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Entries in History (125)

Monday
Feb282011

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.

Friday
Feb252011

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!"

Thursday
Feb242011

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! 



Thursday
Feb242011

Hidden Video Store Signage on Seventh

Photofaction has been developing photos and selling camera equipment on Seventh Avenue between Carroll and President Streets since 1974. For a twelve year window during the 80s and 90s, however, an independent video rental store also operated out of the storefront, called Video Action. From the sidewalk there's no indication that it ever existed:


But if you take a peek under the awning, though...

Video Action lives! Wish I could say the same for the Brooklyn 212 area code.

Monday
Feb212011

Business of the Week: Triangle Sporting Goods, 182 Flatbush Avenue

Ask anyone who's lived in the neighborhood for a while what they think the oldest store in Park Slope is, and Triangle Sporting Goods will invariably come up in the conversation. While it isn't (that distinct honor goes to Neergaard Drugs on Fifth, open there since 1886), it's easy to see that this store has been here for a while. If walking through the old wooden doorway into the impossibly narrow space and taking a look around doesn't give it away, one glimpse at the framed photos to the left of the counter will. They span nearly six decades of operation, starting the year the store opened on the triangle of land surrounded by Fifth Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, and Dean Street in 1916.

Matriarch Betsy Shapiro stands in front of her store in 1916.
The store's earliest sign boasts army shoes and raincoats. A dentist once occupied the second floor. This looks to be from the early 1920s.
Triangle in the 1930s. Fifth Avenue begins at right; note the elevated tracks (they took a right turn on Fifth from Flatbush).

By the 1940s the sign had gone neon and Deco, and the owners decided that guns and tackle would bring in more shoppers than raincoats. The store had expanded to the second floor by this time.


The neon sign's still there in what appears to be the late 1960s. Note the old name: Triangle Sport and Army Goods. This view is looking down Flatbush. 


The neon sign has been replaced, but other that that the building is completely intact, still occupying a prime corner of land.


The interior has been spruced up piecemeal over time, and most likely hasn't been fully renovated in decades. The first floor sells general purpose clothes like sweatshirts, jeans, and Carhartt jackets, and the second floor (up an ancient staircase) sells specialized supplies like baseball bats and fishing rods. The salespeople are helpful and have a good knowledge of the merchandise. 


The staircase from the second floor
The tiny building will soon be overshadowed by the Barclays Center directly across Flatbush, and as it's in not a part of the Park Slope or Prospect Heights Historic Districts, the structure isn't landmarked. If you haven't had the opportunity to shop here (or at least take a look around), it's certainly worth checking out.

Triangle Sporting Goods, 182 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-638-5300.  
Photos Courtesy of Triangle.