Do You Remember?
Rota's Restaurant, a Landmark for 5 years."
I took this photo of Tony
Rota's Restaurant on March 11, 1990 when I heard it was
closed down. Note the two "For Sale" signs in the
Bronx Times Reporter on May 2, 2002)
Tony Rota was
only a young man of 24 when he opened his restaurant at
2409 East Tremont Avenue in 1933. The Harlem native
chose a prime location at the head of Castle Hill Avenue
near St. Raymond's Church. Bronxdale Avenue was still
often referred to by its former name, Bear Swamp Road,
and began just a few doors west of Tony's chosen site.
East Tremont Avenue was still a cobblestoned roadway but
it was also the much traveled route joining Westchester
Square and West Farms, two major transportation
junctions. There was, of course, a trolley stop not far
from the entrance to the restaurant.
He opened up his
eatery specializing in regional Italian dishes drawing
from the nearby communities of Van Nest, Morris Park, Unionport, West Farms, and Westchester Square.
Parkchester did not yet exist and that huge tract of
land was still occupied by the Catholic Protectorate,
which was built there at the close of the Civil War.
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company purchased the
land in 1938 for a huge residential complex, which they
called Parkchester. The first family moved into the new
development on March 1, 1940 and before long Tony Rota
had another 12,272 families within walking distance of
his restaurant. Fortune was smiling on the young
entrepreneur and his business soon expanded.
As his customer
base expanded, so did his reputation and soon Rota's
became less renowned for its Italian specialties and
more famous as a steakhouse. Soon even celebrities,
including restaurateur Toots Shore, sought out the
popular eatery and its owner. Other notables finding
their way to Tony's place included Jake LaMotta, Maureen
O'Sullivan, and a host of politicians. Eventually Tony,
himself, became a celebrity and in April of 1966 the
traffic island at the intersection of East Tremont and
Bronxdale Avenues was christened Tony Rota Square to
honor the man who fed generations of Bronxites.
There did, however, come a time when much of his
customer base either died or left the Bronx and his old
time clientele dwindled. Regulars like the Docherty,
Sudano, or Moran families now stopped by only
occasionally. There were some locals, however, like Jim
Cerasoli or the Loreth and Mullane families who remained
loyal to the end, but they were the exception and Tony
Rota closed his doors for the
last time on February 28, 1990 after 57 years on East
Tremont Avenue. And tears were shed.
Do You Remember