Growing up on the “Street of Regret”

A guest post by Barry Levine. Our thanks to Barry for sharing his stories and family photos.

I was six years old, when my family moved from Ballston Spa to Albany, NY in 1942. My father, Morris, found a war job in Schenectady, and we lived in a rented 3-room apartment above Dinty’s Tavern, on the corner of Hudson Avenue and High Street. My family bought the building later.

School 2, 6th grade, Chesnut st between hawk & Swan St Barry send from right 4th row
My sixth grade class, School 2.

I attended School 2 on Chestnut St. for grades 1-6. Going from a one-room school house for grades K-6 to an urban school, where each had its own room and teacher, was a huge culture shock for me. But I adapted quickly, making friends with my new classmates, even though I was the only non-Christian in the group.

Birthdayguthy1fx - Copy (2)
Celebrating my birthday on the back porch of Apt. 2A, above Dinty’s Tavern.

The Eagle Theater, in the Catholic Union building, was one short block away from my home. At an early age, my parents allowed me to go to the movies alone or with friends. The films changed every Wednesday—two full features, a newsreel, several cartoons, a weekly serial (wherein the hero prevails but new perils present themselves every week). The Eagle also hosted free bingo on weekends.

Another Hudson Avenue delight was Joe Cordi’s Venice Italian-American Restaurant. Joe’s brother, Vincent, was the chef. I ate my first pizza there and have never found another restaurant to compare to it.

Joe was born in Italy and immigrated with his family to the United States at age 11. His first wife, Rose Femia, was American-born. Insun Kim, his second wife, was a Korean refugee. When Joe and Insun argued, they seemed to speak a language all their own.

From The Porch cropped
The view from the back porch of my family’s apartment.

Due to an underground stream, there was an abundance of rats in the basements of Hudson Avenue businesses. When I was 14, Joe hired me to sit on the stairs near the cellar door to shoot rats with my Winchester .22 rifle. One time I opened the trap door to find a pyramid of rats climbing over each other in an attempt to breach the trap door and enter the restaurant. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel, I made a lot of money that day, because Joe gave me 25 cents for each rat I killed.

I also practiced my marksmanship at Dinty’s. My dad would set up a book of matches in the kitchen and bet his customers that I could hit the matches at 10 feet. Using a Daisy bb pistol, I seldom missed.

Growing up in Dinty’s Tavern, I became a table shuffleboard whiz. I started playing at about 10 years old, standing on an empty soda case. By time I was 14, I spent most weekend afternoons playing against the bar’s patrons, usually winning the 10-cent bet. Sometimes I entertained the customers with trick shots.

Looking so from 159 Hudson Ave
My dog Brownie on the sidewalk in front of Dinty’s.

One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was sitting on the stoop in front of DeMarco’s fruit stand, across the street at 165 Hudson. Eating baloney sandwiches on fresh Italian hard rolls and drinking RC Colas, my friend Tom DeMarco and I would take turns identifying the year and make of the cars traveling up the avenue. We could spend the whole day that way.

On Saturday evenings during the summer, I would stay up late and watch the night crowds. From my second floor window, I could see all of the action. There were always disagreements over dart games at the Clover Inn, across the street from Dinty’s and a couple of doors down from Hudson Shoe Rebuilders. The next morning, I would give my parents the blow-by-blow account.

When I was 16, I started working next door at the soda fountain in Irving and Mildred Lozoff’s Pharmacy. I was responsible for preparing the syrups, mixing the sugar and water and then adding the extracts.

Barry Levine with Dinty's bartender "Flash" Foley, a former middle-weight wrestling champion. Courtesy Barry Levine.
Behind the bar at Dinty’s with”Flash” Foley, a former middle-weight wrestling champion.

Irv had a great sense of humor. He kept a scrapbook of the notes parents sent with their kids to the store. The misspellings and descriptions of items to be purchased were hilarious. Irv had a passion for good food. On Sundays, he and his family would drive to fine restaurants within a fifty-mile radius of Albany. On Mondays, I would hear his review.

My family moved to Delmar when I was 17, but I remained in school at Philip Schuyler and continued working on Hudson Avenue. At age 18, I became a bartender at Dintys, working the 6pm to 3am shift. One day in 1956, a customer asked me if I wanted to work in the Post Office during the Christmas season. I retired from the Postal Service 40 years later.

Although I’d moved on to a new job and had started a family my own by 1962, I was saddened by the loss of my childhood home—and its effect on my parents. To my father, in particular, this loss was devastating. The bar’s regulars were not just his customers but also his friends and neighbors. The destruction of Albany’s rooming house district meant the disbandment of the Dinty’s family.

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Thomas Albro says:

    I love how all the schoolgirls have their ankles crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. William Hoiuting says:

    Really like hearing about the Old Neighborhood! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Barbara A says:

    My parents owned a house on Hudson Ave in the 50’s but I don’t know the address. It’s good to hear about the area

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth Mayo says:

    This story was so poignant and I can relate to the neighborhood of friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Angelo Kontis says:

    I grew up on Hudson Ave, across the street from Dinty’s Tavern so I can relate
    to much of Barry’s story. One difference, however, is that I never saw a rat on my side of the street. Next door to our house (162 Hudson Ave.) was Sing Lee’s Laundry. Sing Lee had many cats, which may explain “why the rats didn’t cross the road”. Another difference is that my buddies and I, referred to the street as “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams ” (a popular song, of the time, by Tony Bennet). In the School 2 photo I recognize Hudson Ave kids Bobby Ford, and in front, the twins Eva and Harriet Toppses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you, Angelo. We’ll have to look for photos of Sing Lee’s Laundry.

      Like

  6. basants says:

    This was such an interesting read, loved the pictures as well!

    BasantS
    https://thoughtsofasociallyanxiousextrovert.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You put me right there, and I’m grateful that the photos are large enough to see details in them. I especially liked how the sixth grade girls all had their ankles crossed demurely.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marie Guthy Albrecht says:

    Thanks for all of this Barry. I did a double take when I saw the picture in front of School 2. It looked almost like a duplicate of my 1946 picture in the same place. The picture with my brother and his cake was taken on our porch just up the hill from Demarcos.I have so longed to see pictures of that era. There must be many of us who have memories of the Eagle Theater and the fun Saturday’s there.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jack Guthy says:

    Does anybody have pictures of ‘The Spot’ and ‘Sam’s Jolly Chef’? Before going to school (School 2) in the morning, I would hang out at The Spot with a nickle cup of coffee. Once in a while Marie Hagarty would slip me a well appreciated donut.
    Marie left the Spot and waitressed across the street at Sam’s The Jolly Chef. The Spot never recovered from that loss.Grace Gangai who lived over Dinty’s tavern replaced Marie at the Jolly Chef some time later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jack,

      Was The Spot still in business in 1962? (I don’t see it listed in the 1962 city directory.) I do have a photo of the Jolly Chef Restaurant, which I will post on the 98 Acres in Albany Facebook page today, https://www.facebook.com/98AcresinAlbany

      Like

  10. Jack Guthy says:

    I couldn’t tell you, I left Albany in ’56

    Like

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