For so many, a Bronx way of life defines shared memories and experiences that only those who grew up in a specific section of the Bronx will share. While growing up in a New York City Borough will ultimately lead to universally shared experiences, every neighborhood and even every street is defined by its own individual landscape and the people who lived there. It’s in that environment that is lined by mom and pop stores and shops that ignites the memories of a particular place and time. Sadly, in 2022, many neighborhoods have been overrun by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts and other corporate stores with no soul or heart. It wasn’t like that many years ago.
This article takes a close-up look at life along Bainbridge Avenue and 204 Street in the Bronx in the mid to late 20th century. Bainbridge Avenue and 204 Street played a major role in the lives of anyone who has ever lived and grown up in the Norwood section of the Bronx. It didn’t matter if you lived on Webster Ave, Perry Ave, Hull Ave, Decatur Ave, Rochambeau Avenue, 206th, 207th or any other street in the neighborhood because there was probably a time in every day when you stepped onto the streets of Bainbridge Avenue and 204 Street.
This article looks at this section of the Bronx from the eyes of a young kid and then later on as a teenager. Perspectives change, and of course, so do your experiences as you grow up in a neighborhood that was so alive. The neighborhood around Bainbridge Avenue has been in constant change over the years, so depending on when one lived there, memories will always be different. As communities change, so do the people, the stores, the shops, and the tales.
I grew up living at 3186 Rochambeau Avenue in the 1960s and 70s. I moved to Long Island in the mid-70s, but found myself often coming back on weekends to visit my grandmother and to hang out with my friends on Perry Avenue as we all went through our mid to late teen years. In the 1980s, I wound up working in many of the Irish neighborhood bars like French Charley’s with my band Phase IV. Something always pulled me back. Even just last summer in 2022, I interviewed for a teaching job at P.S .80. Is the neighborhood different now than it was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s? Well, not for the people who live there now and make it their home. That’s the American Experience, neighborhoods change, but the memories remain, and new ones are made.
For most people who may be reading this, those memories of the neighborhood are incredibly cherished. Only those who lived there can really understand what it was like to be a one to two-minute walk from the best slice of pizza or egg cream they would taste for the rest of their lives. Only those from our neighborhood will know what it meant to call for someone or to yell at the top of their lungs for their mother to throw a dime out the window because Cubbie Cone or the Good Humor truck was coming down the street. And of course, many will remember what it was like to get their first kiss on a park bench along Mosholu Parkway or on a swing in the Oval Park.
This is the fourth in a series of articles I have written about the neighborhood. The first three focused on the Oval Park, St Brendans, and Life Along Mosholu Parkway. This one will just center on Bainbridge Ave and 204th street and the world of stores and places that we all interacted with on almost every day we walked the streets of the Bronx.
Bainbridge Ave begins just north of the Woodlawn subway station intersection with Jerome Avenue before they split. Bainbridge Ave runs south past Montefiore Hospital and the Oval Park. It continues south until it meets 204th street and then heads west across Mosholu Parkway. However, it’s the area between Oval Park and 204th street that we will look at from the Bainbridge’s Avenue perspective. Additionally, we will continue our story on 204th street down to Webster Ave and to the park we all knew as French Charlies.
For many of us in our community, Bainbridge Avenue really began at the Oval Park on the corner of Van Cortlandt East and Bainbridge. As one ventures down Bainbridge Avenue, they are met with many stores on the west side. It was the sections between 207th street and 206th street where memories of so many classic stores begin.
One of those stores is still there on Bainbridge Avenue between 206th and 207th streets. Eddie’s Delicatessen was a place none of us will ever forget. Eddie’s Delicatessen was ahead of its time. It seemed to set the template for so many more deli’s that would come along and open up all around the boroughs and on the Island. Eddie was friendly with everyone. Eddie probably sold more beer and cigarettes than anything else. He wasn’t the only delicatessen in the neighborhood, there was also Bedford’s delicatessen that was on Bainbridge right before you hit Webster Avenue. There were others but these were the two I remember the most. Bedford’s Deli was next to Volpps Bakery which was another one of those special places. In fact, Volpps was almost everyone’s favorite bakery in the neighborhood along with Julie’s Butter Cake Bakery where my grandmother worked.
The bakeries in the neighborhood always had great display windows that made you just want to buy everything in the store. Those black and white cookies were to die for. No one makes them anymore as those bakeries did. They all taste fake now compared to how those black and whites tasted in the 60s and 70s. The bakeries were always crowded, but Sunday mornings were when they were the most crowded. People loved buying those freshly baked rolls on Sunday mornings. The ones with a little powdered sugar on top. Of course, all the cakes were so fresh too. The lines were always long on Sundays at those bakeries. It was a very traditional trip to the bakery after Sunday morning mass. If you went to St Brendan’s which so many kids in the neighborhood did, you better not miss mass. Sister Henrietta or Sister Cajetan would not be too pleased with you for missing church.
And speaking of Volpps…. right next to that legendary bakery was the entrance to Honigs Parkway’s toy department. This was long before any of us had ever heard of stores like Toys Our Us or any of the modern toy stores that would come and go many years later. For us, Toyland was Honigs Parkway. Of course, to everyone else who was older than ten, the rest of Honigs Parkway’ was dedicated to selling appliances and TV’s. The entrance to that part of the store was on Webster Avenue under the elevated train tracks, at least when the elevated train tracks were still there.
Across from Honigs Parkway on the other side of the street was the legendary Woolworths. Of course, Woolworths was not just a fixture in our neighborhood as they were all over the city and other parts of the county. Yet, it was a store that held special memories for many people in the neighborhood. I bought my first 45 rpm record at that store. I am sure I was not the only one to buy their first record from Woolworths. That store had everything and it was all pretty cheap.
Newspapers and Candy Stores
In the 21st century, there are fewer and fewer people who still read newspapers. However, in the 20th century before the growth of the internet, cell phones, tablets, and even cable news, most people got their news from either the radio, local televised broadcast news, or newspapers. In the Bronx, most people read the Daily News or the New York Post. Both papers were very different papers back then. Interestingly, one newspaper a day wasn’t always enough for people.
The Daily News used to publish two papers a day. I remember this clearly because my father used to send me to the candy store on the corner of 206th Street and Bainbridge Ave to get him the Daily News “Night Owl,” edition every evening. He wasn’t the only one sending his kid to the store to buy the night edition. It may be hard to believe, but on many evenings, there would be a huge line of people just waiting for the newspaper to arrive. Imagine that….. a line of people lined up to buy a newspaper. I always wondered why my dad sent me there on so many evenings to buy a newspaper. It was years later when I discovered that he wanted the Daily News “Night Owl,” edition to get the latest scratches for the race card at Yonkers.
It never bothered me going to the candy store to get the newspaper for my father. It was the candy store! If there was ever one place on Bainbridge Ave that holds the sweetest memories, it was the Candy Store. In reality, it was a 20th-century traditional newsstand store. Yet, everyone in the neighborhood called it the “Candy Store.” For young kids, it was the most wonderful place in the neighborhood. It’s funny how nowadays we take for granted the large candy rows in 7-Elevens and Walgreens and CVS drug stores. However, back then in the 60s, and 70,s it was that large section of candy bars and boxes in front of the register that was just so mesmerizing.
In the 1960s, a box of candy or a candy bar averaged about seven cents a box. The popular candies at the time were Hot Tamales, Chocolate Babies (long gone) Babe Ruth Bar, the Reggie Bar (in the mid to late 70s) and so many more. And then of course there were the Bazooka Bubble Gum pieces with the comic inside. The price of one piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum was actually half a cent. You would get two pieces of Bazooka Bubble Gum or its rival Double Bubble for a penny. Candy just seemed to taste so much sweeter back then. Was it the candy itself that has changed or is it just old age that does not allow us to taste food the same way we tasted it as kids?
While we cherished the Candy Store for its welcome onslaught of candies, there was so much more to this magical place. Standing at the top of the list would have to be the Egg Creams! In the back of the store was a counter where you could sit and order an Egg Cream. They made the most incredible-tasting egg creams on the planet. Either chocolate or vanilla, they both were heavenly. I can still hear Charlie stirring that long spoon in the glass as he poured the seltzer and syrup into that large glass and then added the milk. You could get ice cream sodas or just ice cream, but the egg creams were the number one choice. How in the name of the god of deserts has the rest of the world never caught on to this magical drink? It is that experience that only those of us who grew up in the neighborhood as well as many of the other boroughs can ever really appreciate. The Bronx Bond begins with the “Egg Cream.”
The Candy Store also hosted a great section of comics. If you wanted to buy a magazine or a comic this was the place to go to in the neighborhood. Kids would often just stare at the comics for long periods of time pretty much annoying the guys who worked in the candy store. Next to the comics were a pair of old phone booths that had windows in them that you could stare out onto 206 street. I would notice sometimes people in those booths for long periods of time. And of course, I can’t close out this candy store section without mentioning the pretzels. The Candy Store had the traditional pretzel sticks in those large circular glass containers. Yet, the ones that were so amazing were the oversized soft pretzels that were always hot. I have never tasted pretzels like that since.
Along the Avenue…
As one walked down Bainbridge Avenue from 206 street, they would be greeted by the Daitch Supermarket. There were two major supermarkets in the neighborhood in the 60s and 70s. The Daitch Supermarket was the most modern one. The Met was located right across from the Bainbridge Theater on 204th street. Most people shopped at both stores depending on sales I guess.
Just before Bainbridge met 204th street was a host of other stores that were favorites of the neighborhood. Most kids would agree that one of their favorites was Mr. Tee’s Dairy Queen. Many of us became friends with Michael Tee who was in our grade level. There was nothing better than going to the multiple birthday parties at Dairy Queen that Mr. Tee had for his two sons Michael and Dexter. He also had a much younger daughter. Unlimited access to all the ice cream one could eat was usually a major part of those birthday parties. Dairy Queen would become a part of the neighborhood for a long time. How could you not love Dairy Queen and those slushy sugary ice drinks I think they used to call Mr. Misty’s. Ten times better than Slurpees.
We all had a favorite pizza place in the neighborhood. Mine was Sal’s Pizza on 206th street. I wasn’t the only one who loved Sal’s Pizza the best. Sal made the best cheese slice of pizza I have ever tasted in my life. I have been searching forever to find a pizzeria that made a slice of pizza that tasted like Sal’s. It has been a futile and hopeless search. The closest I have ever come was a pizzeria in Kings Park on Long Island called Napoli’s that had a similar taste to Sal’s. When I mentioned that to the pizza maker in the Kings Park store, he just looked at me kind of funny and said “yeah well I used to work at Sal’s Pizzeria on Bainbridge Ave. It seems that eventually, Sal’s Pizza on 206 street moved to a bigger location on Bainbridge Ave just around the block.
Sal’s pizzeria was more than just a pizzeria, it was a hangout for many of the younger kids in the neighborhood. That’s because Sal had a pinball machine in the back. Sal never minded having a bunch of kids in the back of his store playing pinball and hanging out. He was such a friendly guy.
I still remember the pizza prices in the sixties being 25 cents for one slice and 10 cents for a soda that was served in a paper funnel cup held upright in a light brown plastic holder. The vivid memories I have of these days only seem to define just how special it was getting a slice of pizza at Sal’s. It may seem ridiculous to someone not from that neighborhood or even time period, but I think those who experienced it will understand.
Eventually, Sal’s brother Angelo opened another pizzeria in the neighborhood simply called Angelo’s. This was a big deal. Whenever anything opened in the neighborhood it was a big deal. More on that later. Angelo’s Pizzeria was located on the corner of 207th Street and Bainbridge Ave. It was about a minute’s walk from Sal’s. Angelo’s was a much bigger pizzeria. Angelo’s was split in half with the right side being a restaurant and the left side a pizzeria. Both sides were divided by a wall. This was an amazing place to eat. My father used to take me there all the time to eat in the restaurant. Memories I will cherish forever. St Brendan’s was just down the block, and the pizzeria would always be packed after CYO and scouting events. It was a great location for the restaurant and the community loved the place almost as much as Sal’s.
One of the other much-loved pizzerias in the neighborhood was Napoli’s. Napoli’s was another traditional Bronx pizzeria with a large open window on the street where you could just walk up to the window and order a slice, fold it in half, and then walk away eating it like you were the Pope of Bainbridge Ave. Napoli’s was a pizzeria that was open late at night. When I was a teenager, I used to go to Napoli’s with my friend Kevin Minahan and Fran Diemer late at night for one of their amazing Sicilian slices. This legendary place was located on 204 street right next to the Bainbridge Movie Theater. And speaking of the Bainbridge Movie Theater……
The Bainbridge Movie Theater
Every time I hear the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, I am brought back to the Bainbridge Movie Theater. Now one may ask what does Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass have to do with the Bainbridge Movie Theater? The reason that music reminds me of the theater is that they used to play the music of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass in the theater before they would show the moves. They did this for years always playing the same Herb Alpert songs. I’m not sure if anyone reading this will also remember that from the 1960s, but music is a powerful medium that can bring you back to a certain place and time instantly.
The Bainbridge Theater was an old-school movie house. It was not an elaborate theater like Lowe’s Paradise or the Valentine Theater on Fordham Road, but it was a very special theater to all of us who lived in the area. It was one large single screen for a very long time. It eventually split I am told, but in the 60s and 70s and the decades before that, it was still the classic single-screen theater. The lobby was separated from the theater by a pane of glass. So, the theater was never really that dark because the lights of the lobby always shined through the glass into the theater. But that really didn’t bother anyone and the great part about it was you could still watch the movie while waiting in line to buy some popcorn.
The theater had a smoking section on the right side which was ridiculous when you think about it as if just a few feet were going to separate the smoke from those who did not smoke. But everyone accepted it. I never remember seeing anyone fighting with people who were smoking. That’s just the way it was. A lot more people smoked back then. My friend Fran Diemer’s mother worked at the theater and so a lot of us saw many movies for free. It was never really that expensive anyways. Anyone who went to the theater in the 60s and 70s will remember that they always showed two movies. It would usually be a brand-new movie paired with a film that was released a few months earlier. It’s difficult to drive down Bainbridge Avenue and see that the theater is gone. The Bainbridge Theater was a very special place in the neighborhood for people of all ages. I started going there when I was a baby as my mom loved the movies. It was a great escape and a community bonding experience at the same time. It is one of the places in the neighborhood that many of us miss the most.
Right south of the Bainbridge Theater was Perry Avenue. On the corner of Perry Avenue and 204 Street was and still is Mcdonald’s. Now for most people in the modern world, the mention of McDonald’s means nothing at all because there is one usually within a half-mile of wherever you are on the planet. Yet in the early 1970s, the arrival of McDonald’s in the neighborhood was one of the biggest events that ever happened in the history of 204th Street. Eventually, it would become just a typical Mcdonald’s as everyone got used to it, but when it first opened, the lines seemed to never end. And once again, those burgers seemed to taste so much better back then.
Perry Avenue was a very special place as was every street along 204th Street. People hung out with the people who usually lived on the same street. Of course, we have to count Mosholu Parkway East which was lined with apartment buildings. Those who lived in those buildings hung out with the people who lived on the adjacent streets like Perry Ave. Hull Avenue and Decatur Avenue. No matter which avenue you hung out on, we all used Mosholu Park for various activities day and night!
I will never forget the friends I made on Perry Avenue like Fran Diemer, Kevin Minihan, Mary, and Rosie McKenna, Tj Healy, Wayne Kelsey, Bobby Taffin, Jimmy Gallagher, Claude, Andre and Adrian Guerreros, Kay O’Leary, Barbara Gleason, Kevin, Terry, Jeannie and Patty Byrnes and many others. We were a tight group for a while playing football games against other streets in the neighborhood on Mosholu Park’s center divider and then hanging out at night. That was our field of dreams.
We went to concerts together at the Garden all the time seeing bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen, and so many great bands putting out music we thought was never going to end. We took the D train to Yankee stadium all the time. We talked about music, sports, and each other and all the trouble that somebody had gotten into but somehow gotten out of. We all did a lot of stupid stuff. My friend Fran Diemer’s older brother Richie Diemer and his best friend George Werdann would always yell at us for doing stupid things. George Werdann became a police officer and sadly was killed in the line of duty in the early 1980s. George was such a great guy. It was such a tragic loss. There are so many more stories from Perry Avenue that so many of us could write books about.
Many people that I went to school with at St Brendan’s also lived on Hull Avenue. This was a group of kids who became teens just like us on Perry Ave that would form a tight bond between themselves. A lot of the kids who lived on Hull Avenue were known as the Hull Boys. The group played a lot of sports together in neighborhood leagues in sports like softball and football. But it wasn’t all about sports, it was about hanging out together just like it was for every neighborhood street kid. However, for the Hull Avenue boys and girls, there was a special place where they hung out beside Hull Avenue or Mosholu Park. That place was a luncheonette on Hull Avenue just south of 204th Street that was owned by Joe and Olga Gallo.
Joe and Olga Gallo’s luncheonette was a once-in-a-lifetime place, a hang out that served as a coming-of-age experience between boys and girls and an owner who cared about the neighborhood and the young people trying to find their way. Yet, as they were trying to find their way, they knew they could always find each other at Joe Gallo’s
Brian Hayes remembers Joe Gallo as a man who was so thoughtful and caring that he allowed Brian and his Hull Avenue crew to make a clubhouse in the basement of his luncheonette. In that special place, everyone would play card games and pinball while listening to the jukebox. Those old jukebox machines meant a lot to teens growing up in the mid to late 20 century. Everyone memorized the jukebox record number to certain songs and played them over and over again.
Joe Gallo was like a father to the boys. He showed everyone how to make egg creams and more. Brian and his friends would often help Joe out behind the counter of his luncheonette taking turns as needed. As everyone began to get older, Joe Gallo who was also a bookie would take sports bets from the Hull Boys. It was a coming-of-age story in many ways. Those who hung out at Joe Gallo’s included Peter Kennelly, James Conlon Brian Hayes, Bobby Cavigliano, Jimmy McKeever, Sean Quinn, Kevin Morrison, Neil McDaid, Denis McDaid, Dennis Dillon, Paul Kurzyna, Paul Gibler, the late Frank Deluca, Bob Brennock, and my good friend Kevin McDonnell. The girls included Barbara Casey, Valerie Healy, Donna Furlong, Janet Dillion, Laura Moran, Donna Hamburger, Cathy Wencak, Jeanne Whelan, Rose Sinon, Kathy Cecchetelli Annie Walsh and Mary Joyce McGlauklin.
As the teen years began to wane and everyone started to hang out in bars, Joe Gallo’s luncheonette would be the first place everyone would visit after closing the bars down at 4:00 in the morning and before going home. At times they would go get Joe at his apartment on Decatur Avenue. There was always that one individual or one couple in every small section of the neighborhood who made a difference for a certain set of kids. For the Hull Avenue crew that was Joe and Olga Gallo who were like a mom and dad to so many of the Hull Avenue crew, and to this day…… it’s a pretty certain bet that not one of them will ever forget Joe and Olga.
The story of the neighborhood bars is one that is too epic for an article like this. It’s a story that deserves a book for those who stayed in the neighborhood into their 20s and beyond. Of course when writing a story about life on Bainbridge Avenue one can’t leave out the bars like The Green Isle and The Derby to mention just a few. Even though I was gone by the time I was in my 20s, I had returned to the neighborhood with the rock band I began working with in the late 1980s. During that time period, the neighborhood experienced another heavy wave of Irish Immigrants. There were so many Irish bars in the neighborhood. These were bars that loved live music. Everyone loved those bars. My band was always treated great playing the Irish Bars. The owners always let the bands drink for free and paid us really well. Many of the owners really cared about the neighborhood. Some even lost their lives like James Kevin Ahern while running their bars.
James Kevin Ahern owned the Derby Pub. Many reading this will probably remember James. Mr. Ahern had brought the bar in the 1980s and put his whole life into the bar. Everyone loved him. In 1996, he was shot outside a liquor store on Fordham Road while buying a few cases of liquor for the bar. Another tragic loss was the neighborhood lost another man that was giving his entire life to make everyone’s day and night a better one.
The Great Migration
Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s and beyond many people began to move out of the neighborhood. Some of course have stayed and I know people who I grew up with that still live there, and that’s wonderful. We all have special memories of growing up, of the first places we lived, no matter where that may be. Yet, for those of us who grew up in that neighborhood, we share a special bond that anyone who has never grown up in a city neighborhood could ever understand. It’s funny how everyone always talked about moving out and then once they did, couldn’t stop talking about how much they missed it. We all understand why.
Special thanks to Brian Hayes my old classmate from St Brendan’s and Kevin Minahan my dear old friend from Perry Avenue that contributed heavily to this story.
This article is dedicated to my mother June Kachejian and my father John Kachejian, two incredibly loving and caring people that I know so many people who are reading this article knew from the neighborhood.
This is our story To anyone who ever lived in the neighborhood, please feel free to reach out to me if you want to add to the story, or even add pictures, let’s keep this story alive…..
Email me at Musicparty@yahoo.com