Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dubrow's - A Brooklyn Legend

This colorful and bustling portrait of Kings Highway was taken around 1974. It completely captures the hustle of living in Brooklyn at the time. I can almost hear the traffic and the noise of the trains pulling into, or leaving, the elevated train platform visible just above, and to the left of, the Dubrow’s Cafeteria sign.

The double parked van gives evidence to the activity which defined Kings Highway, and still does so today. I was starting to write something about Dubrow’s when I remembered the story of the holdup that took place there is the 1950’s. So, I just decided to re-post the original article below. The first photo, below, of Dubrow’s in the rain, was taken by Michael Held, I think. Of course it may have been taken by John DiStefano; I will have to ask him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dubrow's - A Brooklyn Legend

Dubrow's was a cafeteria on Kings Highway and East 16th Street in Brooklyn, New York. It sat on the corner by the BMT elevated Subway line - an interesting combination in itself, an elevated subway. But that's Brooklyn for you. Along the BMT line were several stops going from Coney Island to Manhattan. And about every third Avenue was an express stop on the elevated portion of the subway. Kings Highway was one of those avenues and had lots of stores, just as the other express stops did. But it had one thing more. It had Dubrow's Cafeteria.
Dubrow's was a family owned chain of cafeterias, which were once in style all across America. You walked in, and got a ticket which got punched by a guy behind the counter when you got served. This was actually your check and you presented it to the cashier on the way out and paid for what you had eaten.

But really, Dubrow's was a place where people met and talked over coffee and pie in the late evenings, eggs and coffee in the wee hours returning from a concert, or occasionally, dinner. Their halibut was delicious, as was the creamed spinach.

Decorated in Art Deco style from the 1930's, it was the perfect place to hang out and kill time on a rainy night. As the establishment got older the patrons were treated to various activities that precluded food. Roach races were one of these pastimes. This consisted of sitting at your table, preferably next to a wall, and watching two roaches headed to the top of the wall. The stakes were small, usually coffee and pastry. Many a night I lost to Mike Held, who seemed to have a knack for picking the fastest roaches. I never figured out his secret...

It could also be the scene of danger and intrigue. Drugs could be purchased on the opposite corner from some shady and wasted fellows. I was warned very early in the 1960's to avoid "hanging out" on this corner. At that time it was a gathering spot for heroin dealing. This was about 1961. By the time the '60's had ended it was a place to meet your friends before heading to Manhattan for a concert, or just to hang out around the corner near Rainbow Shops and smoke one.

It also served as a place where politicians met the public. Being by a major train stop was great for meeting a lot of voters at about 5 and 6 PM when they came off the train in droves! JFK spoke around the corner on East 16th Street in 1960, opposite the bakery that sat next door to the Waldbaum’s Supermarket. You can see the Bakery sign in the photograph. I also saw RFK there in 1964 when he ran for Senator; Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968 when he ran for President; and John Lindsay both times he ran for Mayor.(He got booed one time for his handling of the transit strike.) There was so much to Dubrow's that it is almost impossible to write it all down.
There was a famous holdup of the Cafeteria on January 7th, 1952.  I wasn't there, but here is the text of the newspaper article from the New York Times describing it;

$14,000 Taken In Hold-up    (New York Times, January 7, 1952)
An apparently intoxicated man staggered up to the manager of crowded Dubrow's Cafeteria, 1521 King's Highway. Brooklyn at 12:45 o'clock this morning, took between $14,000 and $15,000, reeled out, and disappeared.

The victim was Max Tobin, 48 years old, manager and part owner of the restaurant, which is at East Sixteenth Street in the Sheepshead Bay section. He said 450 customers and 50 employees were unaware of the holdup in a balcony office.

Mr. Tobin said he noticed a man reeling along behind him as he went to a balcony but thought he was going to a washroom. However, Mr. Tobin said, as he unlocked the door to the office, the man bumped into him, knocked him inside, then produced a small black pistol and told the manager to sit down.

After taking the money from the safe the robber bound and gagged Mr. Tobin, said "So long" and left.

Dubrow’s was a regular Magical Mystery Tour for watching people. All kinds came and went at all hours. I know - I was there at all hours along with some of my friends. I think we used to go and watch the people who were often there to watch us!
There were several Dubrow's; all owned by the same family. There were two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan, and even another in Miami Beach for all those retirees who got homesick. Even today, long after the Kings Highway Dubrow's has disappeared (it was initially replaced by a Gap, but I'm not sure what's there now) people remember it with a fondness. Just Google Dubrow's and open your senses to a time and place we will never see again. (They even have a blogspot) I'm glad to have been a part of the tapestry that it was. Memories were made there.

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