The new year brought the loss of a Brooklyn landmark, one of the oldest family run bar/restaurants in Brooklyn shuttered its windows and locked its doors for the last time without any warning at all. 73+ years of history came to an abrupt and unceremonious end.
When I first moved to Brooklyn one of the first jobs I had was working as a bartender at Lento’s in Bay Ridge. Bay Ridge was the first place I lived when I moved to New York, a lot of my New York firsts came from there so I have many fond memories of that neighborhood. Lento’s was actually my second bartending gig, but my first full-time one. I was able to hear first hand the history of Lento’s, and Bay Ridge, from people who had lived their entire lives in the neighborhood where Lento’s first started out as a speakeasy during prohibition.
While the awning declared that Lento’s was established in 1933, making it a 73 year-old Brooklyn landmark, the Bay Ridge stalwart actually predates that, since any bar that was operating as a speakeasy before 1933 couldn’t really claim they existed before 1933, when prohibition was repealed.
Located on the corner of Third Ave and Ovington, Lento’s was famous for it’s impossibly thin crust pizza, of which I could nearly eat an entire one by myself.
It was no secret in the neighborhood over the past decade or so the amount of family infighting that had been taking place surrounding Lento’s. Being passed around and run by different family members and in a neighborhood like Bay Ridge, secrets don’t stay secret for long.
Couples would come into Lento’s on their 50 year anniversary and reminisce about how they had met as kids when their families brought them to Lento’s for some of their famous thin-crust pizza. I remember taking a phone call from an older gentleman who lived in Ohio who wanted to know if there was any way we could arrange to ship two uncooked pizzas to him. He and his wife, who had both grown up in Bay Ridge, had had their first date 35 years before in Lento’s. Not long after that they were married and moved away. He wanted to surprise her with a Lento’s pizza for their anniversary.
Lento’s, known for it’s old high back booths, it’s clubby ambiance (think Elks club not club Avalon) , its pictures of famous, old New York baseball legends and a pictorial of its history lining the barroom walls. Including pictures of the jubilation as the locals celebrated the victory of their Brooklyn Dodgers over the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
For most of the 90’s Lento’s had been run by Linda Cahill, the granddaughter of the found Eugene Lento. After Linda’s run and a successful opening of a Lento’s in Staten Island, Linda’s brother Gene Conners took over the restaurant and had his turn at it. Gene had tried, unsuccessfully, to open a Lento’s in Park Slope, after it closed down, he took over the original Lento’s in Bay Ridge. Gene kept the restaurant a family affair with his wife, son and daughter all helping out in the running of the business.
Less than three months ago, the Conners just stopped showing up. The only thing the Conners’ left behind was a brief note locked in the office and a mountain of debt. The employees, who still had keys and access to the restaurant continued to keep the place running, finally getting in touch with the former manager, Linda.
Other family members from the original Lento family, own the building although they have nothing to do with the running of the restaurant that has been in place since 1933. All of this seemed to be more than the family or the business could handle and the Bay Ridge landmark suddenly and without warning closed its doors forever.
People who have grown up in the neighborhood find it hard to imagine life without Lento’s. It’s just some place that’s always been there. Not much can be seen from the outside, except the name has been cut out of the awning out front and the bar, which had been there since 1933 had been ripped out of the only home it had ever known.
“How do you take Lento’s out of Bay Ridge and still call it Bay Ridge?”, said a quote from the Time’s story. 73 years and the only thing to show for it is a family divided, and a Brooklyn landmark lost.
I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for everything that Lento’s has meant to anyone who has been there over the past 73 years, so many things have changed so drastically in that three quarters of a century. Changed around a place that fought to stay the same in a sea of change. One place that had remained the same for so long, through so much, for so many. It will be missed.