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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.