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Posts Tagged ‘Waxey Gordon’

Thumbnail_Siegals_Cafe_Jack_Zelig

Address: 76 Second Avenue

Status: Abandoned Church

 

In the early 1900s, Siegal’s Cafe was the nexus of the the Jewish underworld. In Siegal’s gonifs (Yiddish for thieves) and shtarkers (Yiddish for tough guys) planned heists while macs (pimps) and their girls drank and brawled the night away. Now an abandoned church, 76 Second Avenue was anything but holy.

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.

 

Who’s Who in The Jewish Mob

 

Packed with gangsters, pimps, prostitutes, opium fiends, pickpockets, strike breakers, con men and their female companions of the night, Siegal’s was a rough place indeed. Owned and operated by Big Alec Horlig and Little Louis Siegal, Siegal’s was wall to wall noir with a 10 table restaurant in the front and a hole-in-the-wall casino in the back. Big Alec and Little Louie stored an arsenal of pistols and shotguns and straight razors behind the bar for rumbles with the Chinatown based Chick Tricker and Jack Sirocco mob.

 

Chieftan of the Jewish mob, Big Jack Zelig, hung his hat at Siegal’s cafe, 76 Second Avenue.

Chieftain of the Jewish mob, Big Jack Zelig, hung his hat at Siegal’s cafe, 76 Second Avenue.

 

However, the unpretentious accommodations still attracted a veritable who’s who in the Jewish mob. On any given night, a visitor might “Jenny the Factory” Fischer, a madam and sometime prostitute who would go on to testify against Lucky Luciano and send him to prison. Husband Wife pickpocket team Boston and Tillie Meyer and one woman crime wave Bessie London, “the cleverest booster gun-mol in the world.” Big Jack Zelig, another Seigal’s Cafe habitue and heir apparent of the old Monk Eastman gang, used the cafe as his headquarters, as did strikebreaker Dopey Benny Fein and casino tycoon, Sam Paul.

 

Dopey Benny Fein and Waxey Gordon

 

Monahickey of the Humpty Jackson gang played poker cafe’s all night games along with a young pickpocket named Irving Wexler. Wexler was so stealthy that it was said he waxed the wallets he swiped. The nickname stuck, and Waxey Gordon joined Benny Fein’s mob of gorillas in Seigal’s cafe and went on to make millions during prohibition. Jewish private detective, Abe Schoenfield had this to say about Waxey in 1917:

 

“A gangster and a tough man…His notorious deeds would fill many pages…He worked with Dopey Benny and was mixed up in  everything the Dope was interested in.”- Private Investigator, Abe Schoenfield, 1917

 

Dopey Benny Fien, Jewish labor Slugger.

Jewish labor slugger Dopey Benny Fein.

 

Brother Shamus Schoenfield

 

Jewish private investigator Abe Schoenfield recorded much of what we know about Siegal’s Cafe and its denizens. Hired by the New York Kehillah (Jewish community), the gumshoe went undercover, documenting Jewish crime rings, prostitution houses and gambling establishments from 1912 to 1917. Shoenfield was no fan of Siegal’s. He wrote he’d like to:

 

“Plant a fourteen-inch gun and shoot the damn basement and its hord of carrion flesh into perdition.”–Private Investigator, Abe Schoenfield

 

Despite his hatred of Sigal’s cafe, the detective maintained the highest opinion of Big Jack Zelig, the Jewish Mobs’ shining knight.

 

The regulars at Seigal’s: 1 Casino tycoon Sam Pal. 2 Bald Jack Rose, the man who brought down Zelig. 3. Big Jack Zelig

The regulars at Seigal’s: 1 Casino tycoon Sam Paul. 2 Bald Jack Rose, the man who brought down Zelig. 3. Big Jack Zelig

 

Big Jack Zelig And The Boys of the Avenue

 

Big Jack Zelig, leader of the notorious Boys of the Avenue hung his derby at Siegal’s, the unofficial headquarters of his gang: The Boys of the Avenue. Zelig’s ace cokehead triggermen, Lefty Louis and Whitey Lewis, could be found on the regular when they weren’t blasting people or breaking spinal columns for fun and profit. After nights of undercover work, Schoenfield became enamored with the deadly Zelig. He wrote:

 

“Zelig cleared the East Side of Italians who were wont to hold up stuss houses and legitimate places. He cleared the east side of Italians who could be seen walking through the streets with Jewish girls whom they were working into prostitution. He prevented more holdups and other things of a similar nature during his career than one thousand policemen.”–Abe Schoenfield.

 

Jack Zelig's cocaine addled triggermen, Lefty Louie and Gyp the blood, gunned down Herman Rosenthal in the murder of the century.

Jack Zelig’s cocaine addled triggermen, Lefty Louie and Gyp the blood (seated), gunned down Herman Rosenthal in the murder of the century.

 

Despite Zeligs gallantry and reputation, forces outside of the Jewish Underworld were moving to put him on the spot. Set to testify in the Herman Rosenthal murder case, Zelig strutted out of Siegal’s cafe and jumped on a streetcar headed for his doom. Just as the trolley passed Thirteenth Street a gunman hopped on the running boards and fired into Zeligs head, killing him instantly. Without Zelig, Siegal’s fell from popularity and eventually closed.

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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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