Then & Now: De Robertis Pasticceria & Caffe

In my down time, I browse the New York Public Library’s online digital photo archives, looking at old pictures of the city. When possible, I prowl around Google Maps, trying to find the locations of the photos as they appear today. Often, very little remains. Whether they fell victim to the sweeping urban renewal projects of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, or they succumbed to the recent invasion of glass-and-steel condo towers occupying many of New York’s formerly gritty and diverse neighborhoods, most buildings standing proudly in the NYPL’s black-and-white photos are long gone today. But every now and then, I’m surprised, and pleasantly so, to find that not everything in life is so ephemeral. Some things do stand the test of time.

I ran across this rather unassuming photo of an Italian bakery on 1st Avenue in 1928:

De Robertis 1928

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Charmed by the unplanned activity in the scene, I zoomed in. “Caffe Pugliese & Pasticceria, Vito De Robertis, Proprietor.”

Zoom 2

Cakes line the shelves of the Pasticceria. A “TO LET” sign sits in the upstairs window, the others of which have been soaped out. “Suitable for Doctor or Dentist. Inquire in Store.” (NYPL Digital Gallery)

Out front, a young-ish man in a crisp uniform polishes the railings. Two portly men, perhaps regulars at the caffe, chat on the sidewalk.

Zoom 1

NYPL Digital Gallery

It’s a charming scene: a glimpse into an everyday morning more than 80 years ago. The address is listed on the backing of the photo as 176 1st Avenue. The back side reads “Easter Pastries, April 5, 1928.” Indeed, it was a day worthy of a railing polish. Feeling nostalgic, I typed the address into Google Maps. The block hadn’t been wiped out by apartment towers. So I tried my luck in Street View. And much to my surprise, look what I found at 176 1st Avenue:

Today

Google Maps Street View

Lo and behold, the bakery still stands! At some point, they dropped the name “Caffe Pugliese” and became simply “De Robertis,” but it’s still there! Some quick googling revealed that the bakery was actually opened in 1904 by Paolo De Robertis, who had immigrated to New York from Puglia in Italy (thus the name Caffe Pugliese).

Paolo’s grandchildren continue to run the bakery, serving pastries, cookies, and espresso to any and all who want to step back in time, if only for a moment. The past has a way of slipping quietly away without our notice, but it’s comforting to stumble upon happy little surprises like De Robertis Pasticceria. Old New York lives on in the most unexpected of places.

Check out the De Robertis website, or visit them in person at 176 1st Avenue, where they’ve been since 1904.

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About keithyorkcity

Name: Keith Age: 20-something Location: New York Passion: History You'll find a million blogs like mine, but mine is better.
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7 Responses to Then & Now: De Robertis Pasticceria & Caffe

  1. I enjoyed reading about the cafe which still survives remarkably as not only a building but in the same use. Even in the U.K. this is comparatively rare for commercial land use.

  2. Pat Harris says:

    I love your passion. You’re quite the detective. When I search the Internet, looking for pictures of old New York, I often wonder about the exact location where the picture was taken. Thanks for giving your readers some of these answers. I love your blogs.

    Pat Harris

    • I so very much appreciate your kind words. I haven’t updated in a while since (1) my laptop went kaput on me and (2) I moved to a new apartment, which has consumed my time! I’ll try to get back in the swing of things soon enough and have more updates for you. Thank you, truly, for reading!

  3. JustPaula says:

    In an odd coincidence, I just read about De Robertis/Caffe Pugliese in a novel I am reading. I enjoy old photos and historical articles, and blogs like yours – so much. I also like to read fictional books that take place in NYC between the 1890s and 1920. I did not come upon your site because I was searching information about this shop, I just happened to be looking around, as I often do with many blogs, and clicked on the link to your NOW & THEN posts. I was not totally surprised that this caffe was not fictional, but smiled to get to see old and newer photos of it. The book, called Astor Place Vintage, which goes back and forth between two narrators, past & present, references the shop as it was both in 2007 and about 100 years earlier – the modern day narrator was surprised to find that Cafe Pugliese and De Robertis were the same place.. Thanks for posting and allowing me to see these great pictures!

    • That’s amazing to hear that such a little shop was featured in a book! I stumbled upon it by accident in a photo archive and was shocked to find that it still existed today – buildings often survive, but businesses seldom last so long in this city. Thanks for reading!

  4. Mark says:

    the BEST italian ice

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