It’s the kind of rubout that every pinky-ring-wearing, espresso-sipping mobster would shed a tear over.
The Triangle Social Club in Greenwich Village — an infamous Mafia hangout once run by Genovese crime-family boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante and considered one of New York’s last classic Cosa Nostra clubhouses — has been turned into an organic, feel-good tea and spice store.
What was once a dark, purposely undistinguishable storefront at 208 Sullivan St., where Gigante and his minions plotted murders and extortion schemes, is now a bright hipster shop where upscale, tree-loving, organic-living wannabes can shop for natural teas, potted herbs and trendy handmade soaps.
“[As] a Mafia social club, it looked like it was straight out of a Mafia movie — and now, to see a flower store selling basil is kind of funny,” said Michele Angerosi, 45, who lives upstairs from what is now the Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Company.
“I miss them,” she said of the social club’s denizens. “It was authentic New York. One day all the guys were inside talking. Then the next day it turned into a flower shop. I guess most of them got pinched.”
The storefront had been Gigante’s place of illicit business for years.
“Mr. Gigante’s mother lived down the street — this was Vinny’s neighborhood,” said the tea-and-spice store’s manager, who wouldn’t give his name.
“Occasionally the door [to the social club] would be open, but you didn’t see anyone inside.”
Angerosi recalled that “the old storefront was completely black. They were all Italian-American, heavyset” patrons. “It looked like everyone had a role in a Mafia movie.”
The Genovese boss died in prison in 2005 while serving a sentence for racketeering.
After the social club closed down, the tea company took over, and has been up and running for three months.
Employees said they are well aware of their workplace’s unique legacy.
“There’s definitely a different vibe here now. It took a lot to get this place looking like it does [now],” the shop’s manager said.
The owner of next-door neighbor Ciao Stella restaurant said she appreciates the new storefront.
“The old place wasn’t great for business. It was dark and boarded up. Homeless people would sleep on the steps at night,” said Ciao Stella’s owner, who also wouldn’t give her name.
New York City's Mafia social clubs are quickly disappearing along with all the men who used to hang out in them, sipping espresso, playing cards, talking about the pasta and whatever else they'd be willing to discuss in a likely-bugged venue.
Among the latest to disappear into oblivion is the Triangle Social Club, once located in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan, according to the AP. The unmarked storefront was run by legendary Genovese family boss Vincent 'Chin' Gigante.
It now is an upscale shop that sells organic tea.
The social club closed after Gigante died in prison in 2005. The space is now occupied by the Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Co.
According to Wikipedia, the Triangle was not the Chin's only hangout, though it was arguably his most famous: "Gigante's crew was based out of the Triangle Social Club, located at 208 Sullivan Street, but [the Chin] also met with fellow crew members at the Dante Social Club at 81 McDougal Street, and the Panel Social Club at 208 Thompson Street. Besides those locations, Gigante met with gangsters and business associates at his mother's apartment."
Upstairs neighbor Michele Angerosi tells the New York Post that she misses the social club, which to her--and us--represented "old New York."
The owner of a restaurant next door said having the tea shop as a neighbor is better for business. Screw him, says Cosa Nostra News. If we had our way, all those social clubs, especially the Ravenite, would have been declared historic landmarks and turned into museums. Some not-very-savvy entrepreneurs were sitting on their brains when those leases ran out.
To see a video of the Ravenite, now a shoe store, check this out. According to the filmmaker who posted it, nothing much has changed in terms of the layout of the place.
"I took this video in Feruary 2010," he posted under the video. "The club is now a high-class shoe shop. The shop owner told me its interior is basically unchanged, the flooring is original, the only major change being the large open windows."
The Ravenite was founded as the Alto Knights Social Club, long enough ago for Lucky Luciano to have sat there sipping espresso, according to the Daily News.
Then, in 1957, Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino renamed it after his favorite poem, Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." (We had heard that Luciano was the one who actually opened the club, naming it after the famous poem; but who are we to argue with the Daily News?)
Gotti made the Ravenite his command post after the death of Gambino underboss Aniello (Neil) Dellacroce, who had long since taken over the Ravenite and for years had been known as the Little Italy strong man whom people in the neighborhood would warn whenever "strange looking" cars prowled through their part of town.
To law enforcement's utter surprise--and relief--Gotti would have his underlings line up at the Ravenite to regularly meet with him, giving the Feds something to shoot at with their high-powered cameras and camcorders. That footage fills enough mob documentaries to sink a cruise liner.
It was at an apartment up above the Ravenite, where the Feds recorded Gotti speaking the words that would turn Sammy Bull into a CW and send the Teflon Don himself to prison for life.
VINNY THE CHIN
When ITALIAN-AMERICANS Cook
Almost every afternoon, a graying, unimpressively dressed man emerges from an apartment building on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village and gingerly crosses the street to a dingy store, where he spends several hours playing cards and whispering to confidants.
Although he behaves oddly at times in public, law-enforcement authorities say the man, Vincent (the Chin) Gigante, has created one of the most impregnable mob strongholds in the country. Largely through guile and good fortune, rather than bullets and bloodshed, officials assert, Mr. Gigante has gained control of the Genovese organized-crime family, the second-largest Mafia group in the nation.
At a time when the Mafia is under siege by Federal prosecutors in New York City, Mr. Gigante has escaped unscathed, and he has carefully remained far from the prominence acquired by such flamboyant mob figures as John Gotti, the silver-haired, expensively dressed mob figure who is believed to head the Gambino crime family.
Until the early 1980's, Mr. Gigante was lightly regarded by law-enforcement mob experts as a potential candidate for the hierarchy of the Genovese family. He was generally viewed as an old-fashioned capo, or captain, who was so distressed by the fear of arrest that he feigned mental illness in an attempt to discourage attention from the authorities.
As part of the pretense, the authorities say, Mr. Gigante, in warm weather, frequently strolls on Sullivan and other streets in the south Village in pajamas, bathrobe and slippers. Several years ago, when agents from Federal Bureau of Investigation served him with a subpoena in his mother's apartment, they had to follow him into the bathroom where he stood naked under a running shower with an umbrella over his head. Avoiding Indictment. Odd behavior aside, it is Mr. Gigante who has been identified in confidential reports by the Justice Department and by state police agencies in New York and New Jersey as the boss of the Genovese group. Investigators assigned to monitor mob activities said the Genovese family is involved in rackets conservatively estimated to produce illegal profits of more than $100 million annually, with part of it winding up in Mr. Gigante's hands.
Mr. Gigante, who will be 60 years old March 29, is the only major mob leader who has avoided indictment or conviction in a Federal crackdown against the Mafia in New York City.
''He is probably the most clever organized-crime figure I have seen,'' said John S. Pritchard 3d, a former F.B.I. agent who from 1983 to last April headed a special squad that investigated the Genovese family. ''He's got his fingers in many, many pies.''
Mr. Gigante's lawyer, Barry I. Slotnick, characterized as ''laughable'' the assertions that Mr. Gigante was a crime leader. The lawyer said that Mr. Gigante ''has been psychiatrically disabled'' for two decades and that ''it is inconceivable that he would be the leader of some organized-crime network.'' Allegations Are Denounced
A brother of Mr. Gigante, the Rev. Louis R. Gigante, denounced the allegations as ''stupid.'' Father Gigante, a Roman Catholic priest in the South Bronx and former member of the City Council, said his brother was ''mentally incompetent'' and was being cared for by relatives and friends.
But, current and former investigators hold a different view of Vincent Gigante's abilities.
''The general feeling is that he is mindful of setting up a defense in case he is ever arrested, and that is why he sometimes acts strangely in public,'' Mr. Pritchard said. A Police Department expert on organized crime, Lieut. Remo Franceschini, said members of the Genovese family and other crime groups were aware that Mr. Gigante was ''play acting.''
''He is a respected, well-liked figure within the Genovese family,'' Lieutenant Franceschini added. SHARP CONTRAST TO GOTTI'S FLAMBOYANCE
Among the country's traditional organized-crime groups, the Genovese family is second in size and influence only to the Gambino group, according to law-enforcement authorities. The Genovese family is listed in intelligence reports as having about 200 sworn or ''made'' members, compared with about 250 in the Gambino faction.
In the last five years, Mr. Gigante, like others identified as mob bosses in New York City, has been the target of intensive investigations by a joint task force of the F.B.I. and the city Police Department. The inquiries have resulted in convictions by Federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn of top leaders in the Genovese and Gambino families and the bosses of the city's three smaller Mafia factions, the Lucchese, Bonnano and Colombo families.
The Federal campaign has left the Lucchese, Bonnano and Colombo families in disarray and without firm leadership, investigators say. Although shaken, the Gambino and Genovese families are still largely intact.
The Gambino family is believed to be headed by John Gotti, who was acquitted last year of Federal racketeering charges. Law-enforcement officials said Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have evidence that would soon be presented to a grand jury in Brooklyn in an attempt to indict Mr. Gotti on new racketeering allegations.
Apparently, no indictment is pending against Mr. Gigante, the authorities said.
Investigators who have participated in surveillances of Mr. Gigante describe him as the consummate counterpoint to Mr. Gotti. Mr. Gotti, who is 47, favors $1,000 custom-made suits, monogrammed socks and drives around the city in limousines with a cordon of bodyguards. He dines openly in expensive restaurants and vacations lavishly in Florida.
The furtive Mr. Gigante, investigators note, often dresses in windbreakers, baggy trousers and work shoes. He insulates himself from possible betrayal by discussing underworld business only with a handful of trusted confederates during nocturnal strolls on deserted streets, investigators say.
Some agents believe that Mr. Gigante's erratic walks in lower Manhattan are done deliberately to evade long-range microphones that he fears might be used to eavesdrop on him.
Mr. Gigante, investigators said, rarely eats in restaurants. They say that except for checking into the mental-health ward of a hospital in Westchester County, he has not left the city in years.
''Gigante has been able to increase his strength precisely because he has avoided the attention of the public, the press and the criminal justice system,'' the director of the State Organized Crime Task Force, Ronald Goldstock, said. ''Some crime bosses have chosen the spotlight, others the shadows. Almost without exception those who have succeeded were those in the shadows.'' KICKBACKS, DRUGS AND THE FISH MARKET
The financial bedrock of the Genovese family and Mr. Gigante's fortune is illegal gambling and loansharking in the city and northern New Jersey, the authorities said. According to investigators and a report by the President's Commission on Organized Crime in 1986, other illegal activities in which the family is entrenched include: narcotics trafficking, labor racketeering on the New Jersey waterfront, extortion for labor peace and rigged contracts from contractors in New York City's dry-wall construction industry, kickbacks from waste collection and building demolition companies in the city and extortion from businessmen in the Fulton Street Fish Market.
Investigators said Mr. Gigante also held clandestine meetings in 1985 and 1986 with a suspected conspirator in the alleged $12 million defrauding of the Hyfin Credit Union in Brooklyn. The credit union went bankrupt in 1986 after disclosures involving the improper sale of taxi meters and banking irregularities.
Federal agents and city detectives who have been assigned in recent years to investigate the Genovese family said in interviews that Mr. Gigante normally begins his work days on Sullivan Street between West Third and Bleecker Streets. The investigators would discuss their findings on the condition that they not be identified.
At about 2 P.M. or 3 P.M., Mr. Gigante frequently can be seen leaving the walk-up, four-story building at 225 Sullivan Street where his mother, Yolanda, has an apartment.
Accompanied by one or two bodyguards, Mr. Gigante, who is about 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds, ambles across the pavement to the storefront Triangle Civic Improvement Association at 208 Sullivan Street. A white substance smeared on the club's plate-glass window prevents a view of the interior from the street.
The club is dimly illuminated and stocked with worn chairs and tables. On one wall a year ago investigators saw a sign reading: ''Don't talk. This place is bugged.''
Mr. Gigante, who is said to have got his nickname because of his prominent chin, frequently spends hours in the club, playing cards. He will discuss mob matters at the club only with a handful of trusted lieutenants, investigators said.
Most of Mr. Gigante's meetings with other organized-crime figures take place after midnight on the streets of the south Village and SoHo, investigators said. Even in heavy rain, Mr. Gigante has been seen walking under an an umbrella along West Houston Street and nearby streets, carrying on conversations with reputed organized-crime members.
One night, several years ago, an investigator said that Mr. Gigante apparently spotted an F.B.I. surveillance unit. He suddenly dropped to his knees in front of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church at Sullivan Street and Houston Street, as if he were praying, the investigator recalled. SON OF IMMIGRANTS IS MAN OF ROUTINE
New Jersey State Police records list Mr. Gigante as having a home at 5 Arrow Head Road in Old Tappan in Bergen County, where his wife, Olympia Grippa, lives and where his five children grew up. Investigators said that in recent years Mr. Gigante has rarely been seen at the Old Tappan home.
Most nights, usually about 2 A.M. or 3 A.M., investigators said, Mr. Gigante is driven by Dominick (Baldy Don) Canterino, listed in police records as one of his top lieutenants, or another associate to a town house at 67 East 77th Street near Park Avenue. City real-estate records show that the four-story white-brick town house is owned by Olympia Esposito, who purchased it in 1983 for $490,000.
Normally, between 9 A.M. and 10 A.M., Mr. Gigante is driven back to his mother's apartment on Sullivan Street, investigators said, and his daily routine resumes.
One of five sons, Mr. Gigante grew up in the same lower Manhattan area where he now spends much of his time. His father, Salvatore, a watchmaker, and his mother were immigrants from Naples. Two other brothers, Mario, who is 64, and Ralph, 57, were identified as Genovese family soldiers in a 1983 report by the city Police Department's Organized-Crime Control Bureau.
Veteran detectives said that as a teen-ager Vincent Gigante became a protege of a neighbor, Vito Genovese, whose name is now bestowed on the organized-crime group. In the late 50's, Mr Genovese took control of a Mafia gang organized in the 30's by one of the country's most notorious crime figures, Charles (Lucky) Luciano.
Between the ages of 17 and 25, Mr. Gigante was arrested seven times on charges of receiving stolen goods, possession of an unlicensed hangun and for illegal gambling and bookmaking. Most of the allegations were dismissed and the longest sentence he served during this period was 60 days for a gambling conspiracy conviction.
When arrested in his early 20's, Mr. Gigante gave his profession as a tailor. Between the ages of 16 and 19, he also fought as a club boxer, winning 21 of 25 light-heavyweight bouts, according to Nat Fleischer's Ring Record Book. Club boxers fought four and six-round contests in neighborhood arenas, usually getting a percentage of the tickets they themselves sold.
One of Mr. Gigante's boxing managers was a neighbor in Greenwich Village, Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, who was later the boss of the Genovese family. MENTOR HELPS BOLSTER PROMINENCE
Former New York City detectives who were assigned to intelligence posts said Mr. Gigante became an important figure in the underworld family in 1957 at the age of 29 when Mr. Genovese replaced Frank Costello as the boss of the group. Mr. Costello stepped down after a gunman grazed his scalp with a bullet.
Mr. Gigante was arrested for the shooting and indicted for attempted murder. He was acquitted at a trial in which Mr. Costello said he was unable to identify the shooter.
In 1959, Mr. Gigante was convicted with Mr. Genovese on Federal charges of heroin trafficking. Mr. Gigante, then 31, was sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentencing judge said he would have imposed a stiffer term but was swayed by a flood of letters from residents of Greenwich Village and Little Italy attesting to Mr. Gigante's work in behalf of juveniles.
Mr. Gigante was released after serving five years. Since then he has been arrested once, in 1973, on a charge of conspiracy to bribe the entire five-member police department of Old Tappan. The accusation was dropped after Mr. Gigante presented a hospital report that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Most law-enforcement officials who are knowledgable about Genovese family activities said that in the mid-70's Mr. Gigante became the captain of a crew, or gang, that operated out of lower Manhattan, with ties to waterfront racketeering, gambling and loansharking in New Jersey.
Based on recent intelligence reports, investigators believe that in the early 80's, Mr. Gigante gained overall control of the family or began sharing power as an equal boss with Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno. They said Mr. Gigante became the undisputed boss in 1985 when Mr. Salerno was indicted as a member of the Mafia's commission, or ruling group.
''It is like a Howard Hughes syndrome,'' Mr. Goldstock said, referring to Mr. Gigante's operational style. ''He locks himself up in small area and it is hard to understand what enjoyment he gets from being a mob boss.''