Sheepshead Bay’s oldest bar, Towne Cafe, is on the chopping block.
The bar, located at 1418 Avenue Z, on the corner of East 15th Street, is one of Sheepshead Bay’s more depressingly bizarre venues.
During the day, a handful of older folks sit quietly at the bar, sipping musky wine or Bud Lights and muttering about better days. Then, at night, in one of the weirder nocturnal metamorphoses of our neighborhood, it turns into a Russian-American karaoke hall, attracting wafer-thin men donning leather jackets and dodgy glances paired with fur-clad, makeup-slathered women.
In the years I’ve passed this joint, no one has ever looked happy. It smelled like stale cigarette smoke and desperation.
These are not nice things to say, but I mean it in perhaps the most positive way I can. I don’t want to see Towne Cafe go. Dark, grim and old, it is a concrete reminder of Sheepshead Bay’s seedier underbelly – even if nothing particularly seedy was going on there. It sparked the imagination, and, sitting on that corner for as long as it has, lent character to an otherwise boring intersection.
And just how long as it been there? Well, Fillmore Real Estate is managing the listing. Asking $300,000 for the business – including liquor license, cabaret license and restaurant license, along with a 10-year lease for $6,600 a month – at $300,000. The listing said it was established in 1932.
And this is one of the reasons I just love Town Cafe. You see, prohibition of alcohol didn’t end until 1933, making us wonder if, perhaps, this was at one time an illegal speakeasy. And, from the looks of it, that ain’t so hard to imagine.
But we can’t just let that go. So we checked the history of certificates of occupancy on the building. We found one for a restaurant and cabaret as early as 1958. Before that – in 1955 – one was signed for a restaurant only.
There was but one C of O on record prior to 1955, and it wasn’t for a restaurant or bar. It was for a “factory for Macaroni & Spaghetti.”
Now, we could assume that, perhaps, the establishment was located elsewhere and moved to this spot in 1955, wrestling with the city for three years until it could obtain permission to serve booze and allow dancing.
Or… and this is why I love Towne Cafe… we could imagine that it had operated, illegally at first, and then quasi-illegally without a license, as a speakeasy, masking itself as a Captain of American Industry in the production of macaroni and spaghetti.
That kind of narrative seems to fall well within the parameters of believability, given Towne’s noir mystique. We could just, you know, ask them or something – but that would spoil all the fun.
Oh, and just so I’ve said this for the record, Towne Cafe is also home of the coolest neon sign in all of Southern Brooklyn.