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Museum of the American Gangster

Field review by the editors.

New York, New York

The Museum of the American Gangster is in an appropriate spot: a building originally owned by crime figure Frank Hoffman that served as a speakeasy during prohibition. Teenage Frank Sinatra was a singing waiter there (Its entrance used to be from an alley, and secret smuggling tunnels were dug from the basement out to 1st Ave.). Later it became a jazz club where John Coltrane played, and in the 1960s tough guy Walter Scheib sold the building to arts-loving Howard Otway, who converted it into a theater.

It has remained in the Otway family for nearly half a century. Howard's son Lorcan runs the museum on the parlor floor. The rather small exhibition space features photos, news clippings, and ephemera, but also artifacts such as a Tommy gun, shell casings from Bonnie and Clyde's final shootout and the bullet that killed Pretty Boy Floyd, and two death masks of John Dillinger. The admission price includes a tour of the basement. Visitors don hard hats (probably more for show than necessity) and are lead to the subterranean spot where the elder Mr. Otway discovered two safes, left behind by previous tenants, containing two million dollars in gold certificates (later found to be expired, but it's still a good story).

If the loquacious and opinionated Lorcan Otway is your guide, the visit can last up to 90 minutes (For the price of admission, it's good that the museum offers more than a room full of crime-ridden tchotchkes). And if afterward you feel the need for a stiff drink, Otway also runs The William Barnacle Tavern, housed in the same building, where you'll find (part of) the original bar and now-legal quaffable specialties such as whiskey and absinthe.

Museum of the American Gangster

78 St. Marks Place, New York, NY
South side of St. Marks Place/E. 8th St. just west of 1st Ave. By subway take the 6 to Astor Place. Walk east on the south side of St. Marks Place/E. 8th St. Cross 2nd Ave. The museum is in the next-to-last building before you hit 1st Ave. Look for #80, pass through a black gate, and walk up a flight of stairs.
Daily 1-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $20.
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In the region:
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