Museum of the American Gangster in East Village, Manhattan, New York CityA former speakeasy down a lovely neighborhood theater. Can you imagine a better place for a gangster museum?
To choose a museum to visit in New York City downtown might seem quite challenging. The reason is there are just LOADS of them. From an enormous 28-building American Museum of Natural History to the teeny-tiny mmuseumm; from the exquisitely artistic Guggenheim Museum to the unrestrained Museum of Sex... If you believe you have checked them all, it's high time we showed you are wrong.
How would you like a museum placed right inside a former speakeasy?
Back in the roaring 20s, during Prohibition, people couldn't help having a booze, even if beyond the law. A happy hunting ground for criminals of different caliber! In search of an illegal cocktail they would sneak through the butcher shop and dig down the basement of the local theater at 80 St. Mark's Place. Even the biggest fish like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano did swim in this secret club every now and then.
In 1960s, the building was bought by Howard Otway who wanted to renovate the old theater. Having entered the warehouse, he discovered a bunker-like maze of tunnel and, even more surprisingly, two big safes. Inside Otway found $2,000,000 in gold certificates, unfortunately expired. That was a "gift" from Walter Sheib, the speakeasy owner and a gangster.
Today, 80 St. Mark's Place belongs to Otway's son Lorcan. Remembering father's story about the safes in the basement, he opened a two-room museum dedicated to the organized crime on the ground floor of the theater. The exhibit commemorates the criminal stars like, for example, Bonnie and Clyde (on display are shell casings from their ultimate shootout) and John Dillinger (you can "enjoy" two of his death masks). Photographs, illustrations, records, real weapons and bullets and, of course, one of that very safes - unfortunately, without a penny inside.
And what a visit in a speakeasy without having a drink? Downstairs, there is a bar, The William Barnacle Tavern. It is the best place to finish your tour at the Museum of the American Gangster. Or (if you are strong enough) you can start with an absinthe ot two. As you wish.