05 April 2008

What Cafiero's Looked Like

I've posted on this blog before about a legendary eatery (at least in my nabe) that used to exist on President Street between Hicks and Columbia. It was called Cafiero's, and apparently function from the 1920s until sometime in the 1960s. It was a favorite both of Brooklyn judges and politicians and local mobsters, as well as the occasional celebrity, like Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

Unlike some famous restaurants of the New York past, it seems to have disappeared without a trace, aside from the remembrances of local oldtimers. It's never mentioned in articles or books about Old New York, or even ones about Old Brooklyn. The building, 97 President St., is still there, which is a marvel in itself, since the construction of the BQE and extended digging along Columbia in the 1970s destroyed many of the original structures in the area.

To get a better idea of the place, I sent away to the Municipal Archives for a tax photo of the address. Looks like a quaint, cozy little place, complete with cloth awning and the restaurant's name in handsome (I assume gold) script above it. I can't imagine they had room for more than 10 tables inside, which perhaps lent to the joint's reputation for exclusivity. I've run across some some posts about Cafiero's on The South Brooklyn Network—a chat room for old Red Hook and South Brooklyn residents to shout out "Hey, Joey!" and "How's cousin Francis?" and talk about the teachers at Visitation Catholic school and their favorite bygone ice cream joints. People talk about having their Confirmation dinner there, or it being their first fancy dining experience as a kid. They all seemed to like it. Wish I could get ahold of an old menu. (Then again, it was probably the kind of place where the waiter told you what was available that night.)

I'm intrigued by the old guy in the picture, hands on hips, listening to some fella's spiel. Could it be old man Cafiero himself? The photo shows a barber shop to the left, a grocery store to the right, both long gone.

Below is how the Cafiero's building looks now. It's a private residence. I have a hunch that the large piece of metal screwed to the section of wall about the door hides the original Cafiero's sign. It looks like a quickie job. There are other remnants of the building's old life, as well.

These cast borders on either side of the structure are evident in the old photo (if you quint your eyes).

And the old awning was probably strung through these fixtures.

Finally, I have a good feeling that these few ornamental, pale-blue tiles were part of the Cafiero's front stoop.


Anonymous said...

I live right across the street from this. Thats so interesting. I knew my little block must have had some history back in the day.

Nathan said...

I've been lurking here a bit recently. Your comment about the waiter telling you what was available that night reminded me of Foffe, the Italian Restaurant that used to be on Montague St. (I think it closed 10 years or more ago.) Anyway, the first time I went in there (about 1986), it looked like a set from The Godfather with plush red banquettes, and only men as waiters in starched white aprons. Really old waiters.

I looked at the menu and ordered a steak. He came back from the kitchen a minute later and said, "The steak doesn't look so good tonight. I wouldn't feed it to my wife and I hate her."

I loved that place.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Nathan: That is a great story. I have never heard of Foffe. I'll have to look into it.

Anonymous said...

It's unusual to see commercial plate glass windows on what's now a residence. Definitely a quickie conversion job.

Anonymous said...

There's something about that particular shade of blue that I just love. You only see it on commercial signs of a certain era. Thanks for the info. I took some pictures of that building a while back and was wondering about its history. I agree that the South Brooklyn guestbook is really interesting!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thank you Ralph! A great description of what must have been a great restaurant. If you don't mind, I'd like to post your recollections as a separate new item.

Anonymous said...

I lived at 100 President St from 1983 to 1984 and knew "Sharky" Cafiero. I also lived for a year on the next block of Union St across from the House of Calzone from 1984 to 1985. Sharky was a very nice older gent, and though the restaurant was closed up would hang out outside and invite locals, even me, in for an expresso. When the city did some work on the adjacent lot, to the west of Cafieros they damaged his building with a bulldozer. Neither he nor other locals from the social club next door, a past hang-out for Joey Gallo, could do anything. Back then there were few houses on the other side of Columbia St, and few businesses at all, but what was there were really authentic. There was a huge difference of class between the residents on the east side of the BQE and those down in the older part. RIP I sense the neighborhood is dead even as it is celebrated now.

PP said...

I wish I had known about this years ago. I lived at 112 President and my landlady had loved there for many years. She had A LOT of stories and I bet she could have told a lot about this place!