Brooklyn Heights taproom titan Pilar Montero, the beret-sporting matriarch of Montero’s Bar and Grill, who kept the magnet for longshoremen booming long after the borough’s days as a waterfront capital passed, died on Jan. 14 at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She was 90 years old.
Montero, who was born in Manhattan and divided her time between Brooklyn Heights and Meiras, Spain, defied the odds by working well into her 80s at the establishment she opened on Atlantic Avenue off Hicks Street in 1947 with her late merchant marine husband, Joseph.
The former child ballerina and AT&T worker, who first traveled to Brooklyn as a girl on the ferry with her ferryman father, endeared herself to generations of patrons with her elegant beauty, trademark bluntness and canny ability to explore current events from her catbird perch at the front end of the glass-brick bar.
The comforting sight became as famliar to patrons as the on-again-off-again pink, blue and red neon sign flashing outside the history-steeped alehouse, where plaques reading “If the Captain Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy” and “Company and Fish Stink After Three Days” still jostle for space with nautical paraphernalia from Brooklyn’s “On the Waterfront” era and a photograph of Montero’s son and grandson with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The restrooms across from two old wooden phone booths are still distinguished by a Popeye cartoon for the men and an Olive Oyl one for the women.
The establishment’s appeal has only increased over the years — a point noted by New York magazine, which named Montero’s one of the city’s best “dive” bars in 2004.
Thanks for that is owed in part to the “beautiful lady who lived up to her name,” according to family friend Vincent Raccuglia, who owns Raccuglia & Son Funeral Home in Carroll Gardens, where Montero was laid out after passing from age-related complications for a one-day viewing on Jan. 17 before being cremated.
“Pilar means stone column, that’s how strong she was,” said the undertaker, a frequent patron who recalls Montero smiling with delight whenever he brought over lard bread freshly baked by his sister.
“She would say, ‘Vincent, oh, I’m so glad you came, let’s all share!’”
Montero served her children dinner at a well-appointed table away from the bar, but managed to hold her own against even the rowdiest patrons.
“When somebody got out of line, she would say, ‘If you don’t knock it off, I’m gonna throw you out, and they would stop!” said her son Ramon.
Her maternal side enchanted regulars whom she would serve paella and tripe whipped up in the kitchen years after the restaurant portion of the bar had closed, while her business savvy on the stock market bordered on blue chip. She once scooped up 20,000 shares in telephones for Mexico at $1.30 that climbed to $68.
“Everybody, they thought I was crazy,” she said in a 2005 interview.
But it was Montero’s work ethic that never ceased to amaze. She opened up the bar at 8 am like clockwork to let in the stream of thirsty longshoremen getting off their midnight shifts before her husband took over at 1 pm so that she could tend to their four children, Ramon, Joseph, Josephine and Frank.
Pilar Montero is survived by her four children, seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2529.