Southern Brooklyn

Towne Cafe, Sheepshead’s Oldest Bar, Up For Sale!


Sheepshead Bay’s oldest bar, Towne Cafe, is on the chopping block.

The bar, located at 1418 Avenue Z, on the corner of East 15th Street, is one of Sheepshead Bay’s more depressingly bizarre venues.

During the day, a handful of older folks sit quietly at the bar, sipping musky wine or Bud Lights and muttering about better days. Then, at night, in one of the weirder nocturnal metamorphoses of our neighborhood, it turns into a Russian-American karaoke hall, attracting wafer-thin men donning leather jackets and dodgy glances paired with fur-clad, makeup-slathered women.

In the years I’ve passed this joint, no one has ever looked happy. It smelled like stale cigarette smoke and desperation.

These are not nice things to say, but I mean it in perhaps the most positive way I can. I don’t want to see Towne Cafe go. Dark, grim and old, it is a concrete reminder of Sheepshead Bay’s seedier underbelly – even if nothing particularly seedy was going on there. It sparked the imagination, and, sitting on that corner for as long as it has, lent character to an otherwise boring intersection.

And just how long as it been there? Well, Fillmore Real Estate is managing the listing. Asking $300,000 for the business – including liquor license, cabaret license and restaurant license, along with a 10-year lease for $6,600 a month – at $300,000. The listing said it was established in 1932.

And this is one of the reasons I just love Town Cafe. You see, prohibition of alcohol didn’t end until 1933, making us wonder if, perhaps, this was at one time an illegal speakeasy. And, from the looks of it, that ain’t so hard to imagine.

But we can’t just let that go. So we checked the history of certificates of occupancy on the building. We found one for a restaurant and cabaret as early as 1958. Before that – in 1955 – one was signed for a restaurant only.

There was but one C of O on record prior to 1955, and it wasn’t for a restaurant or bar. It was for a “factory for Macaroni & Spaghetti.”

Now, we could assume that, perhaps, the establishment was located elsewhere and moved to this spot in 1955, wrestling with the city for three years until it could obtain permission to serve booze and allow dancing.

Or… and this is why I love Towne Cafe… we could imagine that it had operated, illegally at first, and then quasi-illegally without a license, as a speakeasy, masking itself as a Captain of American Industry in the production of macaroni and spaghetti.

That kind of narrative seems to fall well within the parameters of believability, given Towne’s noir mystique. We could just, you know, ask them or something – but that would spoil all the fun.

Oh, and just so I’ve said this for the record, Towne Cafe is also home of the coolest neon sign in all of Southern Brooklyn.

Comment policy


  1. Ridiculous asking price and rent.  Even thought Beer Saloon does not have a a liquor license it can be had with no key money and rent that is half what they want here. 

  2. It was a new building in ’40. The construction date was 1939, according to the document which describes it as a pasta factory. Maybe that’s slang for tavern.

  3. I REmember finally turning 21 and this was the first place i went to for that legal drink 15 years ago but they had a big sign “26 and older”

  4. Isn’t this the place that has the “No one under 35 admitted” and is known as “Russian MILF Cafe” although the term MILF is being used extremely extremely loosely.

  5. Didn’t think you could just buy a liquor license. But maybe if someone is buying the whole business as a package, one could. But buying the whole business might include buying the liabilities as well. I would be VERY careful about that.

  6. Coming soon luxury condos and medical space! Enjoy the lap of luxury just steps from the Sheepshead bay station. Just a one minute walk. Sad part, I see this being the selling point.

  7. My friend and neighbor Angelo tended bar there more than 25 years ago. He held the position for some time before he passed away. I had been there back in the day and you are right, I was the youngest. 

  8.  A starbucks would be great there…nothing but crappy D&D’s in sheepshead bay and who wants to head to Brighton for an over priced coffee?

  9. It has survived many generations but I’m thinking it’s taken it’s last breath.
    There aren’t many old establisments left in the bay.
    I think Gothic Press, on Ave. Z, may be one of the few left.


  11. I made my first of about 4 appearances there in the 90’s. To me, it was just like any other bar. When I went, it was still mostly American.

       I just hope Wheelers (Not Wheeler’s anymore!) doesn’t go out of business. Then I cry.

  12. In the mid-90’s John Alden began the Karaoke DJ phase in the Towne, and what a time it was. People came from all over Brooklyn to listen to the singers do their thing, and every weekend was packed. Sonny and Shirley poured drinks, with Peggy the wandering hostess, and Harry as the bouncer by the door. There is a chapter from an autobiography written about this place. The book is “Fixation Pains”, and it is available in print or via Kindle. Kindle version is only $2.99. There were many talented singers here and John Alden is now known all over the tri-state area. That stage was like a magnet. R.I.P.

  13. this is the best place for people of all ages. I am 56 and I love that place to dance and to have a fun !! I hope they saty


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