Feature Articles

June 5, 2000

Umberto�s Clam House Opens For Business, And Bullets, Again.

By John William Tuohy and Ed Becker

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

     On May 18 of this year, Umberto's Clam House in New York's Little Italy reopened its doors for business, sans the bullet holes that passed through one of its most famous customers, Crazy Joe Gallo, who was gunned to his death on April 7, 1972.

     Actually, this is the new Umberto's, a full two blocks away from the original place, which was at the end of Mulberry Street. It closed in 1996 after fourteen years in business, because they lost the lease. Bobby Ianniello, brother of alleged Genovese family capo, Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, will run the new place just like he ran the old place.

     That's another thing that's changed about Umberto's, Matty the Horse is gone. In 1985, the IRS slammed him away for skimming millions from his businesses. He's been in jail ever since. So, for a while, Bobby Ianniello, he prefers to be called Robert, ran a smaller version of Umberto's, but it cramped and from the outside, it looked dumpy.

     But this new place is nice. It has twice the seating capacity of even the original Umberto's, and offers moderately priced menu, good food and pretty waitresses.

     Will it succeed?

     Sure it will, because Umberto's will never lose its macabre glamour as the place where Joey Gallo whacked almost thirty years ago. It will succeed because people from around the world will visit New York, and go out of their way to come and sit there, and eat, and tell the story of Crazy Joe, again and again and again. Sometimes getting it right, but mostly getting it wrong.

     That's why they came to the old place, even after the bullet holes were patched up, and Matty the Horse was carted off to the joint for skimming the place blind, the tourist still came just to be able to say they ate Umberto's, the place where Crazy Joe got his.

     Its always a warm night in April of 1972 at Umberto's, no matter how much they try to change it. Matty The Horse, he got the name because of his hulking frame, is still the reputed Boss behind the Big Apple's sex bar, massage parlor, porno shop and transvestite club industry, that he runs for the Genovese's. He still hangs out in front with a group of the neighborhood guys, talking, smoking and watching the tourist walk.

     At least once a night, Joey Gallo come's back to life there, through the words of another neighborhood guy, another harried New Yorker, or another out of towner, who whisper the story across Umberto's sparkling tables.

     It was one hell of life that Crazy Joe Gallo lived. He got made when he was only 17, and eleven years later, working on orders from his immediate boss, Joe Profaci, it was Joey and his crew, probably working with Carmine "Th e Snake" Persico, who whacked Albert Anastasia as he sat in a barbers chair in Manhattan in 1957.

     In 1960, Profaci and the Gallo's went to war in a dispute over cash and common respect.

     Joe Profaci, the boss who looked for the angle in every word spoken to him. Joe Profaci, the religious hypocrite who saw conspiracy in ever gesture. Joe Profaci, who ruled his vast empire with a bloody, iron fist from his 328 acre estate on Long Island, complete with its own airstrip. The problem started when Profaci ordered the Gallo boys to whack a gambler named "Frankie Shots" Abbatemarco, because he refused to fork over a $50,000 tribute to Profaci.

     Larry and Joey Gallo had worked closely with Frankie Shots for almost ten years, and they loved the guy. They didn't want to take him out, but, when they were given the order, they did what they were told to do. The bosses could always count on the Gallo boys to do the dirty work, no questions asked.

     Before the hit, Profaci had promised the boys he would spilt the take from Frankie Shots rackets with them. But, after the work was done, Profaci gave Frankie Shots empire to his close pals and left the Gallo's out in the cold.

     The Gallo came to Profaci, hat in hand, heads bowed, and asked for their share of the booty. But Profaci told them to go to hell. After that, the boys came out swinging. They whacked a few of Profaci's guys, and kidnaped some of his top bosses too. Then, in 1962, Profaci died and Crazy Joe got sent away on an extortion rap, and Joe Colombo took over the family.

     Joey Gallo strutted out of jail in 1971 a changed man. He was still a psychopathic, antisocial killer, but he was a well read psychopathic antisocial killer who had explored his sensitive side. He had taken up oil painting and read the great works, Camus, Kafka and those guys. He could even quote a few lines from their work when he wanted to impress someone, and Crazy Joe was all about impressing someone.

     In the late 1960s, the wonderful Jimmy Breslin knocked out a wonderful book based on the Gallo's, called "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and Hollywood made out a film about it.

     Joey wasn't all that excited about the book or the film or Breslin either for that matter. He didn't like being portrayed as the head clown in an idiot factory. Nonetheless, he invited Jerry Orbach, the New York actor who portrayed him in film, over to his massive Greenwich Village apartment for dinner. The Orbach's loved Joey and introduced him to their world.

     But Joey never brought them into his world, which was still that patch of urban decay called the Red Hook, over in Brooklyn.

     He never told them how he worked a deal with the devil himself, Carlo Gambino, to whack Joe Colombo. He never told them how he had convinced a slow witted Black man named Jerome Johnson to murder the mob boss in the middle of Columbus Square in 1971, with assurances that Gallo's people would create a disturbance so he could escape. Colombo's goons plugged Johnson so many times, their still counting the holes.

     After Joe Colombo got whacked, some nut case in media made up a story that what was left of the Colombo family management put out an open contract on Crazy Joe's life, but that's not true. In those days, the bosses had at least some common sense. You don't leave a contract to chance so that any moron with a six shooter can collect a finders fee. There was another story that Crazy Joe got whacked because he put Joe Colombo to sleep. That's not true either. Colombo was a nut case, he had it coming to him and he knew it.

     No, they whacked Crazy Joe for the same reason everybody else gets whacked, because he got greedy, and he got stupid, and as a result, he got dead.

     Right after Joe Colombo got put on ice, Crazy Joe walks into the San Susan Nightclub out of Long Island and he tells the manager "I like this place. This place is mine. Get out"

     He does this even thought he knows that the joint is owned in secret by Johnny Franzese, a capo in the Colombo family. Then he authorizes a burglary at Ferrara's pastry shop in the heart of Little Italy, and makes 50 G's disappear from the safe.

     Now Ferrara's is a legit place and has been since they opened it in 1892, but Vinnie Aloi did a lot of loan sharking out of there, and its in the old neighborhood and now everybody looks like stupid.

     A few days after the heist at Ferrara's, a Colombo guy named Gennaro Ciprio gets clipped in front of his sister, as he locks up his restaurant. It was his punishment for doing the work at the pastry shop and for being stupid. A few days later they found a burglar named Richie Grossman. He was Ciprio's partner in the pastry deal. They made him climb into the trunk of his own car and then shot him once in each eyeball.

     Now they went to get Joey Gallo.

     On April 7, 1972, Crazy Joe Gallo caught the cab that took him to see the angels.

     It was Joey's 43rd birthday, and his sister arranged a small party for him at the Copa over in Manhattan. Joey dressed in a black suit that night.

     The party arrived at the Copa Cabana at 11:PM, just in time for the midnight show, featuring Don Rickles. Joey loved it. It relaxed him and he needed to relax.

     They were joined by actor Jerry Orbach and wife and comedian Jerry Steinberg and his date. A parade of well wishers dropped by the table to shake the hand of the small, rail-thin gangster in his shiny black pin stripped suit. Gallo was happy.

     At 4 A.M. the Gallo party is the last to leave the restaurant. The group consists of Robert Bongiovi AKA Bobby Darrow, one of Gallo's two bodyguards and a convicted rapist who was tossed out of the army, had meet a women and skipped out early. The remaining group, Gallo, his wife, Sina, a dental assistant he had married three weeks before, her ten year old daughter from a previous marriage, Lisa Essary, Joey's sister, Carmella Fiorello and Peter Diapoulos AKA Pete the Greek.

     The Greek is was married with four children at home, but is out for the evening with a lady friend, Edith Russo.

     They pile into Gallo's black Cadillac, which is plastered with stickers " A.I.D" an acronym for Gallo's latest money making scam "Americans of Italian Descent".

     Inside the car, someone suggests they grab something to eat,. Gallo agrees and suggests Chinese food and Pete the Greek swings the car around to Chinatown, but the entire place is closed.      "Go across the street" Gallo says and Pete the Greek swung the car across Canal Street and into Little Italy. The only thing open is a new place, on the corner of Hester and Mulberry Streets, Umberto's Clam House.

     They park and claim out of the car. They pass the portion of the street where Marlon Brando, as Don Corleone, was shot at the fruit stand as his son Fredo watched in horror. Joey saw the movie and he liked it, but he thought that some of the death scenes were "too flashy"

     He wasn't around when part two of the film premiered and showed a reenactment of Joey's older brother Larry getting duped in to a 1961 peace meeting at the Sahara Lounge, a bar room in Flatbush, that was run by a guy named Clemenza who was a pal of Joe Profaci's.

     It went down just like they showed it in the movie too. One of Joe Profaci's best soldiers, a hood named John Scimone, was waiting for him outside the bar. Scimone gave Larry a $100 bill as a good will gesture.

     They went into the bar, which was closed. Clemanza was alone inside, wiping glasses. The room was dim except for a bar light from a beer advertisement. Larry and Scimone talked at the bar, when Carmine "The Snake" Persico and Sally D'Ambrosio slipped up behind him and threw a rope around Larry's neck and started to strangle him, when the side door to the bar opened and a cop named Eddie Meagher walked in and asked Clemanza "What's go'n on in here? You open or what?"

     Then he saw Larry Gallo's feet hanging out of a telephone booth, he reached for his weapon as Scimone, Persico and Sally D ran past him and started a gun battle out in the middle of the street with Meagher's partner who was waiting in the patrol car.

     That was 1961. Then Larry died of throat cancer and when Joey got sprung he took over the Gallo's tiny, hand to mouth operations in Red Hook. And then Joe Colombo got clipped and Crazy Joe Gallo was talking about taking over then entire family.

     As Joey Gallo and his friends climbed out of the car in front of Umberto's on that April night, they came across the Ianniello boys. The brothers are standing outside the restaurant, watching the cops pull apart a drunken couple.

     Gallo and Pete the Greek spot Matty the Horse, and say hello. Pete the Greek worked at one of Matty the Horse's clubs a few years before Joey got out of the can. Not realizing Ianniello owns the place, Joey asked "How's the shrimp here?"

     "Its all great" Matty says "Its good food, its a nice place" Gallo and company amble into the restaurant with its white tile floor and seashore decor, and look over the menu, which, in those days, offered inexpensive and simple sea food, most of it fried the way New York loves it.

     There was another Made Guy out on the street that night, Joey Luparelli, an alleged fence and part time driver and bodyguard to acting boss of the Colombo family, Jospeh Yacovelli AKA, Joey Yaks.

     Luparelli makes Gallo and hurriedly walks down Mulberry Street a few hundred feet. He's happy. This is going to put him in real good with the boss.

Luparelli finds two brothers he knows only as Cisco and Benny, and an old friend, Phil Gambino AKA Fat Foongey and Carmine DiBiase, an alleged hit man with the Gambino's who had once made the FBI's Ten Most wanted List.

     Out of breath, Luparelli calls the men into a circle and whispers "I seen him, he's in Umberto's" "Seen who?" DiBiase asks. "Upahts" he answers using the Italian word for crazy. But they don't know the word. "Upahts, who?" Luparelli roles is eyes in disgust "No, no, Joey Gallo, the crazy one, Upahts"

     DiBiase understand immediately. He tells someone to get guns and meet him in front of Umberto's.

     Inside the restaurant, the Gallo party is sitting at the last table, in a long row of tables, over looking the street. Joey is facing the wall, something he never does. But everything about tonight is different. Fate is in control.

     There are five other patrons in the place, college kids mostly. Matty the Horse is sitting alone at a table near the grill, where a cook and the waiter are talking, he's going over the books. He always goes over the books.

     Spread out across Gallo's table are plates filled with boiled shrimp and scungili, fresh salad, and warm Italian bread and a bowl filled with butter and ice. They eat communally and order a second helping of each.

     There was a brief moment, just a passing second, of silence across the restaurant. Then Carmine DiBiase, Cisco and Benny kick in the front door, stand at the back of the room under the color drawing of Christopher Columbus and blast away, filling the place with twenty rounds of hot lead.

     Pete the Greek stand to draw his weapon but dives to the floor and is shot in the left buttock. The bullet exits through his thigh. Matty the Horse dives into the kitchen and covers his head. Crazy Joe Gallo stands and gets hit with a slug from a . 38 It enters his heart. He walks towards the killers. Another shot catches him in arm. He staggers backwards and knocks over the table and then reels out the front door. He gets whacked three more times before he leaves the place. He staggers out to the street and falls to his knees, mumbles something, and falls flat on his face, busting his long thing nose on the road surface.

     The gunmen run out the cheap metal door in the back, out into the alley where their car is waiting. Pete the Greek follows them, and, holding the door open with his left hand, fires seven rounds at the killers car, smashing the front and rear windows, but otherwise doing no damage to the killers inside.

     Enraged, the Greek limps into the kitchen and points his gun at Matty the Horse's temple "Get up or I'll blow your head off" he says and Matty does as he's told.

     "Did you set this up?"

     "In here? my own place? No!" says Matty the Horse "On the eyes of mother, no"

     "I find out your lying" The Greek says "its gonna be too bad for you"

     The Greek hobbles outside to the street where Joey Gallo is laying face down in a pool of his own blood. He's been shot in the back, the arm, the lung and the heart. He's hemorrhaging internally.

     His sister Carmella sobbing at his side "They shot my brother. He's a good man, a good, kind man and they shot him"

     Somebody called an ambulance. It didn't matter, Crazy Joe wasn't no more. He bled to death in the gutter he came from.

     The check comes. The diners leave. The table is cleared. A new party sits, and they tell the tale of Crazy Joe Gallo and how they killed him at Umberto's Clam House on April 7, 1972.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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