Special occasions in our family were celebrated with food. You graduated from kindergarten? Let's eat out. You got accepted to your fifth choice college? Let's eat out before you move to Idaho and we'll never hear from you again. Promotion? How about if we celebrate with a fancy meal before you get to be such a big-shot you won't want to eat with your family that loves you.
Special occasions did not always mean happy occasions. "Hey, we never liked him anyway. Let's celebrate by eating out to take your mind off the jerk.
And, if you were looking for a truly special place to dine, there was no place more special than F.W.I.L - Lundy Bros. And you could be assured your special occasion would be shared with up to three thousand of your fellow Brooklynites - more on really special days like Mother's Day.
Come on. You know a trip to Lundy's was a special occasion. Not the every-Sunday type of occasion that warranted a trip to Fong Fong. We're talking about the original Lundy's - not the puny remake that emerged in the nineties that could seat only seven or eight hundred people. I'm talking about the original - and according to some - the largest restaurant in the United States, if not the world, with seating for close to three thousand! How's that for intimate dining?
Hold on a minute. Before you get all upset and claim that Lundy's is/was in Sheepshead Bay and not East Flatbush, let me explain.
There were some areas in the borough that were 'non-neighborhood': Flatbush Av, Downtown, the Highway, the Junction. There were some institutions that belonged to the borough and not to a particular neighborhood or high school: the downtown theaters, Brooklyn College, the main public library on Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Park, the zoo, the beaches, Ebbets Field, and ... Lundy's, for example.
First, stop trying to figure out the names of the Lundy Brothers. Here's the scoop: One guy. Frederick William Irving Lundy opened the restaurant in 1934 as an adjunct to his family's thriving fish business. One person's name.
The original restaurant was a seafood shack perched on a dock in Sheepshead Bay which was condemned by the City in the 1930's as part of a neighborhood renewal project. The new two-story Lundy's was built on the site of the old Bayside Hotel at the corner of Emmons and Ocean Avenues
You just didn't walk in to Lundy's, wait to be seated, wait to be served. No. Lundy's was not for the feint of heart. You did not want to take your great aunt from Boise there. First, there was no maitre d' and no reservation. The restaurant was a city block long and had two kitchens and multiple dining areas.
Yeah, and your parents had a favorite waiter who remembered your family from three months ago. Yeah, right!
One of the vivid memories I have of eating at Lundy's was the act of securing a table. Assuming you made it inside the restaurant after waiting outside, finding a table was left up to the customer. My father would elbow his way through the large dining room, lead his family upstairs to the long narrow room facing the Bay, find a family nearing the end of their meal and then hover territorially nearby. Typically, the law of the jungle would prevail; rarely was there any dispute.
Also, there were the rituals: You were given a lobster bib and the after-meal cleanup involving a finger bowl with lemon-scented water. In retrospect, it was not unlike a religious event. (I wonder if the waiters ever bet each other to see how many of their customers would try to drink the contents.)
Lundy initially insisted on hiring only blacks for his wait staff. From the captains to the busboys, the 200 or so front line employees in their starched uniforms were African-Americans.
Close your eyes (after reading the rest of this paragraph) and think about the Lundy's Shore dinner: for starters, a basket of steaming hot miniature biscuits accompanying a shrimp, clam or crab cocktail; steamed clams, half a lobster, half a chicken, potatoes, vegetables, coffee and dessert. Not just any dessert, but if you had been there before you knew what to order: hot blueberry pie with Breyers vanilla ice cream.
OK. I'm back. Just wanted to see what was in the refrigerator.
Lundy's outlasted the Depression and World War II. It thrived through the '50's and '60's. Little changed in the way the restaurant did business, but its surroundings were changing.
Little by little, the middle-class neighborhood residents, who had made up the bulk of its customer base were relocating to the suburbs and by the 1970's the restaurant was no longer profitable.
And in 1979, just months after Irving Lundy's death, the restaurant - to the great dismay of its loyal customers - closed its doors.
Until sixteen years later, when smaller Lundy's opened under new ownership with seating for only 800 diners.
First, The Dodgers, Trolley cars, Ebingers, parking meters, Tilden going belly up. Now, Lundy's is history - for the second time.
And now, even the puny off-shoot is shuttered.
Here's a further update. The property owners are thinking of turning the place into a food store!
Ain't nothin' sacred no more.