During Prohibition, Mayor LaGuardia cracked down on saloons and forced them to serve food to combat drunkenness. Since then every New York bar has had a “grill,” if you count a broken hot plate with old newspapers piled on top of it and stored next to the eternally out-of-order toilet as a “grill.” I’d never heard of anyone in Brooklyn eating (or peeing) in a bar & grill – except in the Gallo Brothers Bar & Grill. It had an excellent Italian kitchen. But, only the wives and girlfriends of the local Mafia were allowed to enjoy it. One of these broads was driven there in a limo every night even though she lived all of three blocks away. Did I see Jimmy Durante drinking in Gallo’s one day? Maybe it was just a man with a big honker who shouted out to me, “Stop gawkin’ at me ya little bastid and go fuck your mother.”
My neighborhood’s Chinese laundry sat beside the “Ladies Entrance” to the Gallo Brothers Bar & Grill. The Gallo boys were notorious Mafia “wise guys” who ran a bookie parlor hidden behind a door at the back of the laundry. History does not relate if the Chinaman got a piece of the action or had no choice. On Thanksgiving, the Gallos distributed turkeys and booze to neighborhood numbskulls, which bought their undying loyalty – “Hey, leave dem alone. Dem Gallo boys is good boys.”
In 1972, Crazy Joey Gallo was assassinated in Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy and Bob Dylan wrote a song about him. (Tourists still gawk outside Umberto’sunaware that the original joint where Joey got whacked is blocks away.)
The Italian Grandmas and Grandpas live on the ground floors of the fire-escape-covered tenements while the families of their married sons are stacked on the floors above. The Polish and Irish families in the neighborhood prefer to live near but not on top of each other. Polish and Irish life revolves around the bars found on every corner. The Polish bars are all named The White Eagle and the Irish ones are all named The Shamrock.The men who drink in the former are all named Stosh and the men who drink in the latter are all named Mick. The Italians drink Guinea Red at home, so it is the Polish and Irish kids who have to stand outside those bars yelling to their drunken fathers that it’s time to come home. And, it is those Polish and Irish fathers (and often mothers) who stagger home and throw pennies to us kids sitting on the stoop or fall down as they try to jump rope with the girls or play stickball with the boys.