Little Italy in New York City is the mob joint capital of America, if not the world. At least it was at one time. Honest-to-goodness non-social club joints have been harder to find in recent years, what with the various blows dealt to local crime families, but there are still a few around, even as Little Italy continues to shrink. At last, it seems, the city government has decided to recognize these establishments for the historic landmarks that they are. It sounds highly improbable, I know, but the New York Law Journal bears me out.
The court decision listed in the March 14 edition concerning Umberto's Clam House, right there on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Sts., couldn't make it more clear. Last year, Umberto's owner, local restaurateur Robert Ianniello, had petitioned the Mayor's Office of Contracts for the right to put six tables on the sidewalk out in front of his restaurant. Well, the city turned down his request?which doesn't seem to matter all that much, since Umberto's just keeps expanding anyway, even though nobody ever seems to eat there.
In explaining their rejection in papers filed last Sept. 24, however, the MOC made several startling allegations: After making the point that Mr. Ianniello refused to answer a simple questionnaire concerning his past criminal record, the document states rather bluntly, "Robert Ianniello is an associate of the Genovese family."
Then in the following paragraph, the decision states, "There is a substantial possibility that the Genovese family will use the new Umberto's as a racketeering enterprise with the knowledge and cooperation of Robert Ianniello."
And all that may or may not be true. It's not my concern, and I'm not here to judge.
Ianniello, representing Rodbar Restaurants Inc., appealed the decision, claiming that the MOC was more concerned with conducting a criminal investigation than it was in determining the impact six tables would have on sidewalk traffic and access to the street. And he certainly has a point there. In the MOC's rejection, there isn't a single mention of how the tables would affect foot traffic in the area?which, in theory at least, is what these decisions are supposed to be based on. One wonders, exactly, what mob connections have to do with putting a few tables out front. If you think about it, wouldn't it be a good idea? Even if the place is a mob hangout?and I'm not saying it is?wouldn't the feds prefer to have these people sitting outside, where they could be seen more clearly?
Nevertheless, Ianniello's appeal was rejected earlier this month. But that's not really my concern, either. I'm more interested in the MOC's original ruling. With that document, the City of New York, in essence, has declared Umberto's Clam House an "officially certified mob joint."
Certainly Umberto's has played an interesting role in local mob history?a point made quite clearly in the MOC's rejection. Umberto's was the place where Joey Gallo was assassinated in 1972 (though the restaurant was in a different location at the time). That, together with the fact that Ianniello's two brothers were both convicted on racketeering charges based on certain activities that took place on the restaurant's premises. Still, it seems odd for a city agency other than the D.A.'s office to come right out and say it.
Now, here's my question: having stated in the public record that Umberto's is affiliated with organized crime, will the restaurant now receive a nice plaque of some sort, or a certificate (suitable for framing) from the city to hang above the one from the Board of Health? One that reads "Certified Mob Joint"? They should, if you ask me. That place would be packed every single night (assuming that that's what they want).
And all that got me to thinking further: are there other places around town?whether in Little Italy, or up in the Bronx, or in Carroll Gardens, or Sheepshead Bay, or Harlem?which are also "Certified Mob Joints"? Does the MOC keep a list somewhere? The way to find out, I figured, would be to call the Mayor's Office of Contracts itself and ask them. Hell, even the name sounds appropriate.
But the MOC immediately bounced me over to the Mayor's Press Office?not always the most forthcoming group of individuals. A fellow over there named Curtis Ritter apparently handles contract questions. Unfortunately, by press time, Mr. Ritter had not returned any of my phone calls. So I contacted the MOC by telephone again, as well as electronically, but as of this writing, I haven't heard anything from them, either.
Nevertheless, down in Little Italy, still with neither a sidewalk cafe nor a nice new plaque from the city, Umberto's rolls onward.