Greenpoint has perhaps the oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn and one of the oldest Italian places in the city- Bamonte’s restaurant at 32 Withers Street. It can be hard to find the place because Withers Street was cut in half by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. How old is Bamontes? A hundred and fourteen years old, according to owner Anthony Bamonte.Anthony Bamonte’s grandfather Pasquale, recently arrived from a village near Salerno, opened the place in 1900. Back then, it was called Liberty Hall The April 7, 1900 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Pasquale Bamonte said his recently acquired plot on Withers would become the Liberty Hall, the restaurant’s original name. Anthony Bamonte has a deed that he claims shows that the restaurant has been in business since 1900. Other restaurants claim to be older, but they cannot prove as Bamontes can.
It does not take a lot of imagination to believe that Bamontes has not changed since the 1950’s. Many of the pictures on the walls come from the fifties and show prominent Italian-Americans. There was a time when if you were anyone in the Italian-AMerican community you came to Bamontes. One of the people who came there often was Joe Dimaggio. There is even a picture of a young joe bringing his mother to Bamontes. He might have also brought Marilyn, but there is no picture. I know a retired New York City fireman called Johnny Flats. ( I am sure he has a proper Surname, but I do not know it. ) As a young man he used to drink in Bamontes and he was told in no uncertain terms not to talk to Joltin’ Joe if he came in for a beer. Sinatra ate there as did Tommy Lasrorda and many others.
You can see what they are cooking because there are large windows that show the kitchen. A modern touch? Hardly, “We added that in 1950,” Anthony Bamonte says. “My uncle had an idea that people should see where their food came from.”
The place seems so authentically old school New York Italian that they even shot scenes from the Sopranos there. Bamonte’s is the kind of place where the tuxedoed waiters are hesitant to ask if you want to see a menu because they don’t want to offend you. Even for a newcomer, the menu offers few surprises but lots of great old school Italian favorites: chicken rollatini, seafood fra diavolo, rigatoni with vodka sauce.
Anthony’s daughters run the operation now, fourth-generation stewards of the family business and congenial hosts to an Italian-American diaspora loyal to the restaurant long after they’ve moved out of the neighborhood. “We used to stay open until 4 a.m.,” Anthony said on a recent chilly afternoon.
“All around us we had the big movie houses, the RKO, the Meserole and the Republic where they ran burlesque shows. Everyone would go out to see a show and then come here for dinner.”
Today a small crew of regulars–tracksuits, trainers, backslaps–had gathered for the Thursday special of pasta e fagioli. Talking to Anthony, it was easy to picture the dining room as it once was full to capacity, the social center of a much-changed neighborhood.
“Guys used to tell me it took them twenty minutes to get from the door to their table, they knew so many people along the way.”