Henry Joseph Goldberger, the restaurateur behind the late Snooky’s Pub in Park Slope and numerous other Brooklyn businesses, passed away peacefully at home in Westbury, New York, on January 16th. He was 95 years old.
Mr. Goldberger served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, moving after to Levittown on Long Island.
He grew up one of eight children in a conservative town on Long Island, and was often subject to anti-Semitism and discrimination, his family recounted. Of the eight, Henry was the only one to keep the Goldberger name, while others changed it in hopes of having better luck finding employment.
It was important to him that Snooky’s be a place where all were welcome, in contrast to his experience growing up. The spot was one of the first to have an integrated waitstaff and welcome gay couples.
“For him and my mother, it was very much second nature that that was how you would conduct yourselves. They had a pretty strong moral compass about issues around race and how people should be treated. They had both experienced some form of discrimination when they were growing up,” Peter Goldberger, Henry’s son, said. “It was natural for him to feel like ‘why wouldn’t I hire African Americans to be the staff, why wouldn’t I hire them to be on the counter? If somebody has an objection to it, they should go eat someplace else. It’s really not my concern’.”
This attitude of inclusion made Snooky’s a meeting place for civil rights leaders like Reverend Al Sharpton and Betty Shabazz, the family says.
Snooky’s opened on 7th Avenue in 1971, at a time when Park Slope wasn’t as trendy as it is today. The restaurant was one of the first full-service eateries in an area that at the time, was mainly bars and pubs.
When Henry and his wife, Dolores, were deciding whether they should purchase the space, they conducted a test. They left their car unlocked on the Avenue while touring the restaurant and decided that if it was still there when they got back, they’d go ahead.
Today, the spot is occupied by Da Nonna Rosa and was still owned by Goldberger up until his passing.
“My dad insisted on, during the time of COVID, to provide [Da Nonna Rosa] significant rental relief, in some cases collecting no rent. He understood how tough it is to make a living running a restaurant,” Peter said.
Maggie Goldberger, one of Henry’s ten surviving grandchildren, remembers growing up around the restaurant fondly. She recalls using the upstairs soda guns to craft Frankenstein drinks with her sisters, then making people try their creations.
“We’d always want to hear these stories about his parents, their immigration story, or his childhood, and everything he would just turn back to Snooky’s. He’d [say] ‘Oh, I don’t really know about that,’ and just talk about the restaurant. That was definitely his legacy, what he was most passionate about,” Maggie said.
Stories about the spot still loom large for the family, like the cat they used to hide from the health inspector and the famous cakes Henry’s wife made that were really just Duncan Hines boxed mix, something she was always open about with disbelieving customers. Other New York City icons, like Shirley MacLaine, Paul Aster, Pete Hamill, and former Governor Hugh Carey were also said to have favorited the spot.
In addition to Snooky’s, Henry Goldberger also operated the Hamburger Stop, Charles Henry Clothing, and The Brooklyn Heights Press newspaper in Brooklyn Heights for a period of time.
“[Henry and Dolores] just found all prejudice so unacceptable. The fact that he could find or create a haven for people who were on the outs, who could be the victims of some mistreatment as he was as a child, gave him great comfort,” Peter said.
Henry Goldberger will be buried in Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, alongside his wife, who was in the Navy. Services will be private due to COVID-19. He is preceded in death by his wife Dolores, and survived by his four children: Larry, Michael (“Snooky”), Susan and Peter; ten grandchildren: Natalie, Jeffrey, Stephen, Kevin, Brian, Nina, Emma, Maggie, Katie and Claire; and nine great-grandchildren: Kelly, Ethan, Alithia, Ozan, Ayla, Finn, Ava, Simone and Vivian.