I went to Montero's this Fleet Week in the hopes of finding a bar full of sailors, like they had last year. I passed a trio of swabbies walking down Atlantic Avenue--laughing with their white bell bottoms flapping in the wind, bringing to mind Sinatra, Kelly, and Munshin in On The Town--but none were drinking at Montero's bar.
I did, however, meet a merchant marine who told me about his life dredging sand from under the waters of the harbor's Narrows, that stretch that flows under the Verrazano and out to the Lower Bay and to sea. It seems the ocean is constantly pushing sand towards New York City and this sand must constantly be removed. It goes into concrete, mostly, but approximately 90,000 tons of it went under the parking lot of Red Hook's new Ikea. They needed that much to fill the historic Graving Dock. The guy I met at Montero's was the guy who dredged that particular sand.
He told me about how, for the permission to destroy a piece of New York's waterfront history, Ikea was required to preserve the gantry cranes that lined the former Graving Dock, which many people tried to save.
"I guess they're landmarks," he said. "They painted 'em blue and put floodlights under 'em. Can you imagine that? Floodlights on a buncha cranes."
The Graving Dock is gone, but Montero's still stands. It's a museum of Brooklyn maritime history, filled with model ships so brittle a single touch could crumble them, sailor hats yellowed by time, bright orange life preservers painted with the names of ships that no longer set sail. The original owner, Pilar Montero, still lives and sits at the corner of the bar. A poster of her in Flamenco garb hangs on the wall next to her husband's portrait in dress blues.
You could wander the bar forever and still find more to look at. On one shelf, there's a greasy, black steam engine that was built years ago by a sailor named Santiago. Flip a switch and you'll find, like the bar itself, in a sea of change, it's still going strong.
Life goes on at Montero's. They recently brought in a karaoke DJ--every Friday night in June, at 10:00, you can make a drunken fool of yourself among the artifacts.