Lunch at Cafiero’s

Being involved with Seattle’s Catholic Seamen’s Club during the 1960s was both fun and interesting. The Club’s chaplain Brooklyn-born Father John Murphy was a natural comic. Also, the Club’s monthly fund-raising luncheons were opportunities to rub elbows with people who regularly appeared in Seattle’s newspapers, for example, Chief of Police Frank Ramon, District Attorney Charles O’Carroll, and the long-time editor of the Teamster’s newspaper, Ed Donohoe.
Gregarious Father Murphy greeted others, including me, just as if we were such celebrities, or some might say, such characters. Thus when Father Murphy told me that he was going to visit his sister in Brooklyn at the same time I planned to be visiting my relatives on Long Island, I retaliated. I invited him to lunch in Cafiero’s Restaurant, a favorite eatery for many of the characters that worked on the nearby docks and shipyards that were arranged along Brooklyn’s waterway known as the Narrows. One such character was my brother Augie, then a civilian port engineer for the Army’s Military Sea Transportation Command.

When I met with Augie the evening before, he responded to my invitation in his waterfront manner that no one ever told him was a bit harsh, “Be there on time! We civil servants get only an hour for lunch!”

Thus, in order to insure a peaceful atmosphere, I planned to pick up Father Murphy at his sister’s house on 69th Street in Bay Ridge in time to arrive at Cafiero’s in South Brooklyn by 11:45 a.m. I was familiar with both neighborhoods and lucked out on most traffic lights. Father Murphy and I arrived 30-minutes early, and since the restaurant did not serve hard liquor, it may have been the first time in a long time that the priest drank wine away from an altar.

Father Murphy didn’t mind and was pleased and preoccupied with the ambiance. Cafiero’s was located in what seemed to be a 1910-vintage tenement building. Sometime in the then not too distant past, a second dining area was created in a glassed-in extension into the tenement’s back yard. The kitchen remained where it had been so that, uniquely, it was located between the two dining rooms and open passages on each side allowed customers headed for the back room to see into the cooking area and converse with the old-country Italian chefs. The Father loved it and did just that as if he had known them for many years.

We were led to a table in a far corner of the back room. Moreover, Cafiero’s was located on President Street, just one block up from where the mobster Joey Gallo then had his fortress.

Because of my brother’s concern, as expressed the night before, I expected that he would be at Cafiero’s precisely at noon. But Augie didn’t show up at noon. Minutes went by and by twenty-five after I was really stewing and thinking in no polite terms of what I was going to dump on him. I even planned to time how long it would take him to forget that a priest was at the table and let loose with a blue streak that included taking the Lord’s name in vain.

At a half hour past the time that he had insisted upon, my brother sauntered in as if he had all the time in the world. He was wearing a loud sport jacket and his broken nose. What’s more he had someone with him, also wearing an equally loud sport jacket and another broken nose; someone uninvited. As I was beginning to boil, they stopped at each table, shook hands with a few acquaintances, exchanged remarks, and laughed it up a bit. They were like political hacks from Tammany Hall working the voters.

Finally while they were still more than four tables away in the crowded room, my brother looked up and spotted me. As soon as there was eye contact I raised my arm and pointed to my wristwatch. That was a mistake. From where he was Augie shouted, “Jesus Christ! The God damn washing machine broke and Rita made me get the part on my lunch hour!”

I was embarrassed, but Father Murphy, always delighted to meet new characters, didn’t let on that anything was wrong with that unusual salutation. Regardless, I put it in my book to let my brother have it when I would meet with him again that very evening. That wasn’t all.

As expected, lunch was fantastic. The expression from soup to nuts didn’t apply because it was from minestrone to spumoni. About half way through, two seemingly no-nonsense big guys, with rolled-up sleeves, entered and sat at a table diagonally across the room from where we were. Upon spotting them Augie rose halfway in his chair and shouted across fifteen or so people, “Hey Kelly! Hey Murphy! Watch your language; we got a priest over here! His name’s Murphy too!”

I put that in my book also, but as it turned out I soon deleted it because there was justification. As Augie had expected, Kelly and Murphy paid the bill that I had expected to pay.


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