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Capone, Gotti, Luciano: This museum takes us back to the real 'gangstas'

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Come to NYC and explore the history of the O.G. (original gangsters).

Lorcan Otway, owner of the "Museum of the American Gangster", located at 80 St. Mark's Place in New York City, helped create the ambiance inside this historic speakeasy turned museum.

Speakeasies, which came into prominence during the 1920's, were bars and dance halls that illegally sold alcohol to patrons.

The museum is dedicated to keeping the history of the gangster alive. Below is a 12' gauge shotgun-machine gun.

THIS IS AN ORIGINAL 'MANVILLE MAFFIOSO' SHOTGUN

The museum opened in 2010 in the neighborhood once-ruled by historic gangsters such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and John Gotti. The downstairs part of the building was a highly-popular speakeasy that brought alcohol into its bar and doubled as a smuggling tunnel route. At the time, this speakeasy was the happening place to drink, dance, and mingle. It was also a place of liberation for women as well. Within the museum there is a exhibition on this "new American girl."

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In its prime, people who wanted to go into the bar had to enter through a butcher shop around the corner, give a secret code, and be recognized through the small metal slot that would be opened to reveal the dance hall.

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Reputed Gambino family crime boss John Gotti leans back during a break in testimony in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, Jan. 23, 1990. Gotti and a co-defendant are charged with conspiracy and assault in connection with a shooting of a carpenter's union leader. (AP Photo/Daniel Sheehan)

New York City has a long, vibrant history of mafia business and gang violence. Mafia activities peaked during the Prohibition era.

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Ladies frequented these speakeasies to act against the societal convention of how women should behave at the time. Otway while looking at a photo of a woman pulling a flask out of her garter in the bar says, “You still have the Southern belles in their white lace, but she is dressing as a statement of her sexuality -- her challenging of conventions.”

The Prohibition era was inclusive, people came together to literally just party.

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But the business side was run by the mafia. The speakeasy attached to this museum was known as Scheib Place, but was operated by Frank Hoffman. He was a Bavarian bootlegger who bought the property in 1922. His frontman and manager of the club was Walter Scheib, who as Otway puts it “he was expendable.” They ran a highly successful club that relied on the police corruption. Al Capone visited frequently, as well as government officials and members of the police. This granted the bar safety and the ability to provide libations for as long as the Prohibition era lasted.

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“When you can actually see and hold the place and put your finger on the wall and say this absolutely happened here. It creates a different sense of history. And it's a sense of history we are losing with the steamrolling of the past.”
Lorcan Otway, Owner

Next time you're in NYC be sure to check out the tour, and even get some absinthe, in the still operating speakeasy or order a hot dog just like the gangsters did.

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