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Even More on the Mob

We’ve already established that the mafia in the East Village liked their cannolis and their veal scallopini.  This next bit of history is is consistent with that pattern.  Lanza’s Restaurant, located at 168 1st Avenue in a tenement built in 1871, was opened in 1904 by Sicilian-Italian transplant Michael Lanza.  It is rumored that in Italy he had been chef to King Victor Emmanuel III.  And this regal influence is definitely apparent in the kitschy interior of large painted murals of places like Mount Vesuvius and the stained glass windows.  These elements, along with the tin ceiling, are all original or very close to it.  Also original to this turn-of-the-century throwback: the customers.  According to an interview done by Eater, 90% of the patrons are long time regulars.

Lanza's Italian Restaurant at 168 1st Avenue
the authentic interior of the restaurant

One regular was Carmine “Lilo” Galante, who also frequented neighboring Italian haunts, John’s Restaurant and DeRobrtis Pastry Shop.  Galante’s family, the Bonanno’s, as well as the Gambino family, loved Lanza’s.  In fact, according to the NY Times, after Galante was assassinated in 1979, his funeral service was held at Lanza-Provenzano Funeral Home (owned by the same Lanza family) a few blocks down Second Avenue from Lanza’s, and the restaurant’s maitre d’ and co-owner at the time, Bobby Lanza, was also the mortician in charge of the service.

L:Lanza-Provenzano Funeral Home at 43 2nd Avenue; R: Carmine Galante's daughter Nina at his funeral at Lanza-Provenzano

Woody Allen famously used the restaurant to film a scene in his 1993 film, Manhattan Murder Mystery.  Characters played by Diane Keaton and Allen himself had dinner at an “Italian mafia joint” in New Jersey, which was actually Lanza’s.

the scene from Manhattan Murder Mystery that was filmed at Lanza's

The Lanza name, however, is most notoriously associated with Joseph “Socks” Lanza, cousin to Lanza’s Restaurant owner Michael Lanza, labor rackateer, head of the Genovese crime family, and controller of the Fulton Fish Market during the 40’s and 50’s (from this alone, he received over $20 million in profits).  Although Michael Lanza never reached the crime status of his cousin or was part of organized crime officially, he did a little wheeling and dealing himself.  According to the NY Times, in 1976 he, along with two other men, was arrested for bribery, conspiracy, and gambling.  The men had paid over $18,000 in bribes to police officers for matters involving illegal activity at the restaurant.  No records indicate that the men served time.  Although now under new ownership, stepping into Lanza’s and ordering some chicken parm still feels like stepping into a vintage piece of East Village history.

L: Joseph "Socks" Lanza; R: Michael Lanza

15 responses to “Even More on the Mob

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, Dan! We’ve found varying sources on this date….does anyone know if it was 1902 or 1904?

  1. it’s 1904, I spoke to Anthony Lanza, he is the grandson of Michael Lanza the Founder, the exact date who knows, October or November.

  2. I grew up just a few blocks away. When I was a kid in the 60’s-70’s the running joke in my family was that Lanza’s was a “front”. Although a “Front” for what we had no idea. We ate there several times a year, and there were never any customers when we went in. Just a couple of “Old Timers” at the back table sipping Espresso and speaking very quietly. The place turned around when the Sal Anthony’s people purchased it.

    1. Kel Are you related to the Mccabe family from East Atlantic Beach, New York? I grew up next door to them and Socks was living there also. I used to talk with him all the time and we shoveled snow together when I was a kid! Mrs. Mccabe was Socks daughter and it has been so long I do not remember her name. Mr. Mccabe was an accountant.

  3. To Dana – No problem! One other thing to note, the Lanza family is from Naples (Napoli) not Sicily.

    To Toni – I don’t think we are related, but I could be totally wrong! You never know! Any information you can send me would be greatly appreciated!

  4. l only ate here once and the food was mediocre generic Italian. Very heavy and not very subtle.

    Now that I know the Mafia connections (even if they are all in the past, but is that even true or do they persist?), I would never support this place. Disgusting.

  5. Lanzas happened to zit

    Lanzas was located on first ave and 10th st, two floors below the railroad flat in which Salvatore Lucania began his American dream when his family came to New York from Lercarra Fridi, Sicily, in 1899. 33 years on Sal created the American Mafia after defeating Sal Maranzano, Joe Bonnano and until they switched sides in 1931 the Gagliano/Luchesse borgata. CaDeRobertis bakery, next door was used as an office for Sal Luciano and his 3 main aides-de-Camp, Francesco Castiglia(Costello later his. omme de Guerre) Meyer Lansky and Alberto Anastasio, later “Anastasia.” In the 1950’s 11th street from first to third avenues was a major wholesale “babania” area, controlled from The Italian American War Veterans club, nestled next to Vieneiro’s akery, a Luciano Family club run by a very young Venero Mangano, “Benny Eggs.”
    Handsome Jack Giordano was the clubs last capo to run that club, shut down in 1994 and a Gambino club by then.
    Currently Anthony Ficciota is the captain of the 11th st crew. Figgy to his pals.
    The Luciano Family had become what we now call the Genovese Family in 1950 or so. it is by far the borgata with the most gravitas in the country. They have 26 Capodecina as opposed to the Colombo Family who have 4.
    During the 1980’s the Bonnano Family used Lanzas
    as the office of up and coming drug czar TG Graziano. From 10th street to 14th street it was all about heroin distribution, much like Pleasant Ave in east Harlem was for the Luchesse family and their AAA franchise called the Purple Gang.

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