Brooklyn Heights People: Valerie Frankel

Valerie Frankel—author, blogger, journalist—has lived in Brooklyn Heights since 1992, and in that time has watched the neighborhood change dramatically. Which can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Where Heights Café is now, there used to be this really old-fashioned, greasy diner, where the underside of the table had an inch worth of gum,” she recalled over the phone a few days ago, waxing nostalgic about Montague Street. “The place you go for French fries with brown gravy at midnight.”

The Heights was less gentrified then, and though Frankel, who lives on Garden Place, bemoaned the loss of character that comes with hipsters and big box stores, she likened Court Street north of Atlantic Avenue to “a war zone” when she first arrived.

“There was an abandoned porn theater, whole blocks of boarded up buildings,” she said, and concluded that for all their flaws, chain stores and yuppies are preferable to porn theaters, abandoned or not.

Now 46 years old, Frankel, a former magazine editor who became a full-time freelancer after her two kids were born, joked about how rarely she leaves the area. “I hate going into the city!” she said, laughing. “I have no needs that cannot be met in Brooklyn Heights.”

Frankel spends her days in the Heights writing—writing fiction, writing non-fiction, but writing, always. She has penned 16 or 17 novels, by her count; dozens of magazine articles for publications like Good Housekeeping and Self; and one well-received memoir, Thin is the New Happy, in 2008. Frankel’s second memoir, “It’s Hard Not to Hate You,” will be out in September, and focuses on a recent health scare she experienced while also going through a career crisis.

“I resolved to let all the hate out, after keeping a poker face my whole life,” she said, with what seemed like characteristic honesty.

Frankel started out in the promotions department of a magazine that no longer exists, and begged her way into the editorial side, where she got some clips, got fired, and then got hired by the now defunct Mademoiselle, where she stayed for ten years. At night, she’d work on mystery novels that were published but made little money.

Despite years of pouring her heart and soul into being a professional writer, Frankel’s best-known accomplishment, if not her most salacious, came last summer, when she was recruited to ghostwrite a book for a small, tan, Italian meatball.

“I loved every minute of it,” Frankel said of working with Nicole Polizzi—better known as Snooki from Jersey Shore—to write her novel, A Shore Thing. “She’s great. I don’t care if it is a sign of the apocalypse. It was a totally awesome experience as a writer.”

The two ladies worked together on the plot, and Frankel was pleasantly surprised by how many good ideas Snooki brought to the table, and by how controversial the seemingly innocuous 23-year old can be. “She sure doesn’t deserve all the hate that comes her way,” Frankel said. “She’s a nice kid.”

The Snooki gig begat another ghostwriting venture, though she can’t say for which celebrity she is currently penning “a whopper of a book,” this time non-fiction. Frankel loves ghostwriting, if for no other reason than it provides an exit from her own head.

“I’ve been writing for a long time,” she said. “It’s always inspiring to challenge myself in different ways.”

She’s also been living in Brooklyn Heights for a long time, and with so many of her favorite haunts—like Pete’s Waterfront Ale House and the Henry Street Tazza—within spitting distance, Frankel and her family don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. And though the neighborhood is, in her view, nearly perfect, Frankel lodged one complaint—inspired, perhaps, by a certain hard-partying Jersey girl?

“I would love there to be a really raucous nightclub, or something,” she said, on the grounds that it would bring more young people, and therefore more energy, to the area. “It’s contagious—the freshness, and excitement. Like this is the place to be.”

For Frankel, it already is.

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  • Beautiful Smile

    Congratulations Valerie on your success. I agree that you don’t need to step out of Brooklyn heights to fulfill every need.
    I unfortunately can’t get myself to watch Jersey Shore. Maybe i will get more pleasure out of reading “A Sure Thing” about Snooki.

  • anon

    I don’t know this person, but a couple of notes. That greasy diner where Heights Diner is now located was fantastic, and if I recall correctly, it was one of Norman Mailer’s favorite hangouts and he opined (I believe the Brooklyn Paper had the article) that he would never step foot into the new place. And neither have I, which is where our similarity ends.

    Blocks of abandoned storefronts on Court Street. Not. There was one block, which is where the movie theater/Barnes and Noble is now located. It contained the porn theater, with My Little Pizzeria on its immediate left side and Queen Pizza (then only pizza, not a fancny restaurant) on its immediate right side. Both moved locations as the land owner vacated the block for the ultimate real estate construction blech that followed. The closing of the porn theater (the titles, which were hilariously funny, changed on Tuesday and Thursday if I recall). There was still a working dry cleaner on that block, which soon moved to where Radio Shack is now located. The space then stood empty pending funding/permits/etc., which was typical for NYC real estate development.

    There was another porn store, but I believe that was located on or near where the current La Bagel Delight is located. The rest of the storefronts were generally occupied, but there absolutely was not blocks of abandoned storefronts (at least in the late 80s/early 90s).

    Edgy, run down, not hip and cool, all yes. But a war zone, no. Even Blanche DuBois, down on her luck, still had some class.

  • AEB

    Ah, yes, porn stores. Now we shop online.

  • T.K. Small

    On the same block with the porno theater was a rundown little hole in the wall barbershop. The owner was a character who rolled his own cigarettes from the remainders of his cigars. He also lived in his van that he parked around the corner.

  • bornhere

    I know I can get pretty defensive and possessive about the Heights, but Valerie Frankel has, I think, a really skewed view. Perhaps she is invoking some poetic license, but her descriptions are really off. “War zone”? I am definitely with anon on this.

    I don’t know what people think was going on in this neighborhood 20, 30, or more years ago. This notion of more/less gentrified strikes me as so silly, for better or worse: so many of the aspects that define the Heights have defined the Heights for decades.

    And the diner was called The Promenade.

  • David on Middagh

    @anon: Valerie wrote “whole blocks of boarded up buildings” because she’s a storyteller! You have to rivet people, make them say, “Wow. Really?”

    Of course, you are absolutely right: it was just one block. I came to BH in 1991. I remember going to poetry readings at the Moroccan Star restaurant on the ramshackle corner of Atlantic and Court, where the mall-architextured Rite Aid now squats. (The Moroccan Star moved to the other side of Atlantic, midblock, but did not survive.)

    The Barnes & Noble is an asset, although they seem to be trying to put themselves out of the physical book business by selling electronic-book reading gizmos.

    Congrats to Valerie Frankel, and best wishes for future success. May your downloads be many, and royalties commensurate.

  • nabeguy

    Google “Court Street Queen Pizza” under images and check out the first photo.

  • Alana

    How bout Las Tres Palmas? Great food but grimey looking spot that moved from Court Street to 121 Livingston Street (Now Closed)

  • Gerry

    The Promenade was a great place to eat the guy Andy who was the owner and the son of the owner greeted everyone and served nice food it was a great place, I love Brooklyn Heights just like this write loves Brooklyn Heights she thinks thst she has been here for a long time what a joke 1992 is not that long ago in my 40 years on Montague Terrace I have seen all kinds of changes some good some bad.

  • DA

    I remember that porn theater existing in boarded-up form for many, many years. In junior high, we used to walk really fast under the giant marquee in case it chose that day to collapse. Still, “war zone” is a pretty ridiculous description for the area. Smith Street is unrecognizable from that era – the Heights and Court Street not so much.

    I do still miss Heights Pizza, where the orthodox day care is now.

  • Claude Scales

    I moved here in 1983, and remember that parts of Court Street seemed a bit dodgy, though never a “war zone”. I think the porn cinema closed shortly after I arrived. When I got here, the marquee said “TWO FIRST RUN BKLYN”. Later, the S and T got switched, and it became “TWO FIRTS RUN BKLYN”, which made me think I’d like to meet those two firts. Then the T fell off, and it became “TWO FIR S RUN BKLYN”, which made me marvel at how far things had come since it was considered remarkable that a tree grew here.

  • val

    Okay, fine, “war zone” is an exaggeration. But is was pretty sketchy compared to now. Walking down Court Street circa 1992, late at night? Come on people. Tell me you didn’t pick up the pace. I also mentioned to Julie that Banana Republic used to be a 99c store.

  • Rebecca

    I am surprised to hear Ms. Frankel complain about that porn theater, because I am quite certain I saw her coming out of it on a regular basis.

  • val

    @rebecca: If you saw me coming out of it, it’s because you were lived there. Actually, weren’t you appearing in a few of the movies that ran there? I seem to recall “Brooklyn Bangin'” and “Heights Harlots”???

  • David on Middagh

    @val: I think you misremember. It was “Historic District Harlots”.

  • val

    @david Ha!

  • nabeguy

    Let’s not forget “Heights Nights” starring Miles Long and Grace Courtesan.

  • Andrew Porter

    While Valerie Frankel was writing her books, I was writing non-fiction, about 30,000 words a month, for the magazines I was publishing out of my apt. here in BH. But I’ve been here since 1968, and have the memories, and some photos, to show for it.

    Actually published a few books out of here, too. Not wrote: I was the publisher. I did edit one book with my name on it: look for “The Book of Ellison” in finer used book websites everywhere.

  • nabeguy

    Okay, so her memory is a bit skewed. I’d have to go to the videotape to confirm this, but that one block in question was at its worst in ’92, having been boarded up and left to rot by the owner while he pursued a buyer. In fact it was probably better off when the porno theater (Cinema Court, as I recall) was open. At least then, the only rats on the block were of the two-legged variety.

  • val

    @nabeguy Thanks for the back up. @andrewporter I’ll look for your book.

  • Eddy de Lectron


    The name of the porn theater “Cinart”

    The fancy Queen restaurant was always there, Queen Pizza was a separate store.

    Banana Republic was a Burger King not a 99 cent store.

  • nabeguy

    @val, no problem. I worked on your books at NAL, so it’s the least I can do.
    Eddy, you’re correct , it was Cinart…well, kind of, at least until the end. But wasn’t BR a 99 cent store briefly before BK? And, for extra credit, who remembers what City Chemists and BR were back in the day? Small hint…it was 3 stores all with a regal name.

  • stuart little

    I don’t think this young lady is old enough to remember anything too far in the past. I am and I can say that parts of Court Street were definitely war zones. That greasy spoon on Montague and Hicks was gross. One of the worst dives ever, if you went in to have a grill cheese or fried eggs, you would smell like a dirty ashtray for hours and hours afterwards. Yuk!

  • bornhere

    Banana Republic was a Burger King in the 80s and a 99-cent store after that. And before City Chemist was an ATM thing, B&N, Waldenbooks, etc., it was a really, really good hamburger place. But that’s really going back….

  • Eddy de Lectron

    Nabe, the three stores, King George: Coffee Shop, Ice Cream Parlor and Pizzeria.

    Before Burger King it may have been a 99 cent store for a very short time but that was in the mid 70’s, before that it was a woman’s clothing store called Netties (sp?)

    There was Alberts Discount roughly where Jennifer Convertibles was perhaps that was the “99 cent” store…

  • Buddy Holly

    There was a school for kids at the City Chemists site, and Banana Republic was a Burger King at one time. The Corcoran real estate store on the corner of Montague and Henry was a poultry store. And the diner was the Promenade on Montague and Hicks, and they did have good, decent food for the lowest prices.

    Las Tres Palmas did have good food. There was also a good Spanish deli where the girlie clothing store is now at State and Court, and does anyone remember Nick and Joe’s Pizza? They were Yankee fans, and if you were a Met’s fan, you had to pay extra for a slice – if they would serve you at all.

  • nabeguy

    Eddy FTW. Buddy, I don’t remember a school in the CC space, but York Institute was above the Promenade for many years. The Promenade was our favorite after-club hangover cure in the 70’s…nothing like a Lumberjack Special to sop up the Heinies. I had a friend on Montague who was so lazy that he would order late night take-out from the ‘Nade and ask them to have the delivery guy pick him up a pack of cigarettes and the late Daily News on the way. Eddy, his initials were RC.

  • nabeguy

    Oh, and wasn’t the Corcoran site also an Ebinger’s way way back? Or was that the Housing Works spot? And who remembers that there was a Sinclair’s Bakery as well as an Ebinger’s? Today, I can only find a decent cookie in my memories.

  • Eddy de Lectron

    Nabe, Yes, RC lived in my building.

    When I was 19 I worked at Marcolini Wine & Liquor, it was common for us to pick-up the paper, cigarettes even a sandwich and deliver them along with the daily bottle (or two) of booze, to our regulars…

  • WillowtownCop

    If you watch Without A Trace there are some shots of what Montague St was in the early 80s.