By Philip Messing
These guys went from the Big Apple’s fine dining institutions to the great eatery in the sky.
For more than 80 years, city mobsters have gathered at red sauce joints and steakhouses around town to do business — or simply hold court for their loyal subjects.
But sometimes they’ve met a fate far worse than downing a plate of bad clams.
Legendary restaurants like Sparks Steakhouse and Rao’s have been the sites of some of the city’s most famous mob murders.
These are some of the “greatest hits” of this grim genre, where victims were whacked in less time than it takes to uncork a chianti.
Midtown — Dec. 15, 1985
Modal Trigger Sparks Steakhouse at 210 E. 46th St.Photo: Zandy Mangold
It was a sensational coup d’etat against the head of the Gambino crime family, the biggest and most powerful Cosa Nostra faction in the country.
Constantino Paul Castellano and his bodyguard Thomas Bilotti had just come from their lawyer’s office and the squat and powerfully built Bilotti pulled his Lincoln Continental into a “No Standing Zone,” directly in front of the restaurant, before he and his passenger found themselves trapped in a pincer attack.
Upon emerging from their vehicle, the pair were met by four men, wearing long white trench coats and black Russian-style fur hats, who unleashed a fusillade of gunfire. Castellano, 70, was hit half a dozen times; Bilotti, 45, took four bullets and collapsed on the sidewalk, next to the driver’s side door. Both were dead before cops arrived.
Upstart mobster John Gotti and his crony, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, had hatched the plot two weeks earlier. Gravano, who became a cooperating witness, named the four-member hit team as Vinnie Artuso, a Bronx-based heroin dealer; John Carneglia and Eddie Lino, a Gambino soldier and capo, respectively; and Salvatore “Fat Sally” Scala, Lino’s brother-in-law.
According to Gravano, Carneglia fired the shots that killed Castellano, while Lino and Scala blasted away at Bilotti. Artuso did not fire his weapon because it jammed, Gravano would claim.
Gotti went on to enjoy three straight court victories in a four-year span when he beat federal RICO and state charges of conspiracy, assault and robbery before his Brooklyn federal court conviction on April 2, 1992, on racketeering charges, including the Castellano hit.
Gotti died of cancer in prison in 1998.
Sparks continues to serve noteworthy steaks, although the site has emerged as a macabre tourist spot for dedicated mob buffs.
Joe and Mary’s Italian American Restaurant
Bushwick — July 12, 1979
Carmillo “Carmine” Galante was nicknamed “Lilo,” Italian slang for “cigar,” which was appropriate given his omnipresent stogie.
Suspected by the NYPD of more than 80 murders, Galante, 69, was a prodigious heroin peddler who rose to be head of the Bonanno crime family.
He became a mob target, sources say, because he was planning to knock off rivals in the hope he would be installed as capo di tutt’i capi — “boss of all bosses” — while refusing to share his dope profits with his cronies.
Galante had two Sicilian bodyguards with him — Baldassae Amato and Cesare Bonventre — when lunching with Leonard Coppola, a Bonanno capo, and restaurant owner/cousin Giuseppe Turano, a Bonanno soldier, in a patio area.
Three ski-masked men entered and opened fire with a shotgun and handguns, leaving Galante and his two companions dead, though Amato and Bonventre curiously emerged unscathed.
There was a grisly photograph of the death scene that spoke volumes about what had occurred — one showing Galante, with an eye shot out, lying crumpled on the ground, a cigar still stuck in his mouth.
The eatery now houses a Mexican restaurant, Taqueria La Asuncion.
Nuovoa Villa Tammaro Restaurant
Coney Island — April 15, 1933
Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria began his mob ascent soon after arriving in New York City from Sicily in 1902.
In August 1922, he escaped an assassination bid that spawned a nickname, “The Man Who Can Dodge Bullets,” after two slugs creased his straw hat. By the end of the 1920s, he had become “Joe The Boss,” head of the biggest Mafia borgota in the city.
A father of nine, his favorite restaurant was Nuovoa, renowned for its succulent seafood. Legend has it that after showing up in a steel-armored sedan, Masseria, 45, was joined by Charles “Lucky” Luciano for a session of cards, drinks and old-school dining.
Luciano excused himself to go to the bathroom — and at least two mob rivals began blasting away. As in the Galante case, a grisly photo — showing a slain Masseria lying on the ground, with a bloody ace of spades clenched in his right hand — is a frightening testament to what occurred.
The shooting ended a feud with rival mobster Salvatore Maranzano, who was himself rubbed out that August, an event that led to the creation of the five mob families of New York City.
The long-closed eatery is now the site of the Banner Smoked Fish Company.
Umberto’s Clam House
Little Italy, Manhattan — April 7, 1972
Most people get wedding gifts when they marry and presents on their birthday. Joey “Crazy Joe” Gallo, who had just turned 43 and had been married only three weeks, received assassins’ bullets.
Modal Trigger NYPD detectives inspect the dining room inside Umberto’s following the murder of “Crazy Joe” Gallo.Photo: AP
He had been dining with his sister, Carmella Fiorello; his new wife, Sina Essary, and her 10-year-old daughter, Lisa, who had become Joey’s new stepdaughter; as well as his bodyguard, Peter “Pete The Greek” Diapoulas, and Pete’s companion, Edith Russo.
The group has just concluded a champagne-filled birthday at the Copacabana, with guests like comedian David Steinberg and actor Jerry Orbach.
Joey was making his way through a second helping of Umberto’s shrimp and scungilli salad while seated at one of two tables set aside for him and his entourage when four gunmen burst in and began firing.
The butcher block table where Gallo had been seated was overturned, offering a shield to his wife and daughter. Diapoulas, who was wounded, returned fire, but missed as the quartet fled.
A mortally wounded Gallo stumbled to the front door before collapsing on the street in a puddle of blood, but not before defiantly cursing the gunmen.
“It was very dramatic,” Essary recounted in a 2012 interview with The Post.
Modal Trigger Gallo had just turned 43 and had been married only three weeks when he was shot dead.Photo: AP
“This was the first time in history the Mafia had shot and killed someone in front of his sister, wife and child,” she noted, adding that she instructed her frightened daughter to “play dead” while the bullets were flying.
The colorful Gallo had charmed much of Manhattan’s glitterati with claims that he had developed a fondness for French existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus while imprisoned.
The word on the street, however, was that he had become a target after letting it be known than he’d had a more practical prison epiphany — he wanted to start a sixth mob family using black gangsters as crew members.
The old guard was not amused, so when Colombo loyalist Joseph Luparelli spotted Gallo dining, he limped off on his bum knee to a Greenwich Village restaurant and tipped his associates, sealing Gallo’s fate.
The site now houses Da Gennaro, another Italian restaurant.
East Harlem — Dec. 29, 2003
This eponymous eatery, named for founder Charles Rao, opened its doors off Pleasant Avenue in 1896. It evolved into a social and gustatory phenomenon, a place where dinner reservations are about as hard to come by as a cheap one-bedroom with Central Park views.
Modal Trigger The scene outside Rao’s on Dec. 29, 2003.Photo: William Miller
On this night, the place was packed three deep while bartender Nicky The Vest was pouring drinks. Omnipresent part-owner Frank Pelligrini was queuing the jukebox for favored patron Rena Strober, 27, a Broadway actress and singer.
Strober was a guest of Sonny Grosso, a Rao’s regular and an ex-cop immortalized by his work on the “French Connection” case. Pelligrini urged her to tackle “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” a song made famous by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”
Strober belted out the tune and sat down to applause, unaware that a newly elevated Lucchese soldier, Albert Circelli, had rudely dogged her performance — at least until bullets began to fly.
Modal Trigger Louis BaronePhoto: Robert Miller
“Ah, shut up. Get her off. She sucks,” Circelli had snarled, according to the confession in the case.
Another wiseguy, Lucchese associate Louis Barone, 67, was standing close enough to hear Circelli and shushed him, while holding his index finger to his mouth.
Circelli threatened Barone, saying, “I’ll open up your hole. I’ll f–k you in the a–.”
Enraged, Barone insisted he had no choice but to pull out a revolver and fire once into Circelli’s back, simultaneously ending both his career as a mobster and music critic. Another man was wounded in his foot.
Barone pleaded to reduced charges and accepted a 15-year prison term.
Rao’s remains as difficult a place to land a dinner reservation as ever.
Neopolitan Noodle Restaurant
Upper East Side — Aug. 11, 1972
It was a case of mistaken identity, revenge for the sensational rubout of Joey Gallo at Umberto’s four months earlier, only this one led to two innocent meat wholesalers being gunned down in front of their horrified wives and friends.
Sheldon Epstein, 40, of New Rochelle, and Max Tekelch, 48, of Woodmere, LI, had taken up spots at the restaurant’s bar, along with their spouses and two pals.
Unfortunately, the seats the party had taken had just been vacated by four Colombo crime family gangsters — each of whom had been marked for retribution by Gallo loyalists.
Shortly after the new arrivals took over the vacated seats, a mysterious hitman purportedly hired from Las Vegas entered, thereby setting the stage for the bungled hit.
Described as “bulky” and middle-aged, he wore a shoulder-length black wig, slapped $10 on the bar and ordered a scotch and water. He spent five minutes coolly sipping his cocktail before he rose to his feet, pulled out twin .38-caliber revolvers and blasted away — at the wrong targets.
Three of the intended victims, who had taken seats in the back of the restaurant, were later identified by police as Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, brother of Carmine “Junior” Persico, then the imprisoned de facto leader of the Colombo crime family; Carmine’s son, Alphonse T. Persico (known as “Little Allie Boy” Persico); and Gennaro “Jerry Lang” Langella, Allie Boy’s bodyguard. A fourth intended target was later identified as Charles “Charlie The Moose” Panarella, a Colombo soldier.The site now houses the Albanian mission.