A city of its own until 1898, Brooklyn is home to many of the city’s oldest institutions. Restaurants and bars are no exception, with the oldest dating back to 1887. Given the history of immigration, there’s not surprisingly a concentration in Italian joints and bars connected with German beer. An honorable mention goes to P.J. Hanley Tavern in Carroll Gardens, which was until a few years ago, Brooklyn’s oldest bar dating to 1874. Here are the oldest bars and restaurants in Brooklyn.
1. Peter Luger (1887)
Peter Luger Steak House, located at 178 Broadway in south Williamsburg, is Brooklyn’s oldest restaurant, and one of the oldest in all of New York City. The eatery got its reputation from its delectable cuts and no credit card policy. After you finish a signature plate of Peter Luger’s steak and potatoes, the payment options include cash and a “house account,” essentially an in-restaurant payment plan. You might think this would dissuade today’s customers, but the house account lists hold over 90,000 regulars, so you can be sure the food is well worth the cash you’ll have to take out.
Peter Luger opened in 1887 as the modest “Carl Luger’s Café, Billiards and Bowling Alley.” When Carl passed away, the restaurant was auctioned off to Sol Forman, who owned a silverware store across the street and consumed at least two of the cafe’s steaks every single day. The restaurant has been in the same family ever since, and guarantees the finest in steak production, with all meat served USDA prime and dry-aged on site. There’s another Peter Luger location in Great Neck, but the Williamsburg spot is the original.
2. Teddy’s Bar & Grill (1887)
96 Berry Street, now home to Teddy’s Bar & Grill, is said to be the location of the oldest continuously operating bar in Brooklyn. It opened initially as an Irish tavern in 1887, operated by a local family, and then served as a tasting room for the Peter Doelger Brewery starting in the 1910s. There are original historical details of the bar that can still be seen including an original bar, tile flooring and woodwork, and an original stained glass window with the words “Peter Doelger Extra Beer.”
The location has changed owners a few times, with the latest handover in 2015. The current owners have been restoring and redecorating the historic bar. Today, you can find not only beers on tap, but also a pretty robust food menu that includes lobster dishes on weekends.
3. Gage & Tollner (1892)
372 Fulton Street was once home to the famed restaurant Gage & Tollner, frequented by icons like Truman Capote, Mae West, and Jimmy Durante. The building was built in 1875 and the restaurant operated here from 1892 until the mid-1990s. It was a place where New York city’s elite families and the celebrities of the day dined amidst elegant surroundings. A 1930 restaurant guide proclaimed that “Gage & Tollner is to Brooklyn what the Statue of Liberty is to New York Harbor,” and another guide went so far as to say it was “Brooklyn’s main contribution to civilization.”
The building is an interior and exterior landmark of New York City — the first dining establishment to be designated with this label. After years of use as a discount clothing and phone shop, the space reopened with a new tiki bar upstairs, the Sunken Harbor Club. Much of what made the restaurant famous will remain, including “the ornate brass chandeliers (though they won’t be gas-lit unfortunately!), original Lincrusta panels, the arched, gilded mirrors running the length of the room,” according to Gage & Tollner.
4. Brooklyn Inn (1895)
Located at 148 Hoyt Street, there’s no mistaking the Brooklyn Inn for anything other than historic. The ornate facade and all-wood interior, with a dash of stained glass, and its extremely low-key vibe, transport you to an earlier era. It’s also helpful that the Brooklyn Inn is tucked on a street corner in Boerum Hill surrounded by handsome brick townhouses.
Although it has basically been a bar since its inception in 1895, originally operated by the Otto Huber Brewery, it has had numerous names — it’s been called the Brooklyn Inn since 1995. Today, it’s owned by a group that manages several bars, but that hasn’t changed its saloon-like atmosphere. The Brooklyn Inn is not for the pretentious. It doesn’t even have a website.
5. Bamonte’s (1900)
Bamonte’s at 32 Withers Street in Williamsburg is a real Brooklyn institution, serving Italian fare since 1900 amidst deliciously old-school decor. A wooden bar, hanging chandeliers, a working jukebox, velvet curtains, celebrity headshots, and servers in tuxedos make for a great experience, not to mention all the Italian classics you might expect.
One of our favorite remnants are the side-by-side wooden phone booths. They were installed more than fifty years ago and originally worked as the house business phones — that is, if you called Bamonte’s, one of these very phones would ring. The proprietor told us they still work but Bell Telephones went out of business years ago, of course.
6. Ferdinando’s Foccaceria (1904)
Located at 151 Union Street in Carroll Gardens, Ferdinando’s Focacceria opened in 1904 as Paul’s Focacceria just a short walk from the bustling, working waterfront. Serving Sicilian fare, the Focacceria catered to Italian immigrants working as longshoremen and has remained in the same brick building.
It has all the details so often recreated in newer establishments: tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, tiled floors, and wooden French doors, but also has the feel of a place that has been evolving naturally, mixing newer materials like wood paneled walls from the mid-century while retaining previous elements. Besides the specials on the chalkboard, you can find classics like panelles, vastedda, cold salads and cheeses, and pasta dishes and parmigianas.
7. Gargiulo’s (1907)
On Coney Island, Gargiulo’s has been operating since 1907, first by the Gargiulo family and then by the Russo family since 1965. Serving classic Neapolitan cuisine, it moved from its original location on Mermaid Avenue to 2911 W 15th
Street in the 1920s, and the Russo family later opened a 300-seat catering hall. Gargiulo’s facade has changed a bit since the early days, but retains some of the arched windows you can see in historic images. Like Bamonte’s, the waiters still serve in tuxedos but switched to iPads instead of notepads for orders a few years ago.
8. Nathan’s Famous (1916)
What more needs to be said about Nathan’s? Nathan’s Famous has been “more than just the best hot dog” since 1916. In fact, the Coney Island-based chain is one of the original fast-food restaurants, it holds the oldest liquor license in New York City, is host to the annual hot dog eating contest, and much more. But before Nathan Handwerker became one of the most recognizable men in Brooklyn, he worked as a humble employee of an immigrant-owned German sausage haus, Feltman’s. When Handwerker left Feltman’s to open his own hot dog eatery, he undercut his former employer’s pricing by 50 percent. Instead of selling his hot dogs at 10 cents each, the Feltman’s price, Nathan’s would sell them at just 5 cents, leading to the boom that launched Handwerker’s business.
Today, you can head to the renowned Nathan’s Famous location on Coney Island, or get one of its hotdogs in the branded carts around New York City, particularly in Midtown. You can check out a film about the restaurant by director Lloyd Handwerker, a grandson of founder Nathan Handwerker, who interviewed family members, Nathan’s workers, and put together archival film and audio and family home videos, to share this story on the centennial anniversary of the hot dog company.
9. Defonte’s Sandwich Shop (1922)
Defonte’s Sandwich Shop is located at 379 Columbia Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The restaurant was founded in 1922 by Nick Defonte, an Italian immigrant from Bari, Italy who came through Ellis Island.
Defonte bought the store for $100 from a mysterious man named Brooklyn who needed to urgently leave town, and the almost 100 year-old-institution has been making enormous subway sandwiches ever since. Defonte’s has been continuously family-run since then as well, with a more recent outpost opened on Staten Island. The owners aim to keep that old-school feeling, telling CBS News earlier this year, “You walk in here, and it’s like you’re transported back in the day. There’s people yelling left and right. There’s sandwiches being thrown.”
Next, check out the 13 oldest restaurants in NYC.