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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  • Eddy de Lectron

    Housing Works was; Fishes Eddy (how could I forget that), a stationary store, The Montague Saloon and before that the Piccadilly Restaurant.

    Corcoran site was two spaces the Sinclair Bakery space was closest to the Saloon it then became a newspaper/convenience store. the corner most space was a meat market (not just poultry) then a David’s Cookies.

  • Mikey

    I’m pretty sure the Ebinger’s (Sinclairs as well) was in the Housing Works spot.

    Blackout layer cake.

    Those women were lightning fast boxing and tying the product.

  • Eddy de Lectron

    No Mikey, HW is is where the Montague Saloon was.

  • Mikey

    Montague Saloon was not there long. This was before Montague Saloon.

  • T.K. Small

    I seem to recall that in the mid-70s, there was a pizza place on the corner of my Montagu & Henry, where city chemist is located. As for Jennifer convertibles, there was an Italian seafood restaurant, maybe Lenny’s clam bar, or something like that there. We ate there once or twice. On the Northwest corner there was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream place.

  • Eddy de Lectron

    The Montague Saloon was there for 20 years Before that it was the Piccadilly Restaurant. The bakery was closer to the corner. I’ll bet $1,000

  • David on Middagh

    Lest we forget, after David’s Cookies, but before being usurped by the real estate office, that corner of Montague@Henry was John’s Pizza.

    /bows head for a moment of silence

  • Eddy de Lectron

    Yes T.K. right except the pizza place was not right on the corner it was the third store from the NE corner. Lenny’s Clam Bar became La Traviata when it moved to its present location.

  • T.K. Small

    But was I correct in remembering that Lenny’s was in the Jennifer convertible location at some point? Also, what about Baskin-Robbins?

  • Eddy de Lectron

    Yes that is more less where Lenny’s was except the building went through several renovations so it was configured a bit differently back then. Yes, Baskin Robbins was on the NW corner and Spike Lee worked there.

  • Eddy de Lectron
  • bornhere

    Sinclair’s was one doorway off the corner on Montague (the way the corner has been reconfigured, I can’t really remember) before it moved to Henry; I’m not sure, though, that Sinclair’s Montague was exactly where Ebinger’s Montague was. And Eddy, if you can recall what was on Clark and Henry WAY before By George, a Kewpie will be coming your way.

  • weegee

    Ah, Sinclair’s, and its Elaine Stritch proprietress, Frances, who slung rainbow cookies. And then there was Square Circle at the J.C. place, where I bought my first CD…where they also maintained a trough of 45s along the wall on the 1st floor, amazingly enough.

    I was a fan of Promenade. Toasted bagels with hot chocolate linger in my mind, as well as the waiter who looked like a Lawrence Welk clarinet player who, I think, lived in the first detached brick house on Joralemon St. east of Henry (that’s long since been completely overhauled.)

  • Alana

    Nothing better than listening (reading) to a bunch of old farts reminisce about Brooklyn Heights.

  • Julie Kanfer

    call me naive, but i thought Snooki would have been the basis for comments on this article. glad to see you’re all above that. I’m not.

  • Claude Scales

    Who’s Snooki? I remember Snooky Lanson, from “Your Hit Parade”:

  • TS McGee

    @Alana & Julie …

    This site is run by 70 year old wannabe hipsters.

  • TS McGee

    If you don’t believe me. I’ll prove it to you. After the jump….

  • TS McGee
  • GHB

    Alana, u always such a bi+ch?

  • nabeguy

    GHB, she just doesn’t want us stinking up the joint.

  • Alana

    @ GHB Excuse me?

  • Alana

    @ GHB as Julie Kanfer said this was indeed about SNOOKI who is indeed a real bi+ch on Jersey Shore. Maybe you should read the book or check out the show. Sorry if I offended the “old farts”

  • nabeguy

    Well, here’s one mystery cleared up

  • Monty

    Does anyone remember when the Armando’s space was Spicy Pickle? Or when TD Bank was Commerce Bank? I must be getting old…

  • Buddy Holly

    I really miss Mr. Souvlaki restaurant on Montague. I wish we had another good greek place in the hood.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    You old farts, check this out:

  • Bornhere

    Great find, nabe! I have zero recollection of Ebinger’s (evidently aka “Ebinger”) being on that side of the street, though. Are there more pictures in that treasure trove?

  • anon

    Wow–my rant created 52 responses, which brought back fine memories. At least Frankel admitted she was wrong and exaggerated about the war zone comment, which reminds me of the phrase “falsus in unum falsus in omnibus” (for those who are not Claude, it means “false in one thing, false in everything”) and serves as a very effective tool for cross examination. Maybe she should stick to fiction.

    As for missing old stores that are no longer, you folks ought to move off your fixation on Montague Street. Back in the day, nobody went there because it was too crowded. The real fun was on Court Street, with the guy yelling “laundry bags, one dollar” on Court Street. And Oriol Deli on Court (where the American Apparel is now located) is sorely missed.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    I was prescient. I was waiting for that question. Check out my link above yours. lol