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.
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.
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 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.