Who remembers the ending scene of television’s hit, “The Sopranos?” As the family sits peacefully at table, menacing characters move in and the scene goes black. Was it curtains for Tony and Familia? Perhaps, but that’s just the way he would have wanted it to end. It is said that truckers known the best restaurants, but to locate a meal to die for, you must consult the mob.
Many great New York Restaurants owe their mystique partially to their alleged ties to New York Crime. For example, Rao’s Restaurant, on Pleasant Avenue in Harlem, continues its tradition of cramped space and excellent food. To be seated there, it pays to know someone. Founded in 1896, the ten table restaurant celebrated over a century of casualty-free dining until one dark day in 2004 when a squabble between two Lucchese Family members ended in murder.
Senior Citizen Louie “The Lump” Barrone fatally clashed with Yonkers boy, Albert Circelli, when the new button man disrespected Rao’s and the evening’s entertainment. Louie wagged a finger at Al and asked him to respect both the singer and Rao’s. Albert responded with a promise to break off the finger and stick it up his…but Louie the Lump was known for giving lumps, as well as taking them and the young upstart lay dead on the floor, shot by the older man. None of this would have happened if either had been regulars.
It was the 1970s and Joey Gallo, “Crazy Joe” was making noise and someone didn’t like it. In a bid to redeem his reputation and to soothe the tempers of many decent folks tired of being tarred with the “Mafia” brush, he attempted to convince New Yorkers that La Cosa Nostra didn’t even exist. That would have come as a surprise to both law enforcement and the heads of New York’s Five Families.
While many, both Italian and not, certainly wished they didn’t, the proof came one dark night in 1972 as birthday-boy Joe and friends tucked into a delicious meal at Umberto’s Clam House in the Village. Now an institution, Umberto’s was a brand new restaurant with an up-and-coming reputation when the appearance of a hit team ended the meal, and Joey, in dramatic fashion.
New York’s most elegant mobster, our own Dapper Don, John Gotti, also known as “The Teflon Don” for charges that never stuck, began his rise to the top with a memorable meal in Sparks Steakhouse in Mid-town Manhattan. Tiring of edicts handed down by the old-school Staten Island mobster, Paul Castellano, John decided to put himself and Queens on the map with a traditional mafia change of regimes, the classic rub-out.
Fully-equipped with a team of pros in Russian hats for better facial obscurity, John tracked down his quarry to the elegant steakhouse where he was enjoying a fine repast. A few minutes later, it was the king is dead, long live the king, and Mr. Gotti was on his way up to a career spanning many decades. Beloved of fireworks enthusiasts living near his Bergen Hunt and Fish Club, he is still spoken fondly of by neighbors who miss his panache.
So there you have it. Three New York institutions to die for. If you would like to visit Umberto’s Clam House or Sparks Steakhouse, make reservations. For Rao’s, make new friends. Bon appetite.