While Brooklyn boasts a wealth of imposing, well-known landmarks, some of the borough’s most arresting architectural achievements are actually hidden in plain sight. And instead of being hermetically sealed like museums, many just happen to house restaurants offering a true taste of Breukelen history—we’re talking sage pappardelle inside of a 100-year-old pharmacy and malts and egg creams on the site of a 19th century boarding house.
Owing to its proximity to the docks, Brooklyn Farmacy’s initial iteration was as a boarding house (every room in the building still has private exits and entrances), but was established as an apothecary in the early 1920s, and taken over by the Longo family from 1928-1968, until their son was busted for stealing guns from the post office and selling them out back. It changed hands a few more times, before falling into extended disrepair in the eighties, and briefly revived again in 1994, by a group of Christmas tree hawkers. By the time Brooklyn Farmacy owners Peter Freeman and Gia Giasullo took over in 2010, there were remnants left from every decade—a literal freeze-frame of Brooklyn history. With help from Discovery Channel’s reality TV show, Construction Intervention, the pharmacy was lovingly, painstakingly restored, to include its original stamped tin ceilings, antique wooden cabinets, and penny tile floors, spelling out the Longo’s name.
513 Henry Street, Carroll Gardens
Originally built in the 1890s as a private residence, the stately Clinton Hill brownstone has undergone multiple transformations over the years, from an Italian salumeria and neighborhood hub called Russo’s Delicatessen to a popular barbershop and, most recently, a tattoo parlor with a private artist studio in back. When the Finch finally moved in, they dedicated months to an archeological dig of sorts, sorting through layers of paint, construction materials and spot fixes to uncover skylights, colors from years past, and features nobody knew existed, like a working fireplace. While certain walls and columns were removed, the basement floor re-poured, and plumbing and electrical infrastructure upgraded, the team was careful to preserve original details like the tin ceiling, basement arches (which now serve as entryway to the walk-in), the door frame to the original garden level entrance, and the wall in the stairway going to the basement, which still shows signs of the building’s many tenants, dating back to the early 1940s. 212 Greene Avenue, Clinton Hill
Vinegar Hill House
Because the entire neighborhood appears frozen in time, from its cobblestone streets to its row of 19th-century Greek Revival homes and Federal-style mansions (one of which housed Commodore Perry), Vinegar Hill House is far from your average storefront. Located on Hudson Avenue—which was believed to be the high road for residents that lived near and worked in the Navy Yard—the two-story building and carriage house was originally constructed in 1880. Given the surrounding concord grape vines as well as fig and cherry trees, one of its earliest incarnations may have been an ice cream shop. But prior to the arrival of Jean Adamson and Sam Buffa, the space was being used as an apartment. Upon signing the lease, they excavated most of it, but kept all remaining original details such a strip of wainscot in the front dining room and the stone walls in the private dining room downstairs.
72 Hudson Avenue, Vinegar Hill
Locanda Vini e Olii
Constructed in 1896, this space housed a functioning pharmacy for over 100 years. When Locanda Vini e Olii opened in 2001, the owners restored all of the original wooden cabinetry, pharmacy shelves, sliding ladders, tin ceilings, moldings, and “Lewis Drug Store” sign, successfully replicating the vintage pharmacy’s interiors, down to a display of their assorted apothecary paraphernalia. One of their most prized relics is a letter, written by the great-grandfather of a patron, who grew up in the neighborhood at the turn of the century. Along with conveying how pleased he was with their faithful restoration of the space, he shared memories of playing with friends on the unpaved streets, where the only traffic was the occasional horse-drawn carriage. He was also the one to educate them about a Jewish tailor, who used to run a separate business out of what is now Locanda’s kitchen—tasked with fixing dresses for all of the ladies in the area.
129 Gates Avenue, Clinton Hill