Joe Bruno on the Mob – Umberto’s Restaurant
This article is in reply to an article on the website NYC Mob Tour, web address: http://nycmobtour.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/the-legend-of-mulberry-street-returns-some-things-are-better-left-unsaid/#respond
In the early 70’s (I’m not sure of the exact date because I was in the military service at the time), Larry’s Bar became Umberto’s.
When it first opened, Umberto’s did not get rave reviews from neighborhood people. To the people who lived north of Canal Street, “Vincent’s Clam Bar,” on the corner of Hester and Mott, was consider the best shellfish restaurant in the neighborhood. The people who lived south of Canal Street, as I did, felt “The Lime House,” on the corner of Mott and Bayard was the best. Then there was “Little Charlie’s” on Kenmare Street, which had excellent food. And also a small place on the Bowery, below Canal, the name of which escapes me, which had excellent food too. In the early 1970’s,Umberto’s was new, and everybody in the neighborhood tried it. But to me, the food was slightly above mediocre.
Everything changed in he early morning hours of April 7, 1972, when Crazy Joe Gallo was gunned down in Umberto’s, during his last stop on a night on the town (and in this world too), while celebrating his 43rd birthday. From what I heard on the streets, there was an open contract on Gallo because he was believed to be behind the murder of Joe Columbo, who was gunned down on June 29th, 1970 at the Italian/American Civil Right League rally, at Columbus Circle. Approximately 150,000 were in attendance when Columbo was shot. He remained in a vegetative state for several years, before he finally died.
For a reason I cannot fathom, a full page glossy, color, picture of Gallo, laying dead in the middle of the street in front of Umberto’s, was spread on the cover of Time Magazine. Suddenly, Umberto’s became an overnight sensation, as tourists from around the world flocked to Umberto’s to see the site of the famous gangland killing. However, the Little Italy neighborhood people ho-hummed the entire situation, because someone getting gunned down in Little Italy was not exactly a novel idea to the people who lived there. And who wants extra stunads roaming the streets of our neighborhood anyway?
Still, despite all the hype, the food at Umberto’s remained the same. Slightly above mediocre.
So what’s the big deal now about Umberto’s anyway? It has a new location around the corner from the original site. I haven’t been there yet, but if the food is like the original Umberto’s, I wouldn’t bust my butt trying to get a table there.
PS – I dined at Umberto’s many times, including a few hours before Gallo’s murder (I think I ate scungilli and calamari over spaghetti, with the medium/hot sauce). And I was safely out of Umberto’s before midnight (Thank God!). The shooting occurred around 4 a.m.
After the Gallo murder, I either ate at The Lime House, or at Vincent’s. And sometimes at Little Charlie’s. Once in a while I’d go to Umberto’s, but was always unimpressed by the food. And especially annoyed that the joint was filled with tourists, and not the regular neighborhood clientele.
You could legitimately say, after the killing of Joe Gallo in Umberto’s, there went the neighborhood.
My new book “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps – Volume – 1 – New York City” is available at: http://www.amazon.com/Mobsters-Gangs-Crooks-Creeps-ebook/dp/B0058J44QO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1309380609&sr=1-1