The Genovese crime family long has been involved in New York City's nightlife industry -- whether the clubs catered to gays, straights, blacks or tourists -- and during the 1950s the point man for Vito Genovese in this racket was Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo.
According to FBI reports Tony Bender often was seen at the Savannah Club on 66 West 3rd Street which was a "negro nightclub" owned by Joseph Schiavone -- who also had interests in the gay Moroccan Village at 23 West 8th Street and the touristy Village Barn at 52 West 8th Street -- and at the trendy San Remo on 93 MacDougal Street which was a popular gay and beatnik hangout. (The Genovese owned many of the gay bars along West Eighth Street, and in Martin Scorsese's 1973 film Mean Streets the director includes a scene intentionally capturing the "W 8 St" street sign -- beginning at the 7:30 minute mark in the linked clip -- where the Italian boys drop off their gay passengers in the Moroccan Village neighborhood after fleeing a shooting at Tony's place.)
One of the principal alleged nightclub fronts for the Genovese crime family was Stephen Franse who had interests in, among other establishments, the gay Club 181 at 181 Second Avenue and the Howdy Club in Greenwich Village. Club 181 was referred to as "the most famous fag joint in town" by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer in their 1952 book U.S.A. Confidential. In 1953 Club 82 at 82 East Fourth Street and Second Avenue opened following the closure of Club 181, and Under the Mink writes that it was "under the same management as the 181 and inherited much of its personnel and style in floorshows" although "it was never so elegant."
Poor Stephen Franse was whacked on the orders of Vito Genovese on the night of June 19, 1953 after leaving Club 82 in which the mob boss's wife Anna, a long-rumored lesbian, allegedly had a management role. Franse had been assigned the duty of keeping Anna in line during her messy divorce from Vito, and he failed miserably as Anna had tipped off the feds to Vito's alleged interests in numerous nightclubs. A June 20, 1953 article ("Brutal Mugging Fatal") from the New York Times states:
His body, badly beaten, was discovered at 9:45 A.M. face down on the rear floor of his automobile, which was parked in front of 164 East Thirty-seventh Street. Detectives said a sapphire and diamond ring, a gold watch and approximately $200 in case were missing. * * * The police said that Mr. Franse . . . had left the Club 82 at 82 East Fourth Street at 4:30 A.M. planning to go to a restaurant at Fifty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue.
In Too Much, Too Soon: The Makeup and Breakup of the New York Dolls (Omnibus: 1998), Nina Antonia writes: "82 Club had been an influential drag revue since its opening in 1953. Anyone who wanted to make it as a serious drag artist performed there and by the mid-sixties it was a big draw for any celebrities who wanted to take a little walk on the wig side." (On an unrelated note, since the early 1990s the premises at 82 East Fourth Street has housed the Bijou Theater. In Betty and Pansy's Severe Queer Review of New York (Cleiss Press: 2003) a reviewer alleges: "Club 82, commonly called the Bijou Theater, is a place for men to go and have sex with other men in small darkened private booths. * * * Now it is owned by Pakistani men who make money off gay sex. The overintoxicated and obviously drugged increase markedly around 4 A.M.")
A May 29, 1958 FBI report on Tony Bender states the following:
New York files reflect that . . . the Club Caravan, the Savannah Club, the 82 Club, and the Morroccan Club were owned by . . . VITO GENOVESE, and the syndicate, but were fronted by someone else. On March 25, 1953, ANNA GENOVESE appeared at the office of the New York State Liquor Authority with her attorney, H. DAVID FRACKMAN, and was questioned, under oath, in a public hearing conducted by the State Liquor Authority. She stated that she did voice the opinion in Superior Court of New Jersey, that the 82 Club, the Club Caravan, the Savannah Club, and the Moroccan Village were owned by VITO GENOVESE and the syndicate, and that the proprietors of record were fronting for them. However, on March 25, 1953, she stated at this hearing that VITO GENOVESE never had any interest in the Moroccan Club or the 82 Club. In regard to the Savannah Club, she stated that she knew of no previous transaction between STEPHEN FRANSE or JOSEPH SCHIAVONE and her husband, VITO GENOVESE. SCHIAVONE was president of the Savannah Club, and FRANSE was the previous owner. As to the Club Caravan, she stated that she never had an interest in this club, and had never visited same as a customer. * * * In public hearings conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority on April 17, 1953, VITO GENOVESE was questioned, under oath, in the presence of his attorney, JOSEPH MATTICE. During this testimony, VITO GENOVESE denied investing any money in the 82 Restaurant, Inc. He stated that he had no financial interest in the Moroccan Village, and he also denied any interest in the Savannah Club in New York City. GENOVESE denied that he had ever joined any group to purchase, own, or share in any licensed premise in New York State, or that he, in fact, has or ever had any interest in any such premises in New York State. * * * [I]n March, 1953 . . . the books and records of the Club Caravan, Savannah Club, 82 Club, and the Moroccan Club had been picked up by the District Attorney’s Office in New York City. The informant stated that the persons listed as having an interest in those clubs testified under oath at public hearings conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority, and all denied that VITO GENOVESE had any interest.
Although Genovese-controlled establishments provided the crime family with opportunities for profit skimming and money laundering, some of them were used as heroin trafficking points. Indeed, the Bureau of Narcotics within the United States Treasury Department long had the number on Anthony Strollo, and its files reflect that he was the "head of a narcotics smuggling-distributing organization."
Heroin trafficking turned out to be the downfall for Vito Genovese, and in 1959 he was convicted for his role in the racket. The East Village neighborhood where Club 181 and Club 82 were located was the operational base of Vito's trafficking enterprise according to the appellate court decision affirming his conviction, and the pure heroin was delivered to reputed Genovese soldier Ralph Polizzano at a processing "plant" on 36 East Fourth Street where it was cut and mixed prior to distribution. The U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Narcotics frequently observed Polizzano visiting Club 82 in the mid-to-late 1950s, and its files state with respect to "localities frequented" by him: "Resides at 57 E 4th St, NYC, frequents Squeeze Inn Bar 57 E 4th St, NYC, also the Club 82, E 4th St, NYC. * * * Owns Squeeze Inn Bar, 57 e 4th St., NYC."
Greedy Tony Bender disappeared from his Fort Lee, NJ home in April 1962, and a new nightclub king -- Thomas "Tommy Ryan" Eboli -- was crowned. A February 14, 1965 article ("Mafia Steps Up Infiltration And Looting of Businesses") by Charles Grutzner from the New York Times states:
[T]he State Liquor Authority is aware of tight Mafia control over many bars and nightclubs in Greenwich Village, in midtown, on the fashionable East Side and out on Long Island. Most of the bars that cater to male and female homosexuals are Mafia operations and some are bases for blackmail of deviates from wealthy families. * * * Since the disappearance of Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo, who is believed to have been murdered for reaching for too much power, Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli is understood to be the overseer of the bar and nightclub racket in this city for the Genovese family.
And an October 16, 1966 article ("Underworld Expanding Control Over Night Clubs") from the New York Times states:
In Greenwich Village, where some policemen know which Mafiosi have shares in which bars and night spots but cannot prove it, the overseer of the operation is said to be Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, successor to Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo. Strollo’s disappearance in 1962 is generally believed among the police to be a piece of intra-Mafia business. * * * Mr. [Donald S.] Hostetter [the State Liquor Authority's chairman] said . . . that he knew of the various reports of underworld infiltration of drinking places.
Eboli's reign as nightclub king lasted a decade, and he was whacked on July 16, 1972. For years following Eboli's death reputed Genovese capo Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello allegedly took over the crime family's nightlife operations, and in 1985 he was convicted for skimming profits out of several establishments.