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Zoning, demographic changes, and soaring real estate prices could doom Brooklyn’s iconic eateries

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The impending redevelopment of Downtown’s famous Junior’s restaurant goes to show that just because an eatery is a landmark in the guidebooks does not mean it is safe from the wrecking ball.

Brooklyn’s iconic restaurants have acted as beacons for tourists and hungry residents for decades — and, in some cases, whole centuries. But no eatery currently operating in Brooklyn enjoys official city landmark status, meaning nothing but the continued entrepreneurial spirit of their owners stands between them and destruction.

None of these beloved eateries are in imminent danger, but none have any legal protections to prevent them from disappearing either.

Peter Luger Steakhouse

178 Broadway near Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg

Peter Luger’s massive porterhouses have made it a favorite hangout for political power brokers, and have enjoyed acclaim as some of the best in New York. The love comes in spite of the restaurant’s famously sparse and utilitarian interior. The 127-year-old steakhouse has watched the neighborhood absorb successive waves of German, Jewish, Latino, and hipster transplants, and still thrived. But Williamsburg’s real estate values are rising fast. The city last assessed Peter Luger’s property at $2.22 million and a Department of Finance spokesman said the lot would likely sell for much more. Current zoning would allow a residential structure of up to seven stories to rise on the spot.

Nathan’s Famous original location

1310 Surf Ave. at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island

The People’s Playground’s self-declared mayor Dick Zigun tried to get the home of the Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest landmarked in 2009. But the Landmarks Commission shot the idea down, arguing that the structure’s architecture was unremarkable and mostly concealed under the frankfurter emporium’s distinctive signage. The controversial Coney Island rezoning that passed that year calls for a 20-plus-story hotel on the premises. But Lloyd Handwerker, whose family founded Nathan’s and still owns the property said the 98-year-old hot dog joint has at least 15 years left on its lease, and that there are no plans in the works to sell the lot.

Tom’s Restaurant

782 Washington Ave. at Sterling Place in Prospect Heights

Tom’s breakfasts have been a hit since 1936 and the old-fashioned diner is one of a handful of places where you can still get an authentic egg cream or lime rickey. Sitting just outside the purview of the Prospect Heights Historic District, Tom’s occupies a prime spot in an increasingly pricey ‘hood. But the location’s zoning is strictly commercial, so the odds of a condo tower appearing there are low.

L & B Spumoni Gardens

2725 86th St. between W. 10th and W. 11th streets in Bensonhurst

Famed since 1939 for its Sicilian squares and the nutty Italian ice cream that gives it its name, Spumoni Gardens sprawls across five addresses in a neighborhood where houses can sell for more than $1 million and chain drug stores are spreading like weeds. The Italian population of the neighborhood has been declining for more than a decade, but the food is popular with all nationalities. The property is zoned residential and sits along one of the neighborhood’s biggest commercial thoroughfares, so the Barbati family that owns L & B’s could be sitting on a gold mine.

Brennan & Carr

3432 Nostrand Ave. at Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay

This Sheepshead Bay institution turns 86 this year. An old-fashioned Irish eatery known for its broth-soaked roast beef sandwiches, it takes up a city block between Nostrand, Avenue U, and Gravesend Neck Road. Built at a time when Sheepshead Bay was still mostly farmland, Brennan & Carr is today surrounded mainly by banks and by a neighborhood that has become predominantly Russian and Asian.

Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano

1524 Neptune Ave. between W. 15th and W. 16th streets in Coney Island

A fire gutted this iconic coal-oven pizzeria in 2009 and Hurricane Sandy almost drowned it three years later. But the staff soldiered on and the place is still serving by-the-pie only pizza the way Antonio “Totonno” Pero did when he opened the joint in 1924, in the same tiny one-story structure now sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a hair salon. Neptune Avenue remains one of Coney’s most desolate industrial stretches, mostly home to auto body shops, which is the kind of thing Totonno’s building is zoned for.

To be clear, landmarking doesn’t necessarily save restaurants. Sheepshead Bay fave Lundy’s and Downtown’s Gage and Tollner both bit the dust despite the official designation.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

diehipster from Bludgeoning Beardos says:
Now these are real Brooklyn places; and I wish there was a way to legally protect them.

I want to see some hipster $15 kale and egg brunch spot or some beardo vegan Ethiopian Czech Peruvian fusion place or a $10 latte place last more than a few years never mind the 75 to 100 years these real Brooklyn establishment have lasted.

Long live ACTUAL BROOKLYN!!!!
Feb. 25, 2014, 7:45 am
steve from downtown says:
Oh stop it. Junior's opened in 1950. Brooklyn is actually starting to re-emerge after a century of stagnation.
Feb. 25, 2014, 8:58 am
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
"Legally protect" restaurants! Awe shucks, the tough guys from real Brooklyn need "legal protection" now.
Feb. 25, 2014, 9:57 am
ty from pps says:
Diehipster -- Have you been to Tom's Diner on a Saturday? There's a huge line wrapping around the building of all the people you despise... ya know, customers with money.

If "real Brooklyn place" are actually great (like Tom's), there's no need to protect them. If Junior's wasn't painfully mediocre, people might actually care that it's closing -- actually care because they go there and enjoy it, not for nostalgia sake based on when they went there 20 years ago.
Feb. 25, 2014, 10:44 am
Diane C. from Original Park slope says:
Hipster these guys wouldn't know an original Brooklyn landmark if it hit them. They worship the almighty dollar and did not grow up here. Worthless arguing with close minded people who hold a grudge against original Brooklyn people
Feb. 25, 2014, 12:18 pm
Bob from park slope says:
This is a silly article. Landmarking can't save restaurants. Gage and Tollner was landmarked, but what good did that do?
Feb. 25, 2014, 12:57 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
The Chooch says no welfare for mook greasy spoons that can't stay competitive. Out with the old, in with the new. That's real Brooklyn for you.
Feb. 25, 2014, 1:46 pm
diehipster from Bludgeoning Beardos says:
And at the end of the day, after all the interloper yups and hipsters have nasally shrieked on here, what I said earlier is still the truth. A hipster business simply cannot hold a candle to a real Brooklyn establishment in terms of longevity. Zany Zane's Taco and Oxygen Flavored Gelato store will close within a few years. L&B however - lasts forever. End of story.

Hi Ho Real Brooklyn awayyyyyyyyyyy!
Feb. 25, 2014, 3:09 pm
Jamie from flatbush says:
Bob is correct. Lundy's is also a landmarked building, but the restaurant, which was briefly revived after decades of dormancy, failed again. The building now contains a gourmet food market.
Feb. 25, 2014, 5:15 pm
The Chooch from The Magic Bohemian Show says:
The old mook greasy spoons obviously cannot compete with the culinary revolution in Brooklyn, or we wouldn't be seeing these stories. "I wish there was a way to legally protect them!" How pathetic is that! The tough guy from real Brooklyn can't even make a living! HA!

Look, these wieners and cheesecakes from old Brooklyn are famous because that's ALL THERE WAS in old Brooklyn. It is NOT exceptionally good food by any means. People who think it is are just badly educated. It's not that hard to make "good food" for a mook or some overweight jughead on his big Coney Island holiday. Just make sure it's high carb, high sugar, lots of saturated fats, and then deep fry the thing. Bingo, "great food."
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:26 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Here's what you do with Nathans. Rip it down. Replace it with a Mediterranean style deck and a bistro that serves Mediterranean food, lots of fish and vegetables, nothing deep fried, some real pasta, zesty with a lot of basil and garlic, Tuscan style, not some bloviated Italo-American mess. Do this, and do it in your own kitchen, and your own children will start to look like real Italians, instead of like blimps.
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:48 pm
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
When Gage and Tollner closed, it was a tragedy. These places are just glorified fast food. Except for Spumoni Garden, which is great.
Juniors is the most overrated place ever. What's the appeal? I don't even like their cheesecakes, and the rest is just diner food. I can eat it, but who cares if it closes.
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:50 pm
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
@cooch - why italian? That's not what I would think Of as beach food.
Sit down or take away?
Too much garlic, and no one will want to kiss you! ;-)
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:53 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
You're right, Michael, Italian food is not "thought of" as beach food in Brooklyn. And that's just another shortcoming that we will correct as soon as we get around to hipsterizing the beaches of Brooklyn. But the whole of the Mediterranean is a friggin' beach! Italy, Greece, Spain. Are you kidding? All they do over there is eat fantastically good food on the beach. We can do that too, and we will.
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:58 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
And they got problems kissing in the European garlic belt, lemmie tell ya!
Feb. 25, 2014, 7:02 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
They usually skip that part and get right down to business.
Feb. 25, 2014, 7:03 pm
Tt from Ps says:
So true Diane!!! It's not worth it, these people could care less about a hospital let alone an original Bklyn restaurant. All they care about is money and turning nyc into Disneyland!! If they have a problem with original Nrookyn people, hey we wouldn't be highly upset if they moved backed to Michigan, Idaho, or whatever farmland they came from.

Yay for real brooklyn people and original brooklyn landmarks!!
Feb. 25, 2014, 8:17 pm
diehipster from Still-normal Brooklyn says:
There is almost nothing more entertaining than watching transient Michiganites and Wisconsinites try to fit in with true Brooklyn culture. Before they know it their fish taco truck dream has faded quicker than their hair line and their bearded marionette shaped bodies are back at Chicago Midway Airport with parents waiting to console their tiny 37 year old children after an attempt at the real world.

Viva Los Brooklynos!!!!!!!!
Feb. 25, 2014, 9:11 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Well, the hipsters are not trying to "fit in" with anything about old Brooklyn, they're pushing it out is what they're doing. There's nothing about hipster culture in the least that resembles or tries to imitate mook Brooklyn. The problem is, old Brooklyn is failing. It's getting displaced. In various different ways that we see and discuss here at BP day after day, it all comes down to a story about the end of one Brooklyn and the beginning of another. And these two Brooklyns could not be more different.

But the Chooch WILL give credit to old Brooklyn for being honest. At least the mooks express their contempt for hipsters openly and honestly. The hipsters have just as much contempt for stoopit fahkin mooks, but the Chooch is the only one of them who expresses it honestly. Most hipsters pretend to be all nicey-nice and lovey-dovey with their quaint ethnic neighbors. Don't believe it. They look down on you. But the Chooch thinks you probably guessed that already.
Feb. 25, 2014, 10:15 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
On the other hand. Let me tell you. If you are a native Brooklynite, and you get educated, and you learn to talk right, and then you enter the hipster sphere and do something awesome, you will be a hero, and at that point the hipsters will be genuinely impressed with you and your background. The Chooch has seen it happen. Like maybe three times in as many decades.
Feb. 25, 2014, 10:37 pm
Virginia Slims from Virginia says:
Wow cooch, you really hate the chinese. When did you become so anti-asian and hungry for garlic food?
Feb. 26, 2014, 10:52 am

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