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Archive for the ‘Nightlife’ Category

Organized, politically connected and deadly, by the 1870s the gangs of New York had metastasized from leaderless hordes of criminals of the Civil War era into a cancerous pox, directed and controlled by New York’s political machine, Tammany Hall. With names like the Dead Rabbits, the Whyos, The Monk Eastmans, and The Five Pointers, gangs became a hallmark of New York politics in the early 20th Century.

 

Under Tammany Hall’s Bowery Assembly leader, Big Tim Sullivan, organized crime emanated out of the Five Points, spreading throughout the slums of Manhattan. In exchange for getting out the vote on election day- with smashed ballot boxes, repeat voters and general mayhem, gangsters could rely on Tammany’s lawyers and corrupt judges to keep them well armed and out of jail.

 

Allow this map and Gangs of New York walking tour to take you back to a time when gang warfare plagued the cobblestones of New York.

 

1 The Cradle of the Gangs: The Five Points

Mosco St.

Named for the intersection of five streets which no longer exist, the Five Point was America’s first and worst slum. Comprised of Mulberry St., Anthony St. (now Worth St.), Cross St. (now Mosco), Orange St. (now Baxter), and Little Water St. (no longer exists),  a tiny garbage packed square, known as Paradise Square, was located at the intersection of the Five Points.

 

Originally called Cross St., Mosco Street is one of the last unchanged blocks that made up the Five Points ghetto.

Originally called Cross St., Mosco Street is one of the last remaining blocks that made up the Five Points ghetto.

 

Born and raised in the Five Points, Big Tim Sullivan grew up in a Five Points saloon, despite the fact that he never drank a drop of booze in his life. As a child he became a prominent newsy and with the help of local politician Fatty Walsh, Sullivan opened a bar in the heart of the Five Points, which became regular hangout of the Whyos.

 

The Domain of the Whyos, the Corner of Mulberry Bend and Mosco Street in the old Five Points.

The Domain of the Whyos, the Corner of Mulberry Bend and Mosco Street in the old Five Points.

 

2 Mulberry Bend

Click for the complete story of Mulberry Bend

For generations, the New York underworld gathered in the Mulberry Bend, a maze of back alleys. From the Dead Rabbits and the Whyos to the Gambino Crime Family, the Bend’s horrific conditions incubated the gangs of New York.

 

5

In the 1880s, Mulberry Bend represented one of the worst slums in world. This a Jacob Riis photo of Bandits Roost. Image via the Museum of The City of New York.

 

In the 1700s, Mulberry street was named for an idyllic grove of Mulberry trees on the banks of the Collect Pond. In the early-1810s, the population of the Five Points exploded. Slaughterhouses choked the shores of the Collect and shanty towns sprouted up, turning the area into a diseased bog, forcing the city to drain and fill the pond. By the time of the Potato Famine, the Bend ranked as one of the densely populated urban areas in the world.

 

Whyos_Gang_Members_Collage

The Whyos. Top row left to right: Baboon Connolly, Josh Hines, Bull Hurley
Middle row left to right: Clops Connelly, Dorsey Doyle, Googy Corcaran
Bottom row left to right: Mike Lloyd, Piker Ryan, Red Rocks Farrell

 

A warren alleys with names such as Rag Picker’s Row and Bandit’s Roost, the underworld came to roost in the Bend’s unconventional architecture. At one point or another, the Dead Rabbits, the Roche Guards, the Whyos, The Five Pointers and the Mafia all called Mulberry Bend home.

 

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

All that remains of Mulberry Bend today, is a tiny sliver of land on the east side of Columbus Park.

 

During the Civil War, the Dead Rabbits, an Irish street gang, headquartered their gang on Mulberry Street where they battled anti-Irish nativist American Gangs like The Bowery Boys and Bill the Butcher Poole. By the 1870s, a gang called the Whyos, known for their war-cry “WHY-O”, dominated Mulberry Street and the Five Points. Formed by Dandy Johnny Dolan, a well-coiffed killer with axe blades embedded in his fighting boots, and Danny Lyons, a homicidal pimp, the Whyos became the first true organized gang on Manhattan, offering services like beatings and contract killings.

 

3 Columbus Park: The End of Mulberry Bend

Armed with nothing more than a camera, Jacob Riis explored the back alleys, saloons and rear tenements of the Five Points, documenting the squalor of the Bend and other slums. Riis published his work in a landmark text titled: How the Other Half Lives. A best seller, Riis’ book led to the demolition of Mulberry Bend and the heart of the Five Points.

 

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

The city demolished Mulberry Bend in 1897 and created Mulberry Bend Park which was later renamed Columbus Park.

 

In 1897, the city erected Five Points Park on the newly cleared land, hoping that the clean air and grass would reduce crime and give children a play to play. The largely Italian population of Mulberry Street later renamed the park Columbus Park in 1910.

 

4 The Tombs

125 White Street

The Tombs may be the most infamous site on Manhattan Island. Built as a holding tank for accused criminals awaiting trial in 1838, the Tombs or Halls of Justice brought law and order and a modern criminal justice system to the city.

 

Constructed in 1838 on top of the old Collect Pond, Manhattan’s Halls of Justice or Tombs was built to house prisoners awaiting trial.

Constructed in 1838 on top of the old Collect Pond, Manhattan’s Halls of Justice or Tombs was built to house prisoners awaiting trial.

 

Designed by the visionary architect John Haviland to resemble an Egyptian sepulcure, the Tombs stood in the heart of the Five Points on unstable landfill on top of the old Collect Pond. Soon after its construction, the granite prison began to sink into the waterlogged soil.

 

A pedestrian bridge that separated the men and women’s cells became known as the Bridge of Sighs because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows. Whyo leaders Danny Lyons and Dandy Johnny Driscoll were hanged in the Tombs in 1876.

 

Criminals called this walkway, The Bridge of Sighs, because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows.

Criminals called this walkway The Bridge of Sighs, because death row inmates would have to walk across this bridge to the gallows.

 

By the 1880s, the Halls of Justice packed over 400 inmates into a leaky, sinking, diseased structure. In 1902, city officials raised the old tombs, replacing it with a Norman castle tower, but a century later, the name stuck and the Tombs can still be found on White Street today.

 

5-Tombs-2

By the 1880s, the Halls of Justice packed over 400 inmates into a leaky, sinking, diseased structure. In 1902, city officials raised the old tombs, replacing it this Norman castle tower.

 

5. 5th Precinct

19 Elizabeth Street

Opened in 1882, the 5th Precinct policed the Five Points, Chinatown, and Little Italy for more than a century, battling the Irish gangs, the Italian Mafia and the Chinese tongs. Designed by The NYPD’s official architect, Nathaniel Bush, the precinct contained 12 cells for women and 16 cells for men.

 

6 The Bloody Angle

Doyers Street

Click for more on the Tong Wars

Chronicler of the Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, described Doyers Street as:

“…a crooked little thoroughfare which runs twistingly, uphill and down from Chatham Square to Pell Street, and with Pell and Mott forms New York’s Chinatown.”–Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

 

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games.

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games.

 

For generations the Chinese Gangs of New York, known as Tongs, battled for control Doyers Street’s opium dens and fan-tan games. The Hip Sing Tong, led by  one-man-wrecking crew, Mock Duck, ran Pell Street, while Tom Lee’s On Leongs controlled Mott. Doyers Street served as No-man’s and the rumbles earned the street the nickname, “The Bloody Angle.” The site of many gang wars and massacres, Doyers Street concealed a network of tunnels beneath the street for easy escapes from the police.

 

Doyers Street

Doyers Street

 

7 King of the Bowery:

Big Tim Sullivan’s Occidental Hotel

341 Broome Street (Now the SoHotel)

As the machine age dawned, Big Tim built an empire. He controlled the most powerful gangs in New York and made a name for himself in politics. Using the assistance of the Whyos, Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly,  Sullivan served in the New York State Assembly for 7 years, sat on the NY State Senate from 1809 to 1902, and was elected to U.S. Congress, all while controlling an illegal gambling syndicate that charged gambling parlors a fee for staying in business. From six saloons below 14th street, the members of the Sullivan clan dispensed wisdom, patronage and graft. During Thanksgiving he gave turkeys to the poor and handed out hot dinners on Christmas.

 

Now called the SoHo Hotel, the Occidental Hotel housed Tammany Hall's Big Tim Sullivan and a five year long 24/7 poker game.

Now called the SoHo Hotel, the Occidental Hotel housed Tammany Hall’s Big Tim Sullivan and a five year long 24/7 poker game.

 

In 1905, when Big Tim’s wife divorced him for his crooked and philandering ways, the Big Fella took up residence at the Occidental Hotel. Sullivan could be found 24/7 in the bar room beneath a world-famous nude ceiling fresco of the huntress Diana. According to Bowery legend, the hotel ran a poker game for five straight years without stopping.

 

Tammany Hall's King of the Bowery, Big Tim Sullivan.

Tammany Hall’s King of the Bowery, Big Tim Sullivan.

 

8 Battle of Rivington Street

Rivington and Allen

The Whyos crumbled in the 1890s and two gangs took their place. Split in half by the Bowery, the great street of pleasure, passion and depravity- the Monk Eastman Gang fought Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers for control of gambling houses, opium dens and other Bowery rackets. Monk Eastman’s army of street fighters controlled everything east of the Bowery. To the west, Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang dominated the old Five Points and the ghettos of Little Italy. Big Tim’s patronage allowed both mobs to grow out of control, expanding into each other’s territory with explosive results.

 

9_Rivington_Street_Monk_Eastman_Paul_Kelly

The Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly gangs shot it it out under the elevated train tracks on Rivington Street.

 

On an election day in September 1903, Eastman and some henchmen out repeat voting for the Tammany ticket ran into Kelly’s men on a similar mission. Punches were thrown and Eastman vowed to return. The next day Eastman and his torpedoes dashed into a Five Point saloon and shot the joint to pieces.

 

Paul_Kelly

 

Kelly roused his mob and headed to the intersection of Rivington and Allen Streets for revenge. Kelly found Monk and a crew relaxing under the elevated train tracks. In an instant, a hurricane of lead erupted and the Battle of Rivington Street commenced. According Inspector Schmittberger of the NYPD:

 

“They shot up the town in regular Wild West style.”–NYPD Inspector Schmittberger

 

For nearly an hour, the Eastmans and the Five Pointers shot it out, bobbing and weaving under the steel pillars. It took fifty police officers armed with rifles to break up the rumble. When the smoke cleared, three men were dead and a score wounded.

 

Known for wearing a derby hat several sizes too small, Monk was never a dapper mobster.

Known for wearing a derby hat several sizes too small, Monk was never a dapper mobster.

 

The police arrested Monk under the alias, William Delaney.  As usual, Tammany hired lawyers beat the charges, but the Hall and Big Tim Sullivan distanced themselves from the uncontrollable Eastman. Monk landed in Sing Sing less than a year later.

 

 

9 Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral

263 Mulberry

Summers in Mulberry Bend could be brutal. The stifling heat and rampant diseases killed thousands every year. To beat the heat every summer, the Whyos moved a few blocks uptown in search of fresh air.

 

Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

 

According to Herbert Asbury Author of the Gang’s of New York:

“The Whyos maintained their principal rendezvous in Mulberry Bend…although during the summer many of them could always be found lounging in a Churchyard at Park and Mott Streets”–Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

 

Built as New York’s first St. Patrick’s Cathedral and first Catholic cemetery, the walled Old St. Pat’s looks more like a fortress than a church. Parishioners built heavy brick walls around the grounds for protection during anti-catholic riots led by nativist gangs before the Civil War.

 

Before the Civil War, parishioners fortified St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a brick wall to protect it from anti-Catholic riots.

Before the Civil War, parishioners fortified St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a brick wall to protect it from anti-Catholic riots.

 

In the 1870’s, the Whyos took up residence haunting the graveyard. On any given night, a visitor could find Whyo members: Piker Ryan, Baboon Connolly, Goo Goo Knox and other colorfully named hoodlums.

 

During the Summer, the Whyos loafed around in Old St. Patrick’s cemetery.

During the Summer, the Whyos loafed around in Old St. Patrick’s cemetery.

 

10 McGurk’s Suicide Hall

295 Bowery

Demolished

Opened in 1893, by John McGurk, this low dancehall and brothel catered to prostitutes and female criminals such as famed thief, Sophie Lyons. McGurk, a career shanghaier, made a living luring sailors to his saloons and drugging them with chloral-hydrate with the assistance of his waiter Short-Change Charley and the ferocious bouncer and former champion pugilist, Eat Em Up Jack McManus. In time, McManus’s body became a patchwork quilt of wounds and welts. His front teeth were knocked out.  A knife scar ran across his throat from ear to ear (back before one of his ears was chewed off in McGurk’s).

 

Mcgurks

 

McGurk’s was relatively unknown until a wave of suicides hit the dance floor in 1899. Six prostitutes, tired of their hardscrabble lives, killed themselves in the bar. Ever a humanitarian, McGurk renamed the bar Suicide Hall in an attempt to capitalize on the publicity. Scores of suicide attempts followed. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt ordered the saloon closed in 1903.

 

11 The Death of Eat Em’ Up Jack McManus

Bleecker and Bowery

Click for the complete story of Eat Em Up Jack

After the closure of McGurk’s, Eat Em’ Jack McManus moved into Paul Kelly’s full time employ as a bodyguard. One night, Chick Tricker, a member of the Jack Sirocco clique, drunkenly wandered into Kelly’s Jones Street club and insulted the showgirls. McManus stepped in, throwing Tricker out on his ear. During the scuffle, Jack put two bullets in Tricker’s leg.

 

Death of Eat Em' Up Jack McManus

Without a whisper, a whimper or a groan, Thomas “Eat ‘Em Up Jack” McManus fell face down into his derby.

 

The next day, Eat ‘Em Up Jack walked down the Bowery.  As he reached the corner of Bleeker Street, a burly hoodlum named Sardinia Frank stepped from the shadows clutching a gas pipe wrapped in newspaper (fingerprints could not be lifted from newsprint), and smashed McManus in the back of the head. McManus died in Belleview Hospital calling out for his beloved wife Gertrude. He was 40 years old.

 

12 Little Naples Cafe and New Brighton Athletic Club

57 and 59 Great Jones Street

Click for a longer story on Paul Kelly

Part bareknuckle boxing gym and part red sauce joint, the New Brighton Athletic Club and Little Naples Cafe served as the Paul A. Kelly Association headquarters, an organized hoard of repeat voters, ex-pugilists, pimps, and gangland heavies otherwise known as The Five Points Gang.

 

Little_naples_Today2

Paul Kelly’s New Brighton Athletic Club (right) and the Little Naples Cafe (left) today. Jean Michel Basquiat would later die of an overdose in the loft  above the New Brighton.

 

After the demolition of Mulberry Bend, Kelly led his gang uptown to Jones Street on the fringe of the Bowery. Kelly’s real name was Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. The police closed the bar after a gunfight in 1905.

 

Paul_Kelly_New_Brighton_Club

 

13 Siegal’s Cafe

76 Second Avenue

Click for the complete story of Siegal’s Cafe

In the wake of the imprisonment of Monk Eastman, the Jewish elements of his mob struck out and formed a new clique centered in a small cafe on Second Avenue. Owned and operated by Big Alec Horlig and Little Louis Siegal, Siegal’s Cafe quickly became the nexus of the Jewish Underworld.

 

Now an abandoned church, Siegal’s Cafe at 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy. During the early 1900s, the Cafe was the headquarters of the jewish mob.

Now an abandoned church, Siegal’s Cafe at 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy. During the early 1900s, the Cafe was the headquarters of the Jewish mob.

 

However, the unpretentious accommodations still attracted a veritable who’s who in the Jewish mob. On any given night, a visitor might find “Jenny the Factory” Fischer, a madam and sometime prostitute who would go on to testify against Lucky Luciano and send him to prison. Big Jack Zelig, another Siegal’s Cafe habitue and heir apparent of the old Monk Eastman Gang, used the cafe as his headquarters, as did strikebreaker Dopey Benny Fein, casino tycoon Sam Paul, and a young pickpocket named Waxey Gordon. Siegal’s Cafe closed after Big Jack Zelig was put on the spot in 1912.

 

Big_Jack_Zelig

Big Jack Zelig, leader of the Jewish Mob hug his derby at Siegal’s Cafe.

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Texas Guinan Owney Madden Hotel Harding Club Intime Speakeasey Club Abby

Address: 205 West 54th Street

Status: Standing (now Flute Bar)

 

It was the swingingest speakeasy of the roaring 20s. A partnership born out of the union of the fast talking queen of New York nightlife, Texas Guinan, and the real life Great Gatsby, Owney Madden, the duke Manhattan’s West Side. Their joint was the Club Intime, a lush cabaret dripping with wall-to-wall red velvet and hanging Chinese lanterns, an open secret hidden in the basement of the Hotel Harding on West 54th Street.

 

Owney The Killer Madden

 

The hotel represented the pinnacle of Owney Madden’s rags to riches story. A veritable Horatio Alger tale, Owney came up in the Irish slums of Hell’s Kitchen around the turn of the century. Owney ran with the Gophers, the most vicious mob ever to romp on the West Side. After being shot to pieces in a dancehall, Madden became the Gopher’s king but a murder conviction in 1915 put Owney on ice for the next nine years.

 

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

 

Madden emerged from Sing Sing in 1923 penniless. Prohibition was in full swing and all of the Gophers had gone into bootlegging. His old pal Larry Fay made a fortune operating glitzy speaks and a fleet of white and purple taxi cabs, but Fay had problems, problems that a man of violence like Madden could solve. Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz and heavies from the other New York mobs were moving in on the pacifistic money making Fay. Owney became Fay’s partner, protecting their clubs with fists and bullets and bombs.

 

Fay and Madden grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. His beer, “Madden’s No. 1 Beer,” which he brewed on West 26th Street, became the gold standard of Jazz Age New York. Flush with cash,  they ran an armada of rum runners, ferrying booze across the ocean that quenched the thrust of their speakeasies including the famed Cotton Club. However, the Hotel Harding and Club Intime would become the crown jewel of Madden’s empire.

 

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime.

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime.

 

Hello Suckers! Texas Guinan

 

Born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan in Waco, Texas, everyone in New York called her Texas for her oversized persona and trademark greeting, “Hello Suckers!” Guinan could shoot and rope and ride with the skill of Tom Mix. She could belt out a show tune with a belly full of bathtub gin. Texas was larger than life and no one, including gangsters, politicians, or coppers could evade her ascorbic zingers.

 

In her short career, Texas was a vaudevillian, a silent movie star, and  New York City’s greatest prohibition emcee. The gangsters loved her, especially Larry Fay, because she ran the most lucrative clubs in town, taking arrests like a hard nosed hood. Together the duo ran a string of clubs all over Broadway. The El Fay, the 300 Club, and Texas Guinan’s, bouncing from club to club as the authorities raided and padlocked their nightclubs, but eventually Fay and Guinan would come to rest at Madden’s Harding Hotel, with Texas headlining.

 

 

Madden Acquires The Hotel Harding

 

Built in 1903, The twelve floor Hotel Harding stood in an important crossroads situated in the heart of the Times Square speakeasy district. Always a shadowy figure, Madden acquired the Harding using Max and Tilly Landauer as fronts to purchase the hotel. Within months, the swank building was packed with showgirls, actresses, playwrights, gangsters, boxers and associated high-end riff raff. Legs Diamond lived upstairs in the Harding, providing freelance guns for hire for Madden’s mob. The boxer Kid Berg, and Madden’s latest infatuation, an actress named Mae West, also called the Harding home.

 

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden's posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930's Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden’s posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930’s Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

 

“So Sweet and So Vicious,” Mae West and Owney Madden

 

Although it’s pure speculation, Owney Madden probably fell in love with Mae West during her 1916 White Rats benefit in Sing Sing. In those days, Madden was nothing more than a small time hood with a chest full of bullets and a hacking, bloody cough. However, Madden and Mae would soon be together again. In 1928 after Madden acquired the Hotel, Mae and her mother were some of his first residents. Texas Guinan and Mae held a seance there in which Ethel Barrymore and Heywood Broun helped conjure the spirits of Rudolph Valentino and Arnold Rothstein.

 

A love affair soon blossomed in the Harding Hotel. Mae affectionately nicknamed madden “her clay pigeon” for all of the bullets in his chest, later saying he was “so sweet and so vicious.” Madden invested in her plays and backed the actress when the cops jailed Mae for her risque show, Sex. The gangster’s connections with Blackwell’s Island warden earned Mae a private cell and silk underwear.  Mae was of course a regular at the Club Intime downstairs.

 

The Hullabaloo of Broadway: Club Intime

 

When Guinan and Madden opened the Club Intime the suckers came by the boatload. Crooked politicians, actors, writers, stock brokers and mobster moguls all fought for the chance to pay an unfathomable $25 cover charge and the right to be zinged by Tex.

 

Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

 

Once inside inside the lush speakeasy, “the suckers” were greeted by Guiana’s troupe of scantily clad fan dancers and the chance to empty their bankrolls on $5 drinks and $35 bottles of erstaz champagne of dubious vintage.

 

 

On the postage stamp sized dance floor, playwrights, Broadway crooners, top shelf gangsters,  and half naked chorus girls danced the night away. Oweny’s childhood best friend, Broadway dancer and future Hollywood actor, George Raft,  could be seen cutting a rug with Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. Club Intime was trailblazing cabaret, a sign of the future, a harbinger of the sexual revolution, utterly modern and utterly American. Of course the coppers wanted it closed. In April of 1929, Police Commissioner Grover Whalen raided the club for operating an unlicensed cabaret. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

“Texas Guinan’s Club Intime was Evicted from the Hotel Harding, 203 W. 54th Street Yesterday… Kennedy and his assistants piled the pianos, chairs, tables, draperies and other furnishings on the sidewalk…” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1929

 

The eviction was for show, however, Guinan and Madden simply sold the club to Dutch Schultz and within days the club had morphed into an even more decadent establishment, the Club Abby.

 

Club Abby: Dutch Schultz, Gene Malin and the Pansy Craze

 

Quickly after the demise of Club Intime, the Club Abby sprouted up in its place, this time with another emcee- Gene Malin, Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer.  By the 1930s, Pansy bars were all the rage and gangsters and homosexuals rubbed shoulders in the ultimate sign of social defiance.

 

 

The Abby’s tenure at the Harding hotel was short lived, however, and gunplay would bring about the end of an era.

 

Dutch Schultz Gets Blasted

On January 24, 1931 all hell broke loose in the Club Abby when the Dutch Schultz and Waxey Gordon mobs collided. While waltzing on the dance floor the two gangs began arguing over a female companion. Suddenly, Schultz and Waxey’s lieutenant Charles Chink Sherman exchanged punches on the crowded dance floor. Sherman landed multiple punches, staggering the Dutchman, causing Schultz to ram a broken beer bottle into Sherman’s face.  The Waxey Gordon mob pulled guns and pumped lead into Dutch, but his bulletproof vest saved his hide, leaving him with a shoulder wound.  Because of the wild affray, the police closed the basement speakeasy for good.

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Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man’s Dance Hall and bordello at 304 Water Street circa 1868

Location: 304 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Priests, police, and just about everybody in Manhattan called John Van Allen the Wickedest Man in New York, and he reveled in it. A born self-promoter, if Allen had been alive today he probably would have had a reality television series.

 

In a twenty-year life of crime, Allen set the tabloids aflame with his wacky antics even attracting the attention of Mark Twain who described the forty-five year old dancehall owner and pimp as,

 

“A tall, plain, boney, fellow, with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water Street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face.”—Mark Twain

 

John Allen Wickedest Man In New York

John Allen the Wickedest Man in New York and his son, Chester, a lad “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

 

House of Rum and Prostitution

Strangely enough, Allen and his criminal brothers Westley (Wess), Theodore (The.), Martin and Jesse were the sons of a wealthy Presbyterian minister. John amassed over 113 arrests for running disorderly houses across the city, but his most infamous den was a dancehall located at 304 Water Street.

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Known for dancing prostitutes and cheap rum, Allen’s Dancehall would earn him the title: Wickedest Man in New York

Demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1870, his three story bilious green, bordello offered several dance floors, an orchestra pit and booths for sex. According to Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Allen staffed his club with twenty prostitutes dressed in,

 

“…low black bodices of satin, scarlet skirts and stockings, and red topped boots with bells affixed to the ankles.” 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man In New York holds court in his bar.

A Breathing Hole of Hell

According to Edward Winslow Martin’s Secrets of the Great City published in 1868, Allen’s dancehall was:

 

“…a breathing hole of hell—a trap door of the bottomless pit… where lousy loafers lurk..”

 

Allen lived above his bar with his wife, seven daughters and son, Chester, a lad who according to his dad was “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

In reality, Allen probably wasn’t the wickedest man on Water Street by a long shot (the title rightly belonged to Tommy Hadden), but after his ceaseless campaigning for the title, the moniker stuck when the Allen transformed his whorehouse into New York City’s wackiest religious revival.

 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

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Mike Salter. Pelham Cafe

12 Pell Street

Status: Standing

Nestled among the steaming chop suey joints and smoldering opium dens of turn of the last century Chinatown, there was a dingy saloon that spilled ragtime piano into the moonlight.

On any given night, the bar played host to a packed crowd of millionaires and murders, pickpockets and tourists, all on account of The Professor on the piano and a seventeen year old singing waiter named Izzy Baline, who would one day be known as Irving Berlin.

Mike Salter's Pelham Cafe. Birthplace of Irving Berlin.

12 Pell Street today. The site was once home to Mike Salter’s election rigging gang. The ragtime piano saloon was the birthplace of the Irving Berlin.

 

The place was The Pelham Café, headquarters of the unbelievably politically incorrectly nicknamed Nigger Mike Salter, a Russian-Jewish gangster. The papers called Mr. Salter the uncrowned prince of Chinatown, and the prince had his hands in everything: prize-fights, dice games, opium parlors, and most of all, politics. He was rumored to have killed ten men on the road to becoming Big Tom Foley’s chief election captain, and Salter’s specialty was getting out the vote.

 

The House of a Hundred Entrances

 

False registration, ballot box stuffing, and good old fashioned repeat voting earned Salter a special place in the heart of Tammany Hall. As a reward in 1904, the Hall permitted him to open a saloon in the Chinatown vice district in a tenement known as the house of a hundred entrances located at 12 Pell Street.

Salter spared no expense decorating the joint. Ivory inlaid teak furniture filled the front room. Red burlap wallpaper, framed by gold paint, lined the walls. Sawdust covered the floors, and a dense, ever-present fog of bluish cigar smoke hung above the bar, a bar that sat the A-list of the New York sporting set.

 

A Den of Ragtime and Vice

 

Characters like Big Mike Abrams, Chuck Connors, Staten Island Sally, and Hoboken Harriet, wined, dined, and danced the night away. At the bar, Sulky, a homicidal loanshark that kept a tidy ledger, served brews to gangland’s finest. Part time pugilist and full time gangster, Jack Sirocco, and his chief gorilla, Chick Tricker, could be found there on the regular.

In the back room, the Professor, “Nick” Nicholson manned a tinpan piano while Izzy the singing waiter belted out raunchy versions of hit songs that kept Chinatown abuzz.

 

Mike Salter Pelham Cafe Irving Berlin

Mike Salter’s Pelham cafe was located at 12 Pell Street in the heart of the old Five Points district.

 

Nobility Visits The Pelham

 

Word spread of Izzy’s musical talents, and Chuck Connors guided legions of celebrity slummers through the saloon’s double doors. John Jacob Astor, Sir Thomas Lipton (of tea fame), and August Belmont all came to sample the hullabaloo, but nothing could top the visit by Prince Louis of Battenberg, a Rear Admiral in the British Navy and the fourteen reporters following him.

Before leaving the prince remarked to Izzy:

I have had a delightful time, not dreariness, not weariness, and not one bit lonesome.

 

Ludwig_Alexander_von_Battenberg

Prince Louis of Battenberg.

 

When the prince attempted to tip Izzy, the singing waiter waved away the coin, exclaiming:

No, sir, it was my honor to sing.

On the Prince’s way out, Izzy and the orchestra of banjos, coronets, and fiddles stuck up a ragtime version of God Save the King.

 

The Making of Irving Berlin

By this point Salter knew he had something. Inspired by booze, he badgered Izzy and The Professor into writing a song because of the success of “My Mariucci Take a Steamboat”, a ditty written in a rival saloon on Doyers street.

 

 

The result of their collaboration was: “Marie from Sunny Italy.” The effort earned Izzy a whopping thirty-seven cents; but more importantly, the sheet music listed the lyricist as I. Berlin, and Irving Berlin was born.

 

IrvingBerlin

 

Berlin later reminisced:

It was an important song, though, because it did get me out of Chinatown.

 

However, Salter’s success was short lived. In 1907, the police arrested The Prince of Chinatown on charges of false voter registration. Marshals closed down his bar, and Salter skipped bail and skidooed off to Canada for three years. Berlin wouldn’t see his boss again until 1922, when he came to pay his respects at Salter’s Funeral.

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