Charlton Street has its very own historian

Philip Mouquinho in front his restaurant PJ Charlton. Downtown Express photo by John Bayles

BY JOHN BAYLES  |  Philip Mouquinho’s business card says he is the “Owner/Chef” of PJ Charlton on the corner of Charlton and Greenwich Streets in Hudson Square. But anyone who has had the chance to chat with Mouquinho while dining at his restaurant would know that he could add another title to his card: Historian.

It’s one thing for a restaurant to last 30 years in New York City, but it’s another thing entirely for a restaurant to last 30 years in a spot like Moquinho’s. “Staying power” would be an understatement in describing the place.

“It used to be, that when people would arrive for dinner, they would come in and the first thing they would say is, ‘Where are we? We had to ask the cab driver if this was the right place,’” said Mouquinho. “For the longest time this area has been dark, drab and dreary.”

And perhaps that is how the block of Charlton Street between Greenwich and Hudson Streets used to appear, especially at night. The street was once named Burr Street after Aaron Burr and then renamed following Burr’s duel with Alexander Hamilton and his subsequent arrest. It was then named after Dr. John Charlton, a trustee of Colombia University and president of the New York Medical Society and since then it has transformed from its earliest days as a residential block in the early 19th century, to the way it looks today. It was during the industrial revolution when the city tore down many of the townhouses that lined the street and built in their place large, expansive factories and warehouses to cater to two of the city’s most important industries, printing and textile manufacturing. In addition to the printers and manufacturers, there was also the Heide Candy Company, at the corner of Charlton and Hudson, and in the building that houses PJ Charlton, a giant cardboard manufacturing company.

But like so many other streets in the neighborhood, Charlton Street is changing. And Moquinho has witnessed that change everyday from the corner window of his restaurant for the last three decades.

Today, Mouquinho watches tourists stroll by with maps in their hands, mothers pushing baby strollers or people walking their dogs. That makeup of pedestrians is quite different from when he bought the place in 1979.

“It was nothing like it is today. Around twelve o’clock you’d see some workers on their lunch breaks, but there was really a complete absence of life,” said Mouquinho. “I was used to just seeing trucks pulling up to the loading docks on the street.”

Mouquinho, who has lived in the neighborhood his entire life, remembers Charlton Street from his childhood.

“It was the perfect stickball neighborhood,” said Mouquinho, “because there were no fire escapes that our ball could get stuck on. In the village, sometimes the old ladies wouldn’t let us have our ball back. We didn’t have to worry about that down here.”