HUNTERS POINT — Junior's Cafe, a bar and restaurant that's been in the neighborhood for almost two decades, closed its doors on Tuesday — to the devastation of its namesake owner who attributed the move to rising rent.
"I'm going to miss it. It was like my home. I thought I was going to die here," Junior DiCaprio said as he sat inside the eatery on Vernon Boulevard and 46th Road, where framed black-and-white photos of Hollywood celebrities lined the walls.
"It broke my heart," the 80-year-old restaurateur said. "It's like sticking a knife right in my heart, that’s how I feel."
A message left for the owner of the building at 46-18 Vernon Blvd., listed on property records as a company named Teria LLC, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Junior's served up pizza pies along with steaks, chops and other fare, and was among the few older businesses remaining on the busiest stretch of Vernon Boulevard, which has seen several eateries open and close in recent years.
"My prices are the lowest prices in all of Long Island City," DiCaprio said. "There are people up here getting $22, $23 a pizza. I still keep it at $14."
He attributed the longevity of his business to a base of loyal customers and the help of a great staff, including his late wife, who helped him run the place before she passed away about three years ago.
In nearly two decades, he'd never had a fight at the bar, he boasts.
"I had a very, very nice time here," he said. "I met a bunch of wonderful, wonderful people here."
Over the years, the restaurant hosted events like block parties and car shows, as well as regular reunions for the group of friends and neighbors DiCaprio grew up with in his native Astoria.
Sal DeLise, a longtime friend and customer, called Junior's closing "terrible."
"It's been part of our lives for the last 18 years," he said. "Any celebration that was called for during the calendar year was always celebrated here, in a good American way: Super Bowl games, car shows, Fourth of July. Everything was done here."
Owner Junior DiCaprio outside the restaurant at 4618 Vernon Blvd. (DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly)
The restaurant celebrated its last full night of business with a party on Monday that drew nearly 100 attendees, according to the owner.
"Most of them all were crying, including me," he said.
DiCaprio, who now lives in Flushing with his daughter, said he hopes to open a new restaurant, but doesn't have any specific plans to do so yet.
Auctioneers were expected at Junior's on Wednesday to auction off the eatery's contents.
"The city’s a different city right now. High buildings, high rents," DiCaprio said when asked about the changes he's seen in the neighborhood since opening nearly 20 years ago.
"They build every spot they can get. Someday all of this is going to go down, too."