NYC’s Museum of the American Gangster

Museum of American Gangster.jpgThe gangsters that haunted New York City’s Lower East Side in the 19th and early 20th centuries may have never fathomed the day when a museum would tell of their legends and myths. But Lorcan Otway, co-founder and curator of the new Museum of the American Gangster, is up for the task.

In 1964, Otway’s father purchased a property at 80 St. Mark’s Place from gangster and former owner Walter Scheib. During its heyday, Scheib had run a speakeasy in the basement, which was rumored to have the longest bar in the city. After the purchase, Otway’s father came upon two locked safes in the rooms downstairs, where he assumed much of the dirty dealings had taken place in the 1920s. He notified Scheib of the safes, then both men unlocked them, peeled back some folds of yellowed newspaper pages and discovered $2 million in gold currency inside. 

Various gangster paraphernalia used to secure such funds were unearthed during the building’s renovations, and are displayed throughout the museum. Though not all of it will be behind glass: One project manager had to turn her discovery into the police when she believed she found human bones in the basement. The museum’s exhibits will portray the history of alcohol trafficking in the U.S. as it centers on the speakeasy, which was infamous in its day. Frank Sinatra is said to have sang and waited tables there before becoming a star.   

Visit the exhibit for a $10 suggested fee, and for an additional price, take any of the walking tours led by guides who have consulted authors, families, and estates to relay family stories, photographs and other first-hand information about the time period. The daily $15 Jewish Mob walking tour leads guests into the Lower East Side and into the lives of gangsters Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach, Monk Eastman, and Benjamin “Dopey” Fein, among others. A weekly $25 tour on Saturdays takes you to the actual homes and haunts of Giuseppe “The Boss” Masseria, Paul Kelly, and “Lucky” Luciano as it explains the birth of organized crime. The museum currently hosts limited previews of the building as it plans for a complete opening later this spring.

[The Museum of the American Gangster]
[The Wall Street Journal Speakeasy Blog]

Photo: Actors reenact scenes for museum visitors. By Alexandra Cheney/The Wall Street Journal


  1. Devon
    February 5, 2011, 10:41 pm

    A museum dedicated to american gangsters? Wow, would be like a movie come true. A must see. Also see Huskies

  2. Lorcan Otway
    August 24, 2010, 9:44 am

    Do check out our new galleries… lots more to see and growing. We have two of the three death masks of John Dillinger, the ballistic evidence from the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, paintings by PAT HAMOU of Jewish Mobsters are showing for the next few months, We have photos … models… and an original Manville Gun ( a shotgun machine gun – a real street sweeper) and much much more! All the best, Lorcan Otway – Director – Exhibition of the American Gangster, a museum of the American Gangster, 80 Saint Marks Place, NYC NY
    www dot museumoftheamericangangster dot org

  3. New Gangland Photo Book!
    July 21, 2010, 3:34 pm

    For a legitimate “Crooks Eye View” of the New York City underworld, check out a preview of a NEW photo book, on sale Monday, August 2nd featuring nearly 200 uncirculated images!
    Also available from Amazon and major bookstores!

  4. Daniel Scott
    April 29, 2010, 9:41 pm

    I love museums that are set in the original homes and buildings– it gives them so much more authenticity. I will definitely look into this place before I make my next trip to New York.

  5. Eric Ferrara
    April 29, 2010, 5:51 pm

    Re: Sophia-
    Yes! Theatre 80 still exists and still hosts world-class, critically-acclaimed theatrical productions.
    The museum galleries are located above the theater — the speakeasy is located on the first floor and the Prohibition-era rooms are in the basement. The entire building plays a part in the museum’s narrative, actually.

  6. Sophia Dembling
    April 25, 2010, 7:43 pm

    Is this the same building as Theater 80? Where I saw the debut of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” in 1967 (with Gary Burghoff, aka Radar O’Reilly as Charlie Brown) and spent many, many, many, many hours sitting in the dark in the 1970s, watching movies from the 1930s and ’40s? Where there are foot and handprints of movie stars in the cement outside? The same place? It holds such a tender spot in my heart…