In the mid-1960s the New York State Liquor Authority engaged in an aggressive campaign against drinking establishments which served gay folks, and after it suspended the license of Julius Restaurant in Greenwich Village the owners including prominent businessman William Fugazy -- later accused by a Mafia boss of having ties to the Genovese family -- fired back to win a landmark court decision against the enforcement practice.
In September 1964 William Fugazy and George Chase through F & C Holding Corp in equal shares purchased Julius Restaurant at 159 West 10th Street for $105,000 in cash. Both men had successful backgrounds. Fugazy was the president of Fugazy Travel Bureau which was the largest travel agency in New York City, and Chase had been president of the Montclair Food Company in New Jersey and was on the Board of the National Spirits Guild of America. Julius Restaurant -- apparently a bit of a dive with sawdust on the floor and barrels for tables -- was a going concern known for its celebrities and burgers but the Village neighborhood had become a gay mecca, and the area bars and eateries including Julius Restaurant quickly adapted to the changing clientele which got the premises into trouble after NYPD plainclothes officer Stephen Chapwick from the 4th Precinct visited during the midnight hour on November 11, 1965 to find an unmanly crowd with "tight clothes," "limp wrists," "shrill voices" and "mincing gaits" who "were calling each other honey and deary."
After a hearing the SLA issued an order on April 1, 1966 suspending the liquor license of Julius Restaurant for 30 days because "the licensee suffered or permitted the licensed premises to become disorderly in violation of Section 106, subdivision 6, of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law in that it permitted homosexuals, degenerates and/or undesirables to be and remain on the licensed premises on Nov. 12-13, 1965, and conduct themselves in an offensive and indecent manner contrary to good morals." In a court appeal the eatery impassionately challenged the license suspension on grounds that the state law against a disorderly premise could not be triggered merely by a homosexual assembly without any illicit conduct, and to do so violated the gay men's equal protection rights under the New York and federal constitutions. In a 1967 decision the court agreed with Julius Restaurant on its state law claim in overturning the license suspension, and did not need to reach the larger constitutional questions.
Most historians incorrectly claim that the early gay rights group Mattachine Society filed the lawsuit after several members were refused service by unsympathetic management at Julius Restuarant on April 21, 1966. In fact, the court challenge was from Julius Restaurant concerning the November 11, 1965 citation, and not the Mattachine Society over the April 21, 1966 protest. The tavern supported the protest later dubbed a "sip in" which occurred three weeks after the SLA suspended its liquor license for the earlier infraction, and pointed to the event in arguing for an end to the SLA policy against serving gay patrons. In legal papers Julius Restaurant expressly condemned the SLA's "crusade against homosexuals in the City of New York, apparently in cooperation with certain other law enforcement officers," and eloquently argued the SLA wrongly requires it "to violate the statutory and constitutional rights of patrons or risk the loss of its license for not doing so."
In the mid-1960s -- heck, right up to at least the mid-1980s if not later -- most gay bars in New York either were owned by or paid protection to the Mafia. Although there is no evidence that Julius Restaurant was under the mob's thumb there's one allegation that its owner William Fugazy was a connected guy, and it came from a big source. Lucchese-boss-turned-government-witness Al D'Arco testified in a 1997 trial that in 1968 Fugazy and fellow travel agent Gilbert Di Lucia were to have a role in a money maker greenlighted by Genovese boss Vincent Gigante as reported by The Smoking Gun. Mob experts Jerry Capeci and Tom Robbins spoke with Al D'Arco for their book Mob Boss about the supposed scheme which ultimately never materialized, and they write:
[Ralph] Massucci had met the captain of a Greek ocean liner docked at a pier on the lower West Side. The captain explained he was unable to depart because of a million-dollar lien that had been placed against the vessel by a downtown travel agency. The lien had been placed by an ambitious travel agent named William Fugazy who had grown up in the Village and who kept an office above O. Henry's steakhouse at Sixth Avenue and West Third Street.
Fugazy was a tireless self-promoter. His name consistently appeared in the press. He could honestly boast of friendships with Bob Hope, Lee Iacocca, and Cardinal Terrence Cooke. Along with former federal prosecutor Roy Cohn, he had promoted the second and third Ingmar Johansson-Floyd Patterson heavyweight title matches in 1960 and 1961. Another of Fugazy's friends was the local Greenwich Village Genovese capo, Vincent Gigante.
Together with the captain, Ralph and Al hatched a plan for the lien to be lifted and the ship to sail in exchange for letting the gangsters have the vessel's gambling concession.
"We knew a casino on the ship would be a big moneymaker. Ralph knew Fugazy from the neighborhood, and we went to see him and his partner, who ran O'Henry's steakhouse." The deal they pitched was that the travel agents would recruit customers for the gambling junkets and get a percentage of the take. Their next stop was to see Gigante to get his approval.
At the Sullivan Street clubhouse, Gigante looked perfectly normal. He was wearing a gray suit and an open-necked white shirt. He nodded at Al and said hello. Although their trails continued to cross over the years, it was the only word he and Al ever exchanged. Gigante and Massucci then went off to the side to have a whispered conversation.
Outside the club, Ralph relayed the verdict. "Chin was good with it. He gave the okay to do the deal." But the scheme soon fell apart. The ship's captain, possibly thanks to second thoughts about his prospective new partners, found another way to raise the cash for the lien and paid it off. A few days later, the ship sailed without them.
O. Henry's Steakhouse at 345 Sixth Avenue and La Groceria, Inc. at 333 Sixth Avenue both were founded by Gilbert Di Lucia's father Vito who also was a travel agent behind Washington Square Travel.
William Fugazy founded the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations of which Mario Cuomo was a member, and in 1986 the Governor appointed Fugazy to head the New York State Statue of Liberty Centennial Commission. Gilbert Di Lucia was the president of the Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce and of the Washington Square Democratic Club which he said "was the first political club in the state to endorse Mr. Cuomo for Governor," and in 1983 Cuomo announced his plan to nominate Di Lucia as a board member to the Port Authority as then reported by The New York Times.
The assistant manager at Julius Restaurant alternatively was identified at the SLA hearing as Michael Domenick De Curtis and Nicholas Domenick De Curtis of 80 Christoper Street. Gambino soldier Eddie De Curtis had interests in numerous West Village gay bars in the 1960s, and he did have a brother Nicholas De Curtis. However, Friends of Ours has been unable to determine whether the Julius Restaurant assistant manager was a family relation to Eddie DeCurtis, and if readers know anything about him please leave a comment. Assistant manager Michael (Nicholas?) De Curtis testified at the SLA hearing that "I am held responsible for the money there; I take the registers at the end of the night," and during his examination the restaurant's attorney was obliged to request "please do not smoke while you are on the witness stand."
Messrs. Fugazy and Chase long ago sold their interests in Julius Restaurant but these straight men have a solid place in gay history.
If you would like to support this blog please consider purchasing a copy of The Mafia and the Gays by Phillip Crawford Jr. Thank you!