Far from Manhattan and the tourist areas is an old-school part of Italian-American culture in the Bronx. Join local Rich Mancuso (links below) and me as we listen to Rich’s fascinating stories about the Italian Mafia, tough-love community, Italian culture/food, and wild stories from years gone by.
What NYC Is Missing Now – Local Tells All
Good afternoon, guys
The best stories are usually told through locals
that have history and experience
So today, we’re gonna meet up
with an old-school Italian-American
who’s going to bring us into his nostalgic lens
of New York City
We’re gonna go through his history here
What he’s seen
but also get his take on
what things are currently like here in 2021
Have a good one
Yeah, you too, good luck with everything
It’s the best, you know, I mean, really good Italian
regular Italian food
but like the bread bakeries
you can’t find better bread anywhere
So have fun
How are you doing?
We’re shaking, we’re doing this
what do you want?
Ahh I don’t know, I don’t give a s**t anymore
Let me show you this first
Alright, we’re in
Rich, say hi
Take this mask off first
Don’t have to wear it outside
just have to wear it when we go somewhere indoors
So, this was all Italian back in the day?
Yeah, yeah, basically
In fact, I’m gonna show you now “The Bronx Tale”
Everyone knows the movie, here’s the mural
What’s the movie?
God, I haven’t seen it
Do I need to go home now?
Watch it and come back?
You need to see it because everyone has seen it
Based on this neighborhood back in the 60s
when there was the racial division
They didn’t want any Blacks and Latinos
in the neighborhood
And the “Bronx Tale” is based on that a lot
and about the mob guys that
tried to keep the neighborhood safe
Here’s a mural of it right here on the wall
You might wanna see that
They just put this up a few years ago
When you think of Italians in New York
you think of… I mean
the tourist think of Little Italy
but this was it, right?
This was known as Little Italy, it still is
Little Italy, the Bronx
We’re very far from Manhattan
Mulberry Street’s little Italy of New York
but this is Little Italy of the Bronx
At one time, this community was designated
by the FBI as the safest
neighborhood in New York City
How’s it now?
Unfortunate. And I’m not…
I’m not gonna fault anyone
But to tell you that when I grew up here
on these streets
here and what we’re gonna see
the mob influenced, the mob guys
Kept it safe
It was the mob keeping it safe, not the cops?
The cops were a part of it
They worked with them, they worked with the community
We had a beat cop
You don’t have that no more
We had one cop or two
They knew the whole neighborhood
walked around with the billy club
and when you that cop, you ran away
cus you didn’t know
Let’s just say, you have a business
Everyone of these shops was paying to the Italian mob?
Didn’t work that way
How’d it work?
See, that’s a misconception
They did not control businesses and people
They were very kind-hearted people
that helped the community
Not like what you saw in “The Sopranos”
with Tony Soprano and them making sure that
that they controled the businesses
took the rent or whatever
Nah, that’s not what it was like here
That’s a misconception
What what they did was
protect the community
They helped people
They made sure these streets were safe
And as a result, when they were put away
and the cops couldn’t control
Then the landlords took over these buildings
on section 8 and this neighborhood changed
So, how are they making their money then?
They did things that weren’t legal, we know that
So, were they selling drugs or?
When I was around them, I didn’t see that
All of that might be going on, I never saw it
There was the illegal racket game of numbers
Gambling which now is not an issue at all
because it’s all legal now
This is the main street 187th
And you’ll still see the Italian presence
with the pastry shops
Oh yeah, the old-school pastry place?
And there still places that
were in here when I grew up
There’s a little over there
Artuso, which was the most popular one
down the block
And we’ll go see Jerome if he’s in Gino’s pastry
we’ll take a walk through Arthur Avenue
Okay, we’re gonna go to a pastry shop?
We gonna get some Italian food?
I was gonna do that at Catania’s
Sicilian and a mini calzone
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People come from all over the country
all over the world to eat here
That’s some of the popular eateries here
restaurants, and even beyond another block
We gonna go down there too
I’m gonna show you where my old social club was
it isn’t anymore
Sometimes people don’t like the way
I talk about it and they say that I’m anti this
No, it’s not that
I’m telling the truth
I didn’t grow up
My mother and father taught me
and my two brothers never ever to
be prejudiced and to hate
To get along with everyone
and that’s what I’ve done all my life
I still do
I grew up with Latinos and Blacks all my life
maybe cus I’m involved in sports all my life
but never had any hate
or never bias toward some group over another
Yes, I’m an Italian
and I’m very proud of my heritage
An Italian American and I always will be
And I also feel coming out of this neighborhood
that Italians don’t get the credit they rightfully deserve
Contributing so much to society
in every walk of fashion of life
From the arts, to culture, to the food
to inventions, I mean, Enrico Fernmi, this one, that one
even Christopher Columbus
and now we got Christopher Columbus
that’s under attack
This is what I love about your generation
that we’re starting to lose a bit
I’m not young either but
this authenticity you know
this love for craft and
like mom and pop type shop it’s sort of going away
You don’t have it today
The young people today in the Bronx, in the city
that’s everywhere but here
they would not know what we did
and what we went through
Times weren’t easy
What do you mean by that?
You’re saying it’s not as good now, right?
You’re saying like it’s going downhill?
It wasn’t great back then either
But the one thing that was great is we had
a stable household
a mother, a father
Today, that don’t exist
Well, that’s just for half the people, right?
I’ve worked with kids all my life
and I see it more and more
A lot of young people don’t know who their real mom is
or also who their little dad is
We always had that structure in my house
and most of people in this community knew
who their mom and dad was
who their brother and sister was
And that contributed a lot to
making this neighborhood strong
because if there was a problem…
If a merchant knew you did something wrong
they knew your mom or dad
If a cop knew, a beat cop knew something’s wrong
they knew your mom or dad
And it wasn’t fun to deal with mom and dad
Not in my house!
I have an Italian-American father
He was hard
He was tough old-school style
In my house, if you did wrong
Let him rest in peace, dad died too young
You got the strap
And if you saw that belt come out, you ran for cover
If you look above that blue yawning
Well, that’s where the restaurant was
and that apartment window right there
with the air conditioner
is where Joe Pesci lived
Before he was famous?
So, a lot of our big Italian-American stars
grew out of this neighborhood?
Yes, some of them are Chas Palmatary, Joe Pesci
spent a great part of his youth here
Sicilian, Calabria, and Naples
Same with me!
It’s a crazy combo
Seriously, seriously. Yeah
So, that’s classified Italian American
You don’t call yourself Italian
though you are
but you’re an American
You’re born here. An Italian American
How many generations do you think that can go back?
Cus my DNA comes from that part of the world
I can’t claim I’m Italian but I tell you
Italian food does bring about warmth
We always had pastas every Sunday
like made in my grandmother’s pot, you know?
Sunday dinner just like they did in Italy
Three o’clock, it was on the table
It was a festival in my house
It was big, yeah
Did yours always end in argument and conflict?
All the time
Ours did too
It wasn’t just Sundays, it was holidays
That’s just a part of how we are
What is that?
Highly emotional, right?
There’s an expression coming out of Naples
in a tank or you go “a fanabla”
If you said “a fanabla” that’s a curse
and you better run
But here’s Arthur Avenue which hasn’t changed
Except for a few… like the hair salons
Stickball, spongeball, kickball, uhh…
Johnny on a pony
ping pong against the wall with a sponge
with a spolding ball, spades they called it
Scully in the street with the caps we used to take
I don’t know what that is
Well, what we did is we used to go to the cars
and we used to steal and take their tire caps
and put that on a bottle can opener
and put that there to give it friction in the street
You gotta just use your finger go like that
and trying get it into uh a hole like circle
And we all did it! That was our fun!
These kids today wouldn’t know what that is!
How’d that go over though with people?
Did you get the beat down if you’re caught?
No, they played with us
So, you were looking at the mob guys as your friends?
They made me
look at things that others wouldn’t see
They tell you a story
See, we didn’t have that!
You hear that? We didn’t have that
What? Mexican music?
All of that. Loud music, whatever it is
You didn’t have Italian music?
No, not like that
Well, the car systems weren’t that good back then
Well, still, we wouldn’t do it
It’s called respect
You’re looking at that as as disrespectful?
Cut it’s interfering…
Because it’s noisy
and people don’t wanna be around that
You know, why must you drive around in a car
and make all that noise
when there’s other people around
that don’t… It’s totally unnecessary
What are you trying to prove by doing that?
Kick me in the a** but I’m telling the truth
I don’t have a ring on my finger
You punched him?
Oh yeah, I knocked him out
I come from a boxing background so…
You’re not gonna screw around with Rich Mancuso but
I stay away from it but if you’re gonna attack me
I’m gonna make my point
You’re going to stand your ground
Alright. Don’t mess with Rich
I’m getting older, so I…
My mom and dad loved that place
No, now it’s owned by a Jewish guy
and Italian, figure that out
I got a joke for you
If a Jew and an Italian go into business
who loses money?
Italian always wins
No, think this through
A Jew and Italian go into business together
Who loses money?
Who loses money?
The Italian doesn’t lose the money
Go back to Florida, will you?
That then became an “Umberto’s Clam House”
The one they have on Lydia/Mulberry Street
And they’ve since it’s not no more
This used to be the movie theater in the neighborhood
known as “Chinelli’s” which was
other known as “The Dumps”
We used to come here on Saturdays to the matinee
the kiddy matinee
Watch a cartoon in a movie right here
But it was called “The Dumps” cus it was filthy
I mean, you know, it got the name “The Dumps”
because you would see a rat once in a while
underneath the seats
It scared the hell out of everyone
In the theater while watching?
Right in here. It used to be a movie theater
And there was one maitre d
Who would be the babysitter for all of us on a Saturday
She dreaded that job but she did it
She became the mother hen to all of us though
Mom used to throw a quarter from the window
and that was your afternoon in here
It was like a babysitter?
All the kids would come here?
A quarter from the window. She throw it down
It’s part of your allowance that you got on a Saturday
Tell a kid today what an allowance is
They wouldn’t know that
25 cents, 50 cents would get you a whole day in here
Your movies, your soda, your popcorn, your hotdog
whatever you needed
And now it’s a beautiful library
There’s a day off
Antonio hasn’t changed
a thing since the 50s, huh?
Look, he’s hiring
You want this bread?
Yeah, let’s let’s try some
They were open, I think
Like that wall has not changed
The secondary store which is just, you know
get the same thing
This is the original
This is the original shop
Look at the floor
The old ceiling
They are really good
I know, I grew up with them
Freshly made every day
That’s why I got so huge
eating this stuff all my life
He’s back in a moment
that you can’t beat
This was here when you were growing up, Rich?
I grew up with him
So was I, I know him
But I’m here for 44 years this year
How we doing?
All fresh. How are you guys doing?
It’s okay if I video this?
No charge, alright
You got all the sausages here, all the…
Yeah, all fresh
How you doing?
Fresh sausage. Nine types of sausages
I’ve known him since he was a kid
I’ve been here since I was thirteen
I’m here 52 years, man
What have you seen in the neighborhood?
I’m sure you could talk for hours on that but
what are the big changes you’ve seen?
Well, a lot of different people, different ethnic groups
So, they used to be, you know, strictly mainly
old Italian, the same immigrants, you know
Now, we got a lot of
big influx of Mexicans and Albanians
good workers, good people
Still the Italians, they used to come here
years ago where they, you know, with their mothers
And now, they’re coming back to basics
Cus outside this neighborhood everything is like
You’re not gonna find nothing like this
anywhere else in the world
I live up in Rockland, all you see is Costco’s and BJ’s
This is like an endangered species
Oh, it is, It is
I mean, there’s not that many left of us
I mean, it’s hard to find a butcher that knows how to…
So why aren’t the Italian Americans having kids?
What’s going on?
Why are they having kids?
Why they’re not having kids?
Well, it’s too expensive to have kids, that’s what it is
I have one, two, life changes, right
Kids are meant to be watched today
it’s not like years ago
Nobody wants to work
Who’s going to fill your position?
No one. No one
Nobody wants to do this thing
You gotta work all kinds of hours
You gotta get up early
I get up at 4:30 am, I gotta be here at 6:00 am
You know, set up the case
But nobody wants to do this type of work
Everybody now is technologically savvy now
They don’t want to get their hands dirty
Work 12, 14 hours a day
It’s impossible if you find somebody that wants to work
If you don’t have hair, you can’t work here
You can’t hire me
I was born there so I came here when I was 13
You were born in Italy?
The Adriatic side?
You ever go back there?
Oh yeah. Been back about five times
So, what do you think when you go back to Italy
and you come back to the States?
What do you think about it?
Well, I love Italy
I love the lifestyle
but once you’re used to this after 50 years
you know what I mean?
It’s very hard to go back to that type of lifestyle
I mean, it’s so much calmer
they enjoy life, let’s put it this way
but… I don’t wanna say they have no goals in life
We came here, we struggle, we struggle
We always work
Always on the rush. Rush rush
You want a bigger house, you want a car
You wanna give a good education to your kids
Over there it’s just more sumber
There’s no pulse, exactly
There’s no pulse
That’s what I told my wife
Yeah, it’s nice to visit
a month, two weeks, two weeks
but to live there after you used to 50 years here
Can’t do it
Then you gotta come back here
So, you’re saying down the road when your generation…
not for a long time but I’m just saying
There’s no one coming in to fill the place
It’s it’s all gonna be prepackaged stuff
You know what I mean?
It’s gonna be on YouTube, are you alright with that?
I’ll put your guys link in there
We make meatballs… Television
You come here a lot?
We are used to going here
This is the place, huh?
Yes, this is the place
Good talking to you, buddy
Good to see you
Look at the prices on them
What do you think of the music, Rich?
One Italian song I can’t stand
and they play it at City Field
where I am a lot with the Mets, covering the Mets
No. “Lazy Mary”
You can’t stand it?
I can’t stand it because it’s an insult to Italians
This is Mario’s original restaurant here
Why? Because it says “lazy”?
“Lazy Mary”. It insults Italians
the Italian woman and the female
It’s a Monday, a lot of them close on Monday
It’s Pasquale’s Rigoletto
Let’s go get a meal
Yeah, we’ll stop in Catania’s
after we look at the Columbus bust
See, the neighbourhood completely downhill
when you go past here
What happens past here?
Well, you got the…
Activity that’s not good, it’s not safe
It’s actually open today
This was moved
This used to be by the old Columbus Boys Club
They moved it here to this park
And it’s a subject of controversy cus Columbus did it
it’s guarded because there’s been all types
of threats that knock it down
How do you feel about that?
Dead against it
What did this guy…
This is Italian tradition. Leave it alone
Leave it alone
He’s an Italian. He’s a part of our culture
Leave it alone
So, you feel like your culture,
it’s like chipping away your culture if this happens?
We get attacked
We get attacked too much
And to go back to the days when
the mob guys were around
If they tried to do that
it would just be a threat
and go any further than a threat that would be stopped
Thank you so much
Well-built too. Leave it alone
Any of those statues in the city
It annoys me, Peter
This is Crescent Avenue
This is another street
Has some good restaurants on the corner
down further Antonio’s
and my old social club which is no more was
in the middle of that block right there
Social club. What were you doing there?
We hung out. We had a club. Us, young guys
24/7. That was our hangout
There’s a lot of beer drinking
A lot of parties, a lot of fun
Grew up with all of them
A lot of them are not around no more
It was great growing up before the internet, huh?
We have one guy named Slim, Willie Rodriguez
Williams, he was Latino
In this neighborhood that got along with every Italian
From the merchant to the old people
He was such a helpful, caring young guy
Will he die too young
Slim, we called him Slim
And he ran that club
He made sure the dues were paid
He lived in there
And he he passed away in his sleep
And I took that bad cus he was one
of my one of my best, you know?
You wanna get a slice?
Yeah, let’s check this out
Let me throw that away
Don’t put that on camera
cus my doctor don’t wanna see that
Oh, the cigarette?
What am I gonna do? You were smoking, Rich
Well, my doctor won’t see it
Yeah, he won’t see it
What’s going on here? Catania’s pizza
We grew up with him and his brother
Hi to you too
I didn’t see you
What do you mean you didn’t f**king see me
I’m right here!
My vision has gotten worse
You’ve got older and I got older
Your vision’s gotten worse?
I’ll do a slice of cheese pizza
A lot more than your vision’s gotten worse
Now, I still write and do my thing though
I don’t get over here as much as I’d like to
You used to get here a lot more often
Yeah, I’m busy
How do you guys feel with Rich
leaving the neighborhood?
The neighborhood went to sh*t after he left
You miss him?
Yeah, we do miss him
They’re Yankee fans
Their calzones, you can’t beat them
Can’t beat their calzones?
Are you guys brothers?
Rich’s got a great sense of humor
Yeah, I’m liking it
They don’t make no more
What about you?
Not me, I ain’t not funny at all
I only look funny
So guys, tell me you’re Italian American?
Yes, Italian American. Born in Italy
Good pizza, straight forward New York pizza
Little crisp at the bottom
Good amount of cheese
This is the mini calzone
that you could only get at Catania’s
When we’re growing up, 10, 12, 13, 14 years old
After school, you dropped your books home
You did a little homework that you got
And you went out and you played
5:00-5:30 pm there was
a bunch of whistles going off
And every kid knew which whistle was theirs
That meant dinner time
Every every parent had a different whistle?
Everyone had a different whistle
From the window
And between 5 and 5:30 pm
every kid was at the dinner, eating dinner
Dinner 7 nights a week?
Sundays it was like 1 o’clock
3 o’clock, 1 o’clock, we ate at 3
Right. So, and that’s what’s missing
That’s what’s missing
That’s what’s missing
Because if you didn’t get home at 5:30
You didn’t eat
You didn’t eat, you had to wait til tomorrow
You had to wait til tomorrow
And that’s what’s missing
There’s no more discipline at home
We got kicked in the a** plenty of times
But we stayed together
So where do you think things are going right now?
There’s no discipline
These kids are doing whatever they want to do
To be fair older people always said that though
Every parent always said that, right?
But you think this time is different?
You got in trouble in the street
growing up here
and somebody yelled at you
or like another parent
you did not go home and tell your parents
that you got yelled at by another parent
Because if you did, you were wrong
They yelled at you for a reason
They didn’t yell at you for nothing
So, everyone’s parents
were looking out for the other kids?
That was called community, neighborhood
which you don’t have anymore
There’s no more communities
There’s no more neighborhoods
That’s depressing, guys
Now they want the cops to be the community
Back in the day it was somebody else’s parent
that told you, “Hey, what are you still doing here?
It’s 5:30, don’t you think you
should be home eating?
If they were out, or coming home from work, or whatever
There was no homeless
If you were homeless, you didn’t belong in that block
We had a neighborhood bum, you know?
Miguel is still around
But he didn’t sleep on the bench
Yes, and then we had Ozark
Remember Pasquale? Yeah. Pasquale
My first time in this neighborhood
it looks pretty good
It was a lot better. It was so much better
If you think this is good…
There was a lot of kids
Just kids running around the streets and whatnot?
There was leagues in the neighborhood
Like for instance the softball league
There was 6-7 teems
Each kid was from the neighborhood
That’s a lot of kids
Always playing ball. That’s a lot of kids
Basketball league, remember the basketball league?
Each block had their own team
Now you can’t get five kids to play
basketball, baseball, whatever
And you competed against this block
Everybody’s home on their computer, on their phone
And that’s the difference
We don’t give up
We fight for our values
We believe in our culture
And we’re a united people
We might not have money but we have everything
You’ve got great food
You’ve heard the expression about Italian La Familia
This is it
It’s your family
Like these guys are not friends
They’ve been my family for years
I don’t see them every day
He said it when I walked in here
I mean, I wish I could see him everyday
But that’s part of that growing up La Familia
You deliver this?
Yeah, I’m gonna deliver it right now
Where you going?
I’m going to Adam’s place
You’re just gonna walk it there?
No Uber Eats?