The mob and drinking have been inextricably linked since the Volstead Act in 1919. Prohibition gave organized crime the revenue stream it needed to gain a foothold in big cities and small towns across America. But even after Prohibition ended, mobsters were active in the liquor industry, from distributorships to control of State Beverage Commissions. And bars. Whether used for laundering money, hatching criminal plans, a place to enjoy dinner, or just as a hangout, bars and lounges were integral to the mob. Though many well-known mob bars have succumbed to the march of time (and development), these classics are still around. They each have a unique history which makes them must-visits for fans of gangsters, noir, and true crime.
Chicago - The Green Mill (photo above) – This jazz club was once known as a favorite of Al Capone. The booth he sat at still exists today. As owner David Jemilo says, “The Green Mill is official Chicago. I also run it straight, no messing around.”
Dallas – Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant – In the 1960s this restaurant and lounge was, according to the FBI, “a top meeting place of numerous gamblers and associates of top hoodlum Joseph Francis Civello.” But their most famous underworld customer was Jack Ruby, a friend of owners Joe and Sam Campisi. From the original Mockingbird Lane location, the restaurant now has 10 locations in Texas.
Denver – Gaetano’s (photo above) – The Smaldone crime family were not as big, or well known, as their counterparts in Chicago or New York, but they had a grip on the Denver underworld for much of the 20th century. They ran their crime empire from this still-popular North Denver Italian restaurant and bar. In the basement are former entrances to tunnels that were sued to smuggle and store booze during Prohibition.
Detroit - Anchor Bar – This downtown Detroit bar was once the headquarters of a mob bookmaking operation controlled by gangsters Charles "Chickie" Sherman and Sol "Good Looking Sollie" Shindell. Today it’s a popular hangout for locals and Red Wings fans.
Las Vegas – Dino’s Lounge – Before its name was changed to Dino’s in the early 1960s, this ‘dive bar’ was known as the Ringside Liquor Store. Owned by bookmaker Eddie Trascher, the Ringside attracted a who’s who of Vegas gamblers and underworld figures. Today it’s billed as “The Last Neighborhood Bar in Las Vegas.”
Los Angeles – Musso & Frank Grill – L.A. underworld kingpin Mickey Cohen and his crew hung out here in the 1950s. It was also a popular place for noir authors to grab a drink. Dashiel Hammett imbibed while belly up to the small bar. William Faulkner, who wrote the screenplay for the noir classic The Big Sleep, was also a regular. Raymond Chandler was such a fixture that they even named a booth after him.
Miami – The Fontainebleau – Celebrities and VIPs still flock to this popular resort hotel, and its numerous bars and lounges. In the swinging 60s, the Fontainebleau was a popular hangout for mobsters like Meyer Lansky and Philly mob boss Angelo Bruno. It was also here, in the early 1960s, where the CIA met with mobsters Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante Jr., and Johnny Roselli to recruit the Mafia to help the CIA kill Fidel Castro.
New Orleans – The Dungeon - Located at 732 Toulouse Street, The Dungeon was a private club exclusively for owners of Bourbon Street nightclubs and bars. And in the 1960s and 70s, that meant a lot of wiseguys. The Dungeon, owned by Frank Caracci, boasted an impressive underworld membership that included Carlos Marcello’s brother (and future mob boss) Joe Marcello; Nino LoScalzo, son of Tampa mobster Angelo “the Hammer’ LoScalzo; and mobster Jerome Conforto.
New York City – Mr. Biggs Bar and Grill – This bar, located at 596 10th avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, was known in the 1970s as the 596 Club. It was owned by Jimmy Coonan, leader of the Westies, a notorious Irish gang. It was in the bar’s bathroom where the gang killed and dismembered loanshark Rudy Stein. Though the neighborhood has long been cleared of the Westies, the stories, and some say ghosts, remain at the bar.
New York City – Mulberry Street Bar - Located in the heart of what remains of Little Italy, the Mulberry Street Bar has been serving locals, and local wiseguys, since 1908. It has also been featured in gangster movies like State of Grace, The Godfather Part III, and Donnie Brasco.
Scott M. Deitche is the author of over half a dozen books on organized crime, including Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld, and The Silent Don: The World of Santo Trafficante Jr. His latest book Cocktail Noir: From Gangsters and Gin Joints to Gumshoes and Gimlets was released last year and is available at bookstores and online.
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