Heights History: A Look Into The Past Of Some Montague Street Restaurants

While major chains would usually be ignored here, Häagen-Dazs (120 Montague Street – website) cannot.
Häagen-Dazs. Photo by Evan Bindelglass.

Why? It was the first Häagen-Dazs retail location. It opened on November 15, 1976 (a Monday, in case you were curious).

A sign indicating the history of this Häagen-Dazs store. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

But as far back as 1943, it was a doctor’s office and storefront.
120 Montague Street, 1967. Photo courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

ARCHIVE DOCUMENTS: 1943 Certificate of Occupancy | 1977 Certificate of Occupancy (PDFs)

A real newbie on the block is Taperia (132 Montague Street – Yelp! profile).
Taperia. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

As of 1976, it was the Laundabrite laundry. At one point it was also a car service/cigar shop. Taperia opened in October of 2013 and is a creation of Nando Ghorchian, owner of Caffe Buon Gusto. Manager Iwona Wawer said he wanted “something different.” There is live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
132 Montague Street, 1967. Photo courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

What The Manager Says To Order:
Drink: Sangria
Dish: Tuna Ceviche

ARCHIVE DOCUMENTS: 1927 Certificate of Occupancy | 1963 Certificate of Occupancy (PDFs)

Moving up the road, our next stop is Custom House (139 Montague Street – website).
Custom House. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

It’s a relative newcomer. According to city records, the location housed a two-car garage as of 1922. However, people have been eating at this spot for decades. It was a Hebrew National deli, visual evidence of which was left behind. La Traviata was around for about 30 years.
139 Montague Street, 1967. Photo courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

Custom House owner Red Davis is a native of Dublin, Ireland, where he was a busboy at O’Dwyer’s pub. He came to the U.S.A. in 1992 in search of a “change of scenery” and eventually landed at Clancy’s on 2nd Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan, which he ran until 2010. Then he set his sights on Bk and opened Custom House on June 9, 2012. When you walk in, don’t forget to look up. The atrium is two-stories-tall and the ceilings beyond are also high.

Interior of Custom House. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

What The Owner Says You Should Order:
Drink: Guinness
Entrée: Shepherd’s Pie (made with lamb)

ARCHIVE DOCUMENTS: 1922 Certificate of Occupancy | 1994 Certificate of Occupancy (PDFs)

Finally, we visit one of the area’s oldest restaurants, Armando’s (143 Montague Street – website).
Armando’s Restaurant. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

City records indicate it has housed a restaurant since as far back as 1931. Current owner and Queens native Maria Byros heard rumor it may have even been a speakeasy. Since 1936, it has been Armando’s and has played host to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, and Spike Lee (and his dad).
143 Montague Street, 1967. Photo courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

In March of 1981, Maria’s father. Peter, bought the restaurant. It went on to serve such celebs as Bjork, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, and even Alec Baldwin, who popped in after a day of filming on the block. Maria said the place was a second home and that she spent more time there than her actual home.

By March of 2008, however, Peter had become tired of running the restaurant. His children had no interest in taking over and he closed it. A sandwich shop called Spicy Pickle took over the space for about six months, but wasn’t a big hit. They were out of there by February of 2009.

The space then sat vacant until Maria, who had been working in real estate in Manhattan, was spurred by the community’s desire to have the place back. She partnered with her father and re-opened Armando’s in September of 2009. They had to completely remodel as Spicy Pickle left nothing of the original restaurant (Maria sees it as a dark chapter in their history).
Interior of Armando’s. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

Fortunately, the sign with the lobster (you know it) was saved. It dates back to somewhere between 1940 and 1945, according to Maria. With the neon back on, all was well with the world (relatively speaking).

Armando’s lobster sign. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

What Owner Maria Byros Says To Order:
Cocktail: Montague Gimlet – Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, lime juice, and prosecco.
Appetizer: Burrata alla Norma with heirloom cherry tomatoes and bread salad.
Entrée: La Carbonara Vera – spaghetti with crispy prosciutto, black pepper, Pecorino, and fresh egg. If you never liked spaghetti carbonara, it’s probably because haven’t had it made right. There is no cream in this dish and all of the ingredients speak for themselves and then form a beautiful choir in your mouth.
La Carbonara Vera at Armando’s. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

Dessert: Tiramisu. Even someone who doesn’t like coffee (who could that be?) will appreciate this.
Tiramisu at Armando’s. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

ARCHIVE DOCUMENTS: 1917 Certificate of Occupancy | 1931 Certificate of Occupancy | 1936 Certificate of Occupancy | 1943 Certificate of Occupancy | 1944 Certificate of Occupancy (PDFs)

Stay tuned for additional Brooklyn Heights restaurant histories and possibly more from Montague Street.

The quiet end of Montague Street late on a summer Monday afternoon. Photo by Evan Bindelglass

Before we say goodbye, however, it’s worth noting that there was a movie that was set largely in this neck of the woods. It wasn’t a particularly good one, but it was 1977’s “The Sentinel” (dir. Michael Winner, Universal Pictures), starring Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon along with Burgess Meredith, Martin Balsam, Eli Wallach, Ava Gardner, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum (who was dubbed), Christopher Walken, and even Jose Ferrer and Beverly D’Angelo. Sounds impressive, right? ::SHAKES HEAD:: There is a spoiler ahead.
Stills from “The Sentinel”

Raines’s character rents an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, specifically 10 Montague Terrace, seen here from the end of Remsen Street.
Still from “The Sentinel”

Well, a lot of terrible things happen in this place. Sarandon is killed and Raines’s character is transformed into the next “sentinel.” So, we see the building being demolished (in close-up shots, of course) and replaced by the following building (an apartment in which is shown to Nana Visitor (yes, Major Kira – then known as Nana Tucker) and Tom Berenger at the end of the movie).
10 Montague Terrace at the end of “The Sentinel”

The building was never really destroyed. It still stands, sans creepy sentinel in the top floor window.
10 Montague Terrace, today. Photo via Google Maps

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.

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  • Andrew Porter

    Teresa’s also had another restaurant on Austin Street in Queens, but that also closed more than a decade ago.

  • Suz

    LOVE THIS! Give me more….Montague Street spots! NEVER knew about Armando’s and the place has intimidated me for 20 years. Now I want to eat there. PLUS..Custom House…Irish? who knew. yummy…sheperds pie THANKS

  • paul_cs

    The ricotta pancakes at teresa’s are my favorite pancake ever.

  • Frank MIrer

    The corner of Montague and Henry was a pizza place, then replaced by real estate office (Corcoran?), then the skin care place which is there now.

    Next door, where is now Housing Works, previously Fishes Eddy, but before was a bar restaurant.

    The candy store on Montague was previously Radio Shack, but previous to that was China Chile, first Szechuan restaurant on the Heights.

    The flower store near the Church was previously Foffe, a pretty good upscale eatery.