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Entries in History (127)


Business of the Week: Leaf & Bean

Leaf and Bean, on Seventh Avenue between Berkeley and Union, is one of the most quaint, charming, and best-smelling little shops in the neighborhood, with incredibly friendly and helpful owners to boot. They sell teas and coffees along with everything you might need to go with them, including mugs, kettles, and grinders as well as gifts, confections, and gourmet items. 

Alan Mehlberg first opened the store in 1973, after the liquor store that was there went out of business. After retiring to Connecticut in 2003, he turned the shop over to two of his longtime employees, Vikki Cook and Karen Hue, and they can still be found there today, joking with each other, helping customers find exactly the coffee or tea they're looking for from among the over 100 varieties, and generally making the store an incredibly warm and pleasant place to spend some time. 

Leaf & Bean has had a partnership with Queens-based White House Coffee since opening, but in recent years they've added blends from Illy and Moka d'Oro to their wide selection, which they'll be more than happy to guide you through or create a custom blend. They've increased their selection of loose-leaf teas, too, as well as hard-to-find gourmet items like Jameson (and Bushmill's) marmalade and fresh French macarons. There's also an emphasis on local products, like chocolate birthday candles made in Brooklyn.

It's clear that not much except for inventory has changed in many, many years. The old Deco-style doorway with curved display windows is still intact, and probably dates from the 1930s. The numbered shelves and rolling ladder all date back to its days as a liquor store. An ancient scale is still near the register, and Vikki tells me that a huge coffee mill is still in the basement, along with a peanut grinder that goes back to the store's earliest days, when Alan would sell homemade peanut butter.

So next time you're walking by, or in the market for some tea leaves or coffee beans, drop in and say hello to Vikki and Karen. If you ask nicely you might get a free candy from the jars by the register.

Owners Karen Hue (l.) and Vikki Cook.
Leaf and Bean, 83 7th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-638-5791.


Then & Now Thursday: Ninth Street Synagogue

One good thing about houses of worship in Brooklyn (as well as most of the rest of the city) is that you can be fairly certain that they'll stick around for a while. Temple B'nai Jacob has been holding court on Ninth Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues since 1897, when it was constructed as Temple B'nai Sholaum. 

When the building was purchased in 1995 by the Orthodox Congregation B’nai Jacob, it was in an admittedly run-down condition, having lost its fence and columns that framed the doorway. They renovated the building and now the structure and adjacent buildings look nearly identical to how they did over a hundred years ago (the top photo was taken in 1915), minus the window shades and trolley tracks.


Business of the Week: El Viejo Yayo

 This article originally appeared on Patch

Ever ask yourself what the oldest restaurant in Park Slope is? The answer very well may be El Viejo Yayo, occupying three storefronts at the far north end of Fifth Avenue, between Bergen and Dean Streets, for 46 years.

When a recent Cuban immigrant named Jeraldo (his last name has been lost) opened the restaurant in 1965, it was only a small lunch counter occupying today's northernmost storefront, which is still the main entrance and lunch counter area. His simple Cuban cuisine quickly gained a loyal following, and fans would fill the room for his steaks, sandwiches, rice and beans, and other traditional fare. His nickname? Yayo, of course.

Yayo retired in the early 1980s and sold the restaurant to Lepido Ramirez, who tripled the restaurant's size, opened a parking lot across the street, and covered the rooms with murals of historical characters ranging from Pancho Villa to Napoleon. He also expanded the menu to incorporate more cuisine from his native Dominican Republic, and added the large neon sign that's still outside today. 

The bar room
The restaurant changed hands a couple times over the years, but in 2002 it was purchased by its current managers: Robert Garcia, who's background is in supermarket management, and Jerry Diaz, a chef who's time at the restaurant goes back to Lepido. They renovated the space, fixing up the counter as well as the third room's bar, and added large round tables, brick walls, and a renovated kitchen. They also streamlined the menu, keeping its focus on Dominican staples like roast pork, skirt steak, mofongo, pasteles, baked chicken, rice and peas, and made sure to keep Yayo's recipe for black beans. Most of Lepido's murals were lost, but they kept the one featuring Napoleon on a horse ("People love that one, and I have no idea why he's up there!" said Garcia).

Napoleon is at right
The restaurant today still serves some of the finest Dominican cuisine in the area, and its expansive space makes it an ideal place for large family gatherings, which is exactly what Garcia and Diaz want. "Most similar restaurants become almost a nightclub at night, and on the weekends," said Garcia. "While the bar room gets a little crowded, we always make the effort to keep a focus on families, and that's the bulk of our customer base." 

The main dining room
Some renovations are in store, including new floors, bathrooms, and a general modernization, including replacing burnt-out neon lights in the sign.

With a dedication to quality, authentic, seriously filling Dominican cuisine as well as being a great place for families to gather, Garcia expects El Viejo Yayo to stick around for years to come.

"We've been managers for nine years here, and while it may not seem like a long time, it's incredible when someone who's baby shower we hosted comes in, and they're all grown up," he said. "I love it here."

El Viejo Yayo, 36 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-622 -8922.


O'Connor's Phone Booth "Not Goin' Nowhere," Says Owner

There's been a lot of fallout since details emerged earlier this week about the coming renovation of O'Connor's Bar, on Fifth Ave between Bergen and Dean, expected to be completed in time for the summer. While some have been mourning the irreversible altering of one of the country's finest dive bars, others have been glad to see that the bar is finally modernizing. 

Whichever side of the fence you're on, one fact should make you happy: the classic phone booth, with its rotary dial, will be restored to working condition and "ain't goin' nowhere," according to owner Mike Maher. "If I lay a finger on it my wife will divorce me!"

The phone booth, one of the city's last, goes back to the bar's earliest days in operation in the 1930s, and it certainly has a special place in a lot of locals' hearts. A reader sent the following email to me:

"On Sept. 11, 2001 I worked in Lower Manhattan and was outside when the first tower started to come down. I ran for my life, stuck in a stampede that took me across the Brooklyn Bridge and, long story made short, many many many hours later I was finally able to call my family to tell them I was alive from the rotary dial payphone at O'Connors!"

"This pay phone saved someone's life?!" replied Maher when I told him the story. "No, it's definitely not going anywhere!"


Then & Now Thursday: Name that '70s Slope Corner!

It's fairly common knowledge that the 1970s were not kind to Park Slope. Whole blocks were abandoned or burned out, and Fifth Avenue's dining options were largely limited to a bodega sandwich. 

All that's changed, obviously, but the dilapidated buildings were revitalized and renovated instead of torn down. The photo above stopped me in my tracks when I came across it on Brooklyn Public Library's great online photo archive. No exact address is given (just "Fifth Avenue") so it took some snooping to figure out which exact corner we're talking about. Any guesses? The answer will be revealed here soon. 

Update: The buildings seen above are on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Place, looking northeast. Times have changed!