occurred to thick ol' me:
All of which makes me wonder - I haven't seen the stained glass with the initials "N" and "K" at Brooks', but is it possible that the "N" is actually an "H"?
Egad! Holmes, you're a genius!
I plan to have lunch at Brooks this very week and take a good long long (and a picture) at those stained-glass letters.
In the meantime, enjoy this article Ian found:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 24, 1910 (page 12)
GLEASON DAYS RECALLED BY LONG ISLAND CITY DEAL
...There is no building in Long Island City, not even the Court House, which has had so eventful a history as the old City Hall, which now passes into new hands. In the latter part of the 80s it was occupied by Alexander Moran, as a hotel. He was prominent in Long Island City politics, and served as a city clerk. The police court and the Common Council rooms were in the building with the hotel. Sessions of the courts and the Council meetings were held there until an act was passed prohibiting police courts from being held in the same building with hotels. Then Moran moved out.
After his removal all the boards of Long Island City and the mayor's office were moved into the building. The ground floor was taken by the city treasurer.
Among the police justices who sat in this building were Stephen J. Kavanaugh, Daniel Noble and Lucius N. Manley.
It was in this building that Patrick Jerome Gleason held the dual position of mayor and alderman, and defied any one to prevent him. Here, also, he barricaded himself after the election of Mayor Sanford, and held the fort for twenty-one days until he was thrown out by members of the police force. It was also from a window in this building that Gleason, after his election in 1896, made a speech that caused him to be sued for libel by former Police Captain Woods, in which the captain was successful, and he got a judgment which Gleason refused to pay, and upon which Woods succeeded in having a body execution issued against Gleason that confined him for a year to the jail limits of Queens County.
At many of the meetings of the old Common Council and the Board of Education there were such lively discussions that fights occurred, in several of which prominent citizens received serious physical injuries.
That Gleason. He was a pip.