New York in the movies: Moonstruck.
My first apartment — rented when I moved off-campus after my sophomore year of college — was not in New York City. It was in Yonkers, a city often (wrongly) assumed to be part of NYC, probably because of Neil Simon. It is true that if I walked out of my apartment on McLean Avenue and crossed the street, I’d officially be in the Bronx, but my heart knew I was technically in Westchester County. It wasn’t until I finished school a couple of years later that I finally got myself to Brooklyn. My dad, who lived on the Upper East Side and on Staten Island when I was a kid, had moved back to Manhattan by then. Aside from Coney Island, Brooklyn was still mostly uncharted territory for me. A couple of my brothers were living in Cobble Hill, and I’d visited each of their apartments exactly once before deciding I wanted to live in the same neighborhood. If I’m being honest, there was one particular thing about the house on Henry Street I wound up moving into that really got me excited: It was a block and a half away from Cammareri Bros., the bakery for which Nicolas Cage and Danny Aiello’s characters in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck (Ronny and Johnny Cammareri, of course) are named and in the basement oven-room of which Cher first meets her “wolf without a foot.”
Yes, Cammareri Bros. was a real bakery! It closed down soon after I moved to the neighborhood and later reopened in a different location, and the space (along with its next door neighbor, formerly the Little Chatter Box Beauty Salon) has since been occupied by a series of cafés, currently Maybelle’s, who, it’s worth mentioning, make a mean tofu scramble and an even meaner iced coffee. Both the interior and exterior are still pretty much the same as in the Cammareri days, and a portion of the old bakery sign is displayed inside. If you go, make sure you look at the floor when you first walk in — an inlay of the letters “NC” (for Nicolo Cammareri, who opened the bakery in 1921) remain in the old terrazzo floor.
EDIT: While checking on the spelling of his name, I came across Nicolo Cammareri’s 1940 US Census record. Pretty neat, right? 206 Sackett is the address of the side entrance, which leads to the apartments above. Also interesting that he had a daughter named Grace — there was an elderly Italian woman on my block named Grace. She used to sign for packages for me when I was at work, and she had a Frank Sinatra shrine in her apartment. She passed away around 2000. If she was born in 1915 like the census record indicates, that would have put her in her mid-80s when I lived there. I wonder if she was Nicolo Cammareri’s daughter! Further investigation needed…
The first time I saw Moonstruck was 25 years ago, with my mother, in a movie theater in Kingston. I was 12 years old. I remember loving it, naturally, but I mostly remember the specifics of the night because my mother’s car got a flat tire when we were driving back to Rhinebeck after the movie. Another thing that sticks in my mind from that first viewing is the breakfast Olympia Dukakis prepared:
I had never seen anything like that before, but it looked so delicious. I asked my mother to recreate the dish at home, and up until I stopped eating eggs a few years ago, it remained a breakfast favorite for me. For all these years I’d assumed it was an Italian dish, but Googling tells me it’s usually either called “eggs in a hole” or “eggs in a basket,” and everyone everywhere knows what it is — except for Swedes and Jews, apparently, because I’m quite sure it would never have been a part of my life without that scene in Moonstruck. (As an aside, I see that V.K.Rees has come up with a recipe for vegan-friendly eggless eggs in a basket, which I will definitely have to try out ASAP.)
In the years since that first viewing, I’d guess I’ve seen Moonstruck at least 30 times in part or full. Beyond its Brooklyn-ness, it’s just a fantastic movie. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that, though, because pretty much every human alive has seen it. (And if for some crazy reason you haven’t, it’s on HBO GO right now. You can also rent it from Amazon Instant. It’s not on Netflix, of course, because nothing you want to watch is ever on Netflix.) Aside from Cher’s old face and Nicolas Cage’s old hairline, I’ve always had this fixation with the kitchen in the Castorini family house — which, if you ever want to take a Moonstruck walking tour, is located at 19 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights, about a mile from formerly-Cammareri’s. For years I’ve carried around a mental picture of its soft green hues, vintage subway tiles and the overall feeling of a family gathering place. Today I decided to watch the movie again specifically for the kitchen, and to finally take some screen captures.
Two things I noticed for the first time when I was taking the screen captures were the painted-over cabinet hardware and the laminate countertops, neither of which are hallmarks of gorgeous vintage kitchens, but are indicative of the fact that this movie was filmed in an actual family home, and not on a set built for a movie. The same goes for that flocked vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen table. I guess I just overlooked that stuff the first 29 times I watched the movie! Regardless, the kitchen is beautiful, and it’s full of life. And that tile!! Ahhh, the tile. It doesn’t come through in the captures, but it’s covered with cracks and crazing. 19 Cranberry was built in 1829 so it’s not original to the house (tiled kitchens didn’t become standard until the Victorian era), but it’s clearly very old. The house sold in 2008 for nearly $4 million, and thankfully the listing photos don’t show the kitchen — I don’t think I could bear to find out if it had been gutted.
(Or you know, to discover the whole thing was actually shot on a soundstage in Toronto. Shhhhhh.)
Meanwhile, back at Cammareri Bros.…
In the movie, Ronny’s apartment is above the bakery. The entrance was on the Sackett Street side of the building, to the right of the stairs that led to the basement ovens. I’m almost positive that’s where the apartment interior was actually filmed. I have a distant memory of a friend who used to live in the neighborhood telling me so. Judging by the position of the windows and the color of the façades visible across the street, I’m guessing it’s on the second floor of the building, with the living room facing Henry Street. In any case, this is pretty much exactly what a classic pre-war Brooklyn apartment has always looked like in my mind. Ironically, the closest I’ve ever come to finding a rental apartment in this kind of vintage condition was my first place in Yonkers! I love the beadboard, the pressed-tin in the kitchen and the moldings on the walls. And that old refrigerator with its non-safety handle, just waiting to trap small children inside when it gets put out for trash…sigh. Also, I don’t know if this is intentional, but I love that the color of the Vespa (used for storing books!) is the same as the cabinets in the Castorini kitchen.
I wonder who lives in this apartment now, and if it still looks like this. I hope so. Yesterday I stood outside the entrance for a little while, waiting to see if anyone would come out. Not that I would’ve said anything to them, but you know…just to see. Now that I live in the neighborhood again, I can do all the Moonstruck-stalking I want.