Haha, OK, I’ll come clean: Little Italy duped me. All this time, I thought that this…
In other words, that the Umberto’s I had always known was the same iconic restaurant that first opened in 1970, that had become infamous in 1972 when gangster “Crazy Joe” Gallo was gunned down in 1972, and that today disappeared for good under a coat of yellow paint.
Then, as I was writing a post about the loss of such an iconic facade, I started comparing the two pictures above and I realized…
…something ain’t right.
Turns out, I was fooled! This is actually the second Umberto’s location, and has only been in existence since 2000 – the first was originally located at 129 Mulberry a couple blocks south until 1996. About the only thing left is the Umberto’s name in the sidewalk out front.
Meanwhile, Umberto’s has since moved to its third location, a sad little storefront nearby:
I’ve been in Little Italy all week, and I gotta admit, of all the neighborhoods in Manhattan, I think Little Italy might depress me the most. Have you ever been to the Countries at Epcot, where they create kitschy miniature recreations of China or France? The Little Italy of today reminds me of what it would be like if Epcot created a version of historic Little Italy: a smidgen of history and culture, surrounded by endless crappy gift shops, overpriced restaurants selling subpar food, and silly recreations of what once had actual meaning to a world that has disappeared.
This is not the first time Little Italy has duped me. I will never forget the time I was eating in a Little Italy restaurant and started to speak Italian to the waiter, who had a HEAVY Italian accent and kept using various Italian expressions. He looked at me blankly for a second – then, the accent suddenly disappeared and he leaned over and whispered “I’m actually from Puerto Rico.”
What sucks about it to me is how much true history and culture is actually buried under all this nonsense. I can’t tell you how many tour guides I’ve overhead telling the Joe Gallo story at the wrong location to wide-eyed tourists clutching GANG STORIES OF NY pamphlets, and I believed right along with them. Turns out, it was just part of the kitsch.
And now a little bit of that kitsch has disappeared forever under a coat of yellow paint. C’est la vie.
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