08 March 2013

The Inside of Cafiero's

For almost as many years as I've been writing this blog (seven and counting), I've been obsessively tracking the history of Cafiero's, a locally legendary Italian restaurant on President Street between Hicks and Columbia Streets. Once the haunt of judges, lawyers, mobsters and celebrities (including, Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe), it shut down in the 1970s when the owner, Sharkey Cafiero, decided it was time to retire. Sharkey remained in the house and would sometimes teasingly sit outside the restaurant, but steadfastly refused to sell the business or let anyone else take it over. (He had no children.) The building is still standing today, owned by artists who ripped out every trace of the restaurant save the bathroom.

Over the years, I've accrued quite a bit of information about Cafiero's. Some it is was gathered from locals who had memories to share; some from readers who had been to the place, or whose parents had. But the best information came from actual descendants of the Cafiero clan (various siblings and in-laws worked in the restaurant), who related memories or the clientele, the menu, the staff, and sometimes sent along photos. All of these photos were either of Sharkey and his wife, or of the exterior of the restaurant. But the Holy Grail for me (aside from a menu card, which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist; it wasn't a menu kind of place) was a picture of the interior. I figured I'd never find one, because it was a private joint; mobsters don't like to get their picture taken.

But finally, after six years of searching, I have one. It was sent to me by the grand-niece of Josephine Cafiero, who was married to Frank Cafiero, the restaurant's chef and Sharkey's brother. (The above exterior shot, from 1949, is also from her.) Here it is:

A thing of beauty and simplicity, is it not? Plenty of light, a great tile floor, soda parlor wire chairs. The white tablecloths were a surprise to me, since I've always heard the Cafiero's dining room was a no-frills affair.

Here's how a reader who had dined there described the interior to me years ago.

Sharkey would always greet the neighborwomen by saying hello Sophie dear, or hello Connie dear. He lived above the restaurant and his sister and her husband lived on the top floor. They only served lunch and one 6 PM sitting for dinner. There were 6 tables in the front, and you could walk back through the kitchen to the back room to find another 8 tables. 
That's about right, though I only see six tables in this picture, which is definitely of the back room. Love the mirror, the small radio, the large paned windows. And I'm pretty sure that's a pressed tin wall at the back.

Now, to find that menu card.


Anonymous said...

It looks as if the blue panels seen in the later photos weren't around in 1949. They must have been added sometime before the late 1960's, as they do appear in a picture from that time.


Mitch said...

There is certainly space for two more tables in the picture. In fact, isn't that one of them tipped on its side, at the far right edge of the photo?

Linda said...

Hi Brooks,

It's Linda again (Mamie's Granddaughter). I recall white cotton or perhaps linen tablecloths and napkins. The waiters were also well dressed in uniforms.

Can you tell me where you got the recently posted photos of the back room and facade? I have the same photos, somewhere. I was surprised to see them

Still no word on the menu, or recipes. Sad that they are gone.