Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Sad End Of Monte's Venetian Room: Marshal Seizes Famous Gowanus Eatery








Long before some envisioned gondolas gliding on the fetid waters of the Gowanus Canal, there was Monte's Venetian Room. First opened in 1906 by the Montemarano Family, the restaurant has been steeped in local lore ever since. Once the playground of Sammy Davis Jr. and other members of the Rat Pack, the place had lost much of its luster in the last few decades. Sure, the red banquets and huge mural of Venice were still the same, but the interior, along with the staff and the food, had grown tired over the years.

Last owned by Toni Monti, the eatery at 451 Carroll Street between Third Avenue and Nevins Street, turned out Chef Luis Chuia's rather unimpressive veal saltimbocca or marsala and chicken parmesan. His Italian cheesecake continued to be famous outside of the neighborhood, though.

And then, just like that, one day the Venetian Room's doors closed in 2008 and never reopened after more than 100 years in business at that location.
It was rumored that the place was going to be renovated, but nothing of the kind ever happened. Dust slowly accumulated on the bar, banquettes and tables.

It now seems that there is one last twist in the restaurant's long and troubled history. A Marshal's Legal Possession notice was posted on the premise's window on May 19th. It is an order to vacate the ground floor commercial space as well as the parking lot next door.

It is indeed a sad end to this Gowanus eatery. I am glad that I ate there at least once about six years ago, though by then, it was clear that its hey days were long over. If I remember right, my friends and I were the only ones in the place on a Saturday evening. Choosing a dish from the extensive menu was frustrating since the kitchen seemed to be out of almost everything. After the rather sorry meal, the elderly waiter with the lovely South Brooklyn accent handed us the dessert menu, but prefaced by saying that the only thing available was the cheesecake.
"It's the best Italian cheesecake in Brooklyn" he told us.
Though it seemed like a waste of money back then, I don't regret having had the chance to soak up the Venetian Rooms 'atmosphere' before it faded away. And I can now honestly say, I will miss the place. Somehow, the neighborhood is a bit poorer without it.

Here is a brief history of Monte's Venetian Room by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr. from their wonderful 1991 The Brooklyn Cookbook:

Nick Montemarano's father and mother, Angelo and Filomena, opened their no-frills, home-style Angelo's Tavern in 1906. Nick was born in 1916, in the family apartment upstairs. Nick and his brothers, Rocco, Vincent, Michael, Peter, Angelo, and Joseph, worked in the tavern as they were growing up.
When the boys came back from the service after the war, Angelo's Tavern got a massive facelift and became Monte's Venetian Room, the landmark of South Brooklyn. Despite the name, most of the cooking is solidly Neapoliatan.

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knithound brooklyn said...

I'd been by there a number of times since moving to the neighborhood nearly 10 years ago. I never got the impression they were in business to serve food. It was a mob shell.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I had gone by here several times but never knew the history. It seemed neither open nor closed. Wish I had at least been able to go there once.

Nathan Kensinger said...

Great piece, Katia! I had been wondering what happened to the place, and wanted to know more about its history.... I walked by it a thousand times and always wanted to go, but never made it there for dinner before it closed down. "Brooklyn's Oldest Italian Restaurant" no more.

Thanks for writing this.


Margaret said...

I had some great meals there when I first moved into the neighborhood. It always started with zucchini sticks. Then I had the angel hair with shrimp. And cheesecake and coffee. The waiter was always the same, and he was impeccable. It was a real treat for me. I loved the ambiance - the Venetian murals. It did feel from another era. Great bar, too. I wonder what they'll do with all the inside equipment. It could be such a scene place now - the decor. I remember a fish tank, too. Sorry that it's now really gone.

Anonymous said...

Monte's was owned by the same family that owns Gurney's on Long Island. Posters in Gurneys describe the family history, though I just checked the Gurney's site and couldn't quickly find any links (but the posters mention Monte's Venetian Room and even had pictures).

Peter said...

The article is outdated, of course, but it was fun to read. This was my favorite restaurant growing up in the 80's. The red sauce was unbelievable. The *best* sauce restaurant in NYC.

And the cheesecake. To this day, I've never had a better cheesecake, and yes, I've eaten at Juniors plenty of times.

I ate at this iconic eatery maybe 5 or 6 times total. The last time was right before it shut down and was a strange experience. The restaurant had this beautiful espresso machine... it was gigantic, highly polished and beautiful. On that night the waiter apologized and told me the espresso machine no longer functioned. That's when I suspected the restaurant might be going away. That machine was their pride and joy.

I haven't been to the new Monte's.. probably because I'm still mourning the old Monte's. I should give it a try...

Katia said...

I only went once and it was shortly after they closed. Nothing on the menu was available and the service was not friendly at all.