I remember a somewhat famous Italian restaurant closing in 2012 called Rocco’s, which was in Greenwich Village. Rocco’s had a steady clientele, amongst whom, one could find some very famous names. Nevertheless, forces beyond the popularity of this Italian neighborhood’s eatery shut its doors for good. This opened my eyes to an unstoppable trend that has been taking place throughout America’s Italian neighborhoods; the forever loss of their authentic restaurants. Such unraveling led me to set out to photo document the current state of these neighborhoods and their establishments in consideration of the fact that they will eventually be no more. The result was me collecting an uncanny amount of photos from various places throughout America that reflect the trending decimation of the authentic Italian neighborhood restaurants and businesses. These photos usually show a closed store front with a for lease or for sale sign. Other times, it’s a sign in the window that bids farewell to the community or it’s just a building or storefront stripped completely of any indication of what was once there. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to get a heads up before a long-standing Italian American business closes and we try to make it there to photograph it and capture its essence before its totally gone. One such example is that of the Red Rose Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.
Going back 34 years, Santino and his father Anthony have satisfied the discerning taste buds of their neighborhood’s Italian community. This community is within a neighborhood called Carroll Gardens, which has a tremendous lineage to the country’s earliest years and its arteries are brownstones and brick buildings that are neatly laid out in a typical urban street grid where horses once pulled buggies. All throughout Carroll Gardens’ formal years, she has housed Italian families from different parts of Italy. Since the 1800’s, Italians from Sicily, Bari, Naples, Calabria and more have intermittently settled in Carroll Gardens whether to seek work as laborers in the city’s never-ending construction or on the docks as longshoremen. Italian Americans from Carroll Gardens have contributed many wonderful gifts to the world and one of those gifts is this intimate restaurant with an original wood bar, stools and other decorum fashioned in the mid 1900’s.
Red Rose was not just a restaurant for the last 34 years under its current management. She was a restaurant with a full bar since decades prior. That old-fashioned feel and perfectly prepared southern Italian food gives Red Rose that time capsule effect. Being there is an experience as opposed to a meal that’s prepared and served. The experience such that as you eat your meal, you can’t help but notice the laughs and apparent happy mood of the neighborhood gentlemen at the bar; one of whom is constantly referred to as father, and so maybe you think he could be a local priest. The feeling in Red Rose is warm. Santino walks over to a table of people and sits amongst them to make them feel at home. His father Anthony can be heard conversing with another older gentleman in Italian. As you possibly sip your wine and take in this unique and virtually extinct atmosphere, you perhaps realize that you are experiencing living history.
As one-by-one, America’s Italian neighborhoods lose their staple restaurants, we can only do our best to continue to frequent those that continue to provide venues for our nights out, engagements, communions, birthdays, and holidays.
In the meantime, we wish Santino and his father Anthony well in their future endeavors. They will be greatly missed.
One of the regular patrons at the bar expressed his sadness. He said: “It’s like losing a best friend. There’s nothing that can replace it.”
More about Rocco’s: http://thevillager.com/2012/01/19/classic-red-sauce-restaurant-is-closed-after-huge-rent-hike/