“I tell you, when the wise guys ran Vegas, it was good for everybody,” says Anthony Bamonte. I’m sitting with him and two of his long time friends, and we are just starting to work on an appetizer of grilled zucchini and onions. Grilled lightly and folded with quality olive oil, the dish (an off the menu special) is perfect. While we chat, a waiter, dressed in tuxedo with napkin draped over the arm just so, comes over to fill up the glasses of Chianti.
Anthony’s Grandfather, Pasquale Bamonte, and his wife settled in Williamsburg after immigrating from Salerno, Italy at the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, three years before the Williamsburg Bridge was completed, they opened Liberty Hall, later known as Bamonte’s (32 Withers Street, 718-384-8831). Pasquale lived just above the two-story structure with his family, and Liberty Hall originally served as a banquet hall and meeting place. Old photographs of men’s club meetings from those days still hang on the walls. After surviving Prohibition, the restaurant was run by various aunts, uncles, and nephews. Anthony Bamonte first started working at the restaurant in the 1960s. Today, he co-runs the place with his daughter, Nicole, who oversees all aspects of the restaurant.
And to some extent, the family has embraced the changing neighborhood: “Hey, you boys can park your bikes in the lot right over there,” Mr. Bamonte told my friend Andrew and me, after we’d tried to lock our bikes outside. We walked our bikes into the valet lot, and the valet attendant said, “Just put em’ right here, I’ll watch ’em for ya.” I had never valeted my bike before, but it was a nice start to my meal.
Other than that, though, the place hasn’t changed much since its last renovation in 1950. Inside, you’ll pass the cigarette machine (no longer in service) and encounter the pinkish-hued lights coming from behind the long wooden bar, where you’ll spy an antique register and mirrors behind. On the opposite wall stand two wooden phone booths, and the space is bedecked with signed photos from Telly Savalas, Tommy Lasorda, and James Gandolfini — they shot three Sopranos episodes here.
Past the bar is the dining room, where the floors are covered in red carpeting, tables are draped with starched white tablecloths, chandeliers hang overhead, and windows sport red curtains. You can see the kitchen in the back, and it turns out exactly the kind of menu you’d hope for and expect here: prosciutto and melon, veal scaloppini, tiramisu. There is no wine list; the servers tell you the handful of glasses offered that night.
The clams oreganata, essentially clams with oregano and breadcrumbs, had just a little too much of the latter, but no matter — our server steered us toward the pork chop Bamonte, which is grilled and served with vinegar peppers and hot peppers. It was simple and spicy and delicious, if slightly overcooked. But as one regular, Rachel, said, “You don’t just for the food, you go for Bamonte’s.”
In fact, it seems everyone is familiar with one another. For instance, it took me about two minutes to realize the bartender, John, has a son named Lorenzo — every person that came in said, “Hey John, how’s Lorenzo doin’?”
I noticed, too, that photos on the walls include snaps of old Bamonte family members and friends, and an original of Joe DiMaggio, who was a trusted regular for many years. “It use to take 20 minutes just to get to your table,” a longtime regular known as ‘Doc’ told me. “It would be so crowded with neighborhood folks, you honestly had to say hi to everyone.” These days, the restaurant is a little less crowded, but it still fills up on the weekend; the crowd is a mix of tracksuits, billowy short-sleeved button downs, and new Williamsburg residents.
A meal at Bamonte’s typically ends with some espresso and Sambuca, a tradition here for over 100 years. So grab your nice dress shirt, and take a date for some old world flavor and charm. As they say, “Don’t worry about the hype; it’s a great time.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 25, 2014