The “DAPPER DON”
JOHN GOTTI with Brother PETER
And Two Asscoiates Leaves GIAMBONE’S
After a Classic Italian-American Restaurant Meal
of Baked Clams, Pasta, Sausage & Veal & Peppers
ALTHOUGH legal arguments have long echoed down the austere halls of the Criminal Court building on Centre Street, many spirited lawyerly discussions also occurred a few blocks east, in a dim, shoebox-sized Italian restaurant named Giambone. Now, as workers at Centre Street and other nearby courthouses dig into their fall workload, they are discovering that this neighborhood fixture is gone.
Located on a narrow stretch of Mulberry Street two blocks south of Canal, Giambone, a virtual clubhouse for lawyers, judges, cops and defendants with a history as rich as its clam sauce, closed its doors in June. It was a victim of 9/11 and the sluggish economy, which all but eliminated the evening dinner crowd.
Originally housed in a marble-floored basement, which served it well during Prohibition, the restaurant was opened in 1914 by a strapping fellow named Italo Susi, who went by the nickname Giambone. In 1935, after the upstairs tenant, a Western Union office, left, Italo moved his eatery aboveground and, along with his son Tony, built the place into a bustling, neighborhood joint.
Within a stone’s throw of various courthouses, Giambone was a natural choice for people who worked at the courthouse or merely visited it from time to time, like the mobster John Gotti. Tony Susi, now 82, still remembers his introduction to the once-Teflon don.
”The goons came over and said, ‘Would you accept John Gotti?’ I said, ‘Of course.’ Then they said, ‘Would you wait on him personally?’ So I waited on him. We got along pretty well, too. I spoke to him in Italian.” Mr. Gotti ordered the calamari and left a $125 tip.
Over the years, other celebrities passed through, including the comedian Pat Cooper, who wanted to kiss Mr. Susi upon tasting his Linguine alla Sinatra , a house specialty, and John F. Kennedy Jr., who nursed his wounds at Giambone after failing the bar exam for the second time.
But the true lure of Giambone remained its homey ambiance. The décor — rickety tables, taxidermied fish on the wall — was as unfashionable as your grandfather’s basement, and nearly as dusty. The menu was varied but never fancy. And Mr. Susi, by all accounts a gracious host, presided over a cast of regulars that included a fellow named Louie Beans, a struggling lounge singer named Detie Baxter, and Louis Martine, a big, garrulous prankster.
Asked about the many stunts he pulled at Giambone, Mr. Martine, a retired lawyer, fondly recalled the sweltering day he sent two colleagues on a goose chase in search of a Chinese tailor rumored to sell cheap suits. ”By the time the guys got back, they were walking swimming pools,” he said with a laugh. ”They were mad as hell.”
There is another reason to mourn Giambone. Except for a half-Italian, half-Chinese place next door, it was the last Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street below Canal.
Next month the space will reopen as a Chinese furniture store, furthering the Asian dominance of an area that, according to Mr. Susi, once housed seven Italian restaurants.
Mr. Susi retired in 1990, selling the restaurant to a man named Joseph Elias. Bob Jenny, a spokesman for New York City Management, the owner of the building, said that Mr. Elias informed the company last spring that he was closing the struggling business. Mr. Elias could not be reached for comment.
For its many former customers, the bottom line is that the restaurant will be missed. ”It’s left a hole in the neighborhood,”’ said Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney and a longtime regular. ”Now, we go to Odeon or Forlini’s.”
DISHES The DON LOVED to EAT
SAUSAGE MEATBALLS BRACIOLE
and SUNDAY SAUCE ITALIAN GRAVY