Regents Row was operated by reputed mob associate Tommy Dowling and his boyfriend Lucky Moore in midtown Manhattan on East 43rd Street, and after it burnt down Mortimer wrote about the upscale establishment in his August 1, 1960 column:
The Regents Row situation grows curioser and curioser by the second. Shortly before the fire which gutted the luxury club (a few days after I wrote about it) Regents Row's Tommy Dowling and Lucky Moore went to work for Peggy Fears in her oh, so gay Fire Islands Pines. Right after the fire, Regents Row customers were advised there'd be a bigger and better club after Labor Day. The owners thought they had $225,000 insurance. It was $150,000. It has not been paid as of this writing. Among the innocent patrons of this club are some of New York's prominent citizens including a former governor, none of whom are aware of what I know. I am being pressured from all sides to lay off. I will not.
Mortimer never identified this "former governor" in his subsequent columns but at the time there were only four -- Herbert Lehman, Charles Poletti, Thomas Dewey and W. Averell Harriman -- and most likely Poletti, the youngest among them at 57-years-old, was the gay blade.
In 1960 Lehman was an octogenarian, and Regents Row was a lively place which was unlikely to attract the walking dead. Indeed, Lehman died of heart failure just three years later at the age of 85. Dewey also can be eliminated as among the bar's patrons because if the former prosecutor who put Lucky Luciano behind bars were gay the vengeful mob would have ensured it became public knowledge or otherwise used against him. Moreover, Dewey was among those who considered homosexuals as security risks during the cold war, and even if his anti-gay position were a hypocritical mask it's doubtful that he would recklessly expose himself at a well-known gay bar. And Harriman was an incorrigible playboy who genuinely enjoyed the ladies. In 1971 at 79-years-old the old dog married his third and final wife who was nearly 30 years his junior.
So that pretty much just leaves Poletti although it's hardly a conclusive answer to the question of what former New York governor was cavorting at Regents Row since he was twice married and had children.
In 1938 Poletti was elected Lieutenant Governor, and served out the few remaining weeks in the term of Governor Lehman who resigned on December 3, 1942 to accept a U.S. State Department position. Poletti then went to Italy where he ultimately headed the Allied Military Government, and was closely advised by Vito Genovese who at the time was stealing army supplies to sell on the black market as reported by Tim Newark in his article "Fighting The Mafia In World War Two" for American Mafia. The cozy relationship between Poletti and Genovese continued until Sargeant Orange C. Dickey from the Criminal Investigative Unit personally escorted the mobster back to New York to face a murder charge over the objections from military brass. The murder charge against Genovese was dismissed after the witnesses against him suffered unfortunate demises.
In New York's post-war years Genovese operated a string of gay bars out of which he trafficked heroin, and Poletti arbitrated labor disputes in the garment industry. Given the long-standing quiet tolerance of homosexuality within Italian culture and the mob's dominance over gay bars -- heck, Genovese's lesbian wife Anna even managed one -- Poletti certainly would not be uncomfortable patronizing Regents Row. Contrary to popular opinion and revisionist history gay bars before the Stonewall Riots in 1969 were not all clandestine dives frequented by powerless people. Regents Row in 1960 was a tony establishment patronized by an A-list crowd where a former governor could find his social peers.
Much of the success behind Regents Row which re-opened after the fire was attributed to Tommy Dowling. In The Gay Insider, a popular guide to the gay scene in 1971, author John Francis Hunter reviewed Dowling's latest venture the Zodiac Uptown at 1487 First Avenue and gushed over the barkeep:
If for no other reason, you should come here because it's run by Tommy, one of the great gentleman/manager/hosts in Manhattan. (Gentleman is an old-fashioned word, and Tommy is that, while being as up-to-date as a water mattress.) He made of his celebrated Regents Row and Penthouse and Sewer gay retreats never-to-be-forgotten -- especially the last, which was the most nearly integrated (gay and straight), successful afterhours places ever. Ask to meet him. Wherever he is he runs a superior operation, and to him friendship with his gay patrons, no matter how casual, is everlasting.
Although there is no evidence to establish that Regents Row was either owned by or paid protection to the Mafia -- but keep in mind that in 1960 few gay bars were completely free of mob influence -- Dowling was convicted in February 1971 for his role in operating the Sewer at 9 East 16th Street together with Gambino soldier and heroin trafficker Anthony "Tony West" DeLutro and Harry Arduini as then reported by The New York Times:
The three men were found guilty of engaging in a retail liquor business, at the unlicensed bar in the basement of a loft building at 9 East 16th Street, without paying the Federal tax on retail liquor dealers. The all-night bar operated for a year until it was closed May 18, 1969, when the three men were arrested. Undercover agents of the Internal Revenue Service bought liquor at the bar, which had as many as 900 customers on a busy night.
According to FBI files gay crossdresser and Genovese soldier David Petillo had a hidden interest in an afterhours club in the late 1960s at 11 East 16th Street which perhaps was referring to the Sewer.
Apparently, Dowling quickly tired in 1960 of working for Peggy Fears on her Fire Island gay ventures after "too many arguments" according to Lee Mortimer. (Curiously, Fears's former husband Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal was smuggling heroin into the country from Mexico for the Genovese family writes Juan Alberto Cedillo in his 2011 book La Cosa Nostra en Mexico.) Dowling's boyfriend Lucky Moore left him in 1962 for Woolworth heir Jimmy Donahue, and then had the bad luck a year later to die of a Seconal overdose while on a Hawaiian holiday with the new squeeze. And the discrete Dowling never divulged the personal secrets of the powerful men from New York's ruling class who frequented his gay bars.
Charles Poletti died in 2002 at the age of 99, and even had a Queens power plant named after him for his service with the New York State Power Authority.
Further reading that may be of interest: