Ralph Tommaso has served his last rigatoni.
On Wednesday night, the owner of La Traviata shut down his 30-year-old Montague Street eatery — leaving only a “Closed” sign with the words, “Lost our lease.”
Tommaso could not be reached, but friends said that he caved to exorbitant rents.
“He just couldn’t take it anymore,” said Robert Fink, owner of the Heights Cleaners next door. “He came by after to say goodbye.”
On Thursday, regulars encountered a roll-down gate at the cozy Italian joint between Henry and Clinton streets, a barrier to their $12 chicken cutlet parmigiana or $6 personal-sized pizza.
La Traviata was a mainstay on Montague Street, alongside the Happy Days Diner, Teresa’s and the Heights Café — a longtime contender on a strip that’s become notorious for high rents and frequent restaurant turnover.
Locals were heartbroken when Armando’s, the iconic Heights eatery next door, closed in 2007. The owner, Peter Byros, wanted to retire, so he leased his Italian boite to the Spicy Pickle sandwich chain. But after that shop failed, and Byros brought back his 74-year-old restaurant.
“Restaurant closings are sad, but these things happen here,” said Frankie Konidari, a longtime worker at the nearby Grand Canyon Restaurant. “It’s just too expensive here.”
Tommaso’s landlord, Carl Zerbo of Doraldo Holding Corporation, vowed that rent wasn’t the problem.
“Ralph just got tired of it,” Zerbo said. “I just don’t understand it to be honest. There’s never been an issue with the lease.”
He added, “I’ve always tried to be fair with him. That’s why he’s been on the block since the 1980s.”
Tommaso was beloved for his large helpings of shrimp scampi, rigatoni a la vodka and thin-crust pizza. His eatery was at one time a father-and-son act that included a Joralemon Street takeout annex, before Ralph Jr. went into the renewable fuel business.
Regulars were puzzled this week to see La Traviata shuttered.
“I’ve been coming here since they opened,” said attorney Vincent Martusciello, a regular who saw no indication of trouble.
“I bring my family, my secretaries, my friends here. Wow, I can’t believe they’re gone.”Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet