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06 November 2019

The Gilded Grape

Part I: the Gilded Grape
Part II: The GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room

Matty The Horse Ianniello

We have already met Matthew Ianniello (1920 – 2012) who co-ordinated what happened at the Stonewall Inn on behalf of the Genovese crime family.

Born and raised in Little Italy, Manhatten, and then Brooklyn, Ianiello returned from service in the Second World War with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

In 1951 he was arrested for possessing heroin, but the charges were dropped. He acquired the nickname ‘the horse’ either from the heroin (which is sometimes referred to as ‘horse’) or from the strength of his punch.

In the early 1960s Ianniello joined the Genovese crime family, which already had experience of running gay/trans clubs - especially the 82 Club. Ianniello eventually built a string of gay/trans clubs including the Stonewall, the Peppermint Lounge and the Gilded Grape as well as heterosexual strip clubs, porn theatres and restaurants. In addition to more than eighty bars and restaurants, Matty’s enterprise included support businesses supplying alcohol, laundry and trucking, and of course a talent agency that supplied topless dancers. And also an interior decorating firm and a garbage collection firm.

Under a negotiated arrangement he paid tribute to all five New York Mafia families.   A NYPD detective was quoted:
“You don’t run a bar and grill or sex establishment between 34th and 59th streets, from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River, without Matty having a piece of the action.” (Johnson et al p250), 
Johnson et al say that
“In a large sense, Ianniello was the man who made Times Square the tawdry place that it was in the seventies.” 
In 1972 he was in the kitchen of Umberto’s Clam house when Colombo crime family rebel Joe Gallo got whacked at 4.30am.

In 1986 he was convicted of racketeering and went to prison until 1995.  On release Ianniello became the acting boss of the Genovese family until 2006 when he was convicted again.  He was released in 2009, and died at home in 2012, aged 92.

The Gilded Grape 719 8th Ave, Manhattan

By 1974 there was a lack of bars/nightclubs for trans persons in New York. The Stonewall had closed after the riots in 1969, and the Washington Square at Broadway and 3rd Street where Sylvia Rivera liked to drink had also closed.

The Gilded Grape opened that year as a mixed disco.  Drag Magazine described it as New York’s “sole and only drag hangout”. Gerald Cohen, from the Bronx, was the manager; Angel Caraballo was the doorman, and Matty Ianniello – of course – was behind the scene.  At first Cohen did not realize that there were trans women among his clientele. One evening, passing the ladies’ room, he found his enraged floorman with a hand up a woman’s dress. He made a decision: “if it looks like a woman it can use the ladies’ room”. Word spread and trans women came.

In 1974. Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino suggested to Andy Warhol that he do a series of drag queen portraits, and named  Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn. It was pointed out to him that Candy was dead. Later Anselmino suggested doing a series of “funny looking” transvestites, those who were obviously men trying to pass as women. Andy suggested The Gilded Grape, where his entourage and rich European clients visiting Warhol’s Factory were sometime taken after dinner to witness the ‘dark underbelly of Manhattan nightlife”. The project started: Bob Colacello, artist Ronnie Cutrone and art student Corey Tippen found most of the models, including Wilhelmina Ross.
"We would ask them to pose for 'a friend' for $50 an hour. The next day, they'd appear at the Factory and Andy, whom we never introduced by name would take their Polaroids. And the next time we saw them at the Gilded Grape, they invariably would say, 'Tell your friend I do a lot more for fifty bucks’." 
These large format polaroids were transferred to paintings as a silk screen. This became part of Andy’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” series first shown in Italy, September/October 1975.

Eddie, Miss Gilded Grape 1974.
The Gilded Grape announced a Miss Gilded Grape Contest, and the editors of Drag Magazine (some of whom were in the Queens Liberation Front) attended. Desi Duvall was turned out from the dance segment when people recognized her as a winner of previous dance contests; Cindy could not answer the questions as she spoke mostly Spanish; the winner was Eddie, a bartender at the Grape, in drag for the first time. The most sensational was Judy Bowen who spoke for ten minutes about her operations. Her operations seemed to count against her. Drag commented that rules against surgery should be spelt out clearly in advance. The third runner up, Miss Toni Stevens, was on the cover of the next issue of Drag Magazine. The next year, Toni won the Grape’s Broadway Award for the best performance in their regular Sunday Night Show.
Despite the publicity, The Gilded Grape declined to pay for an advertisement in Drag Magazine.

Tish Gervais (who many years later reverted to being Brian Belovich) and her friend Easha came:
“Still dressed as a boy, I secretly longed to be part of the transgender milieu. It was quite a scene; the Grape was a hodgepodge of every possible gender and sexual identity. While it was predominately transgender women, there was also a heady mix of gay men, lesbian women, bisexual folks, and tranny-chasing tricks. There was also a small group of transvestite men like those portrayed in the book, Casa Susanna, who liked to dress as women but were married with wives and families.”
Rosalyn Blumenstein also came:
“The crowd was an eclectic bunch. Remember the thugs, rapists and tricks? This made up a percentage of the population entering the Gilded Grape. There were trans girls, girls of trans experience, cross dressers, street punks looking for extra money, drug dealers, businessmen in female attire, transsexuals from all over the country, illegal aliens, kids dressed up as adults, and runaways."
And again:
"The Gilded Grape crowd was predominantly African-American, Jamaican, South African, Nigerian, Latino/a, Puerto Rican, Cubana, Mexicana, Dominicana, Panamanian, street-wise, transsexuals, drag queens, drag kings, hustlers and prostitutes. The tricks, Johns and tranny-chasers, were predominantly white. However, the bangy-boys were Latino and represented the many cultural groups I just described. The crowd was filled with tranny thugs, drug addicts, performers, wannabes, immigrants and our followers. The club was also filled with atmosphere, acceptance, community, safety, and a sense of family, as well as hate, remorse, hustle, desire, escape, and revenge. The music was loud with a mixture of disco, show tunes, salsa, and melodramatic sex vigilant reverberation.” (p 52-3)
Another at the Gilded Grape was Romain Atura who went to Dr Benito Rush and was approved for transgender surgery. The surgery was done by Dr David Wesser in 1976. She afterwards regretted the operation, although still spending time at the Gilded Grape. She killed herself a few months later.

The future film-star, the young Mickey Rourke hung out at the Gilded Grape for a while, and if a woman was being hassled by a trick, he was known to step in and help her.

Cohen, the manager, was interviewed by R. Thomas Collins Jr. of the New York Daily News:
“Drag queens, transvestites came to my place. I had a market and I served them. The only people I didn’t let in were whores. I’ve been harassed by the SLA and police. ... Once a cop told me they kept the pressure on me because the ‘establishment’ didn’t like drag queens. My lawyer has been fighting all the way. I wanted to stand by my customers. They’ve got a right to be that way.” … 
“Of course I know Matty Ianniello, and I was being harassed by law enforcement just because he was reputed to be associated with the Mafia. My only connection with Matty is knowing him, and one of my partners at Jericho used to work at the Peppermint Lounge, when Matty owned it.”

Despite what Cohen said about not letting in whores, sex workers did gather at the Gilded Grape and plied their trade up and down 8th Ave. in open competition with their cis co-workers. Some of the trans woman lived above the Gilded Grape in the Camelot Apartments. Quack doctor Jimmy Treetop sold hormones to some of the regulars at the Gilded Grape.

Tish Gervais:
“Although I felt comfortable in the predominantly trans atmosphere at the Gilded Grape on Eighth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, which was a short walk from our apartment, I was often anxious and fearful there. Instead of punching a time clock at some job, I went to the Grape to earn my keep. It was safer than working on the stroll in Times Square and the guys knew what they were getting looking only for those “girls with something extra” like myself. Being a younger trans woman might have made it easier for me to find tricks, but it also created tension with some of the heavily-seasoned regular girls who frequented the bar.”
The police of Midtown North Precinct were not amused at the uptick in trans solicitation. In three years Cohen received 26 tickets and repeatedly went before the State Liquor Authority.

NYC Mayor Abraham Beame (1974-7) had made a crusade to eliminate pornography and the trans bars in New York. This did not get very far. In April 1977 the Highways Commissioner Anthony Ameruso made a surprise visit to the Times Square area with the press attending and had workers use acetylene torches to cut down the canopies in front of four enterprises including the Gilded Grape on the excuse that they did not have permits for them.

No summons against Cohen was ever sustained, but his legal fees had added up to over $40,000, and now canopies had been destroyed. Exhausted, he voluntarily surrendered his liquor license a few weeks later. The Gilded Grape closed, and was reopened as the Grapevine. Some trans women still went there but others heard of a new place: the GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room.

Sharon Churcher writing in New York magazine in 1980 portrayed Romaine spending her last evenings in the GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room. However as Romaine died in 1976, and the GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room did not open till 1978, she must have meant the Gilded Grape.

Orde Coombs spelt Gerald/Jerry Cohen's name as ‘Cohn”.

Blumenstein p53 refers to the manager of the Gilded Grape as Chickey, and says that he let some of the girls in in exchange for a blow job. It is not clear whether or not Chickey is the same person as Gerald Cohen.

  • “Drag Drops in on New York’s Drag Oasis: Beauty at the Gilded Grape”. Drag, 4, 14, 1974: 30-41. Online
  • “Annual Awards at Gilded Grape: Drag Cover Girl Winner”. Drag, 6,24, 1975: 6. Online
  • Lena Williams. “Manes Asks Revision of Pornography Plan”. New York Times, April 2, 1977. Online
  • Orde Coombs. “Le Freak, C’est Chic on 45th Street”.  New York Magazine, 8 Jan 1979:47. Online.
  • R Thomas Collis, Jr. Newswalker: A Story for Sweeney. Ravensyard Pub Ltd, 2002: 99, 123-5.
  • Sharon Churcher. “The Anguish of the Transsexuals”. New York, June 16, 1980: 50.
  • Rosalyne Blumenstein. Branded T. 1st Books, 2003: 50-3, 71, 73, 83, 100.
  • “The Gilded Grape at 719 Eight Avenue”., 11/01/2009. Online.
  • Paul Vitello. “Matthew Ianniello, the Mafia Boss Known as ‘Matty the Horse,’ Dies at 92”. New York Times, Aug 22, 2012. Online.
  • John Johnson, Joel Selvin & Dick Cami. Peppermint Twist: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the '60s. Thomas Dunne Books, 2012: chp 23. 
  • Phillip Crawford Jr. The Mafia and the Gays. 2015: 80,
  • Patricia Hickson (ed). Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls. Yale University Press, 2015: 6, 42, 162, 169.
  • Duncan Osborne. “Feds Tracked Mob Control of Gay Bars into the 1980s”. Gay City News, August 30, 2018. Online.
  • Brian Belovich. Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man.  Skyhorse, 2018: 71-3, 101-2. 
  • Josh Milton. “Andy Warhol’s unseen portraits of drag queens and trans women to go on display for the first time”. Pink News, October 29, 2019. Online.

EN.Wikipedia(Matthew Ianniello)             WarholStars(Ladies and Gentlemen paintings)


  1. There is also a Frank Zappa song, The Origin of Manx, which contains the following:

    'Now this is the part of the song—yes, it's rock 'n roll alright, look how cheap this is, hey—this is the part of the song where I'm supposed to set you up for the next tune, which is a little bit on the weird side, see? And it also gives them a chance to get their music ready, you know, so yes, watch this. This song used to be called "Mars Needs Women," but since Bozzio went to the Gilded Grape and sort of had a modification of his social life, became very impressed with the MC—it's not just Punky's pictures that's influencing our drummer, you understand—Terry has fallen under the magic spell of the MC at the Gilded Grape. A man, a great man, a great MC, right up there with Don Pardo, a man that we have named Manx—his real name is Timothy, we call him Manx 'cause of the way his haircut is. If you go to the Gilded Grape you can see Manx over on the side, with this little podium, much like this thing here, and this little Arthur Godfrey mike, his champagne cocktail and his long, long, long cigarette, which never gets short, short, short. And he's the guy that introduces all the fantastic dancers of the Grape. Make sure you go down there on Wednesday night. Try out the Grape, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. And now, "Manx Needs Women." '

    Make of this what you will. I think that it merely demonstrates the spread of the reputation of the Gilded Grape.

  2. Dear Zagria: Once again, you have belted it out of the park with your excellent research and story about The Gilded Grape and GG Knickerbockers. Having spent more than a few enjoyable Saturday nights at both establishments,it was very nice to read your article and stroll down my so called 'amnesia lane of drag'. Keep up the great work and thanks. You truly are a drag historian. Best Regards Morgan Stevens.

  3. Great article! Was looking for some info on GG. My time at the "scene" came just after GG, and began at a bar called Casa Dario, on 46th or 47th btwn 6th & 7th. People would talk about GG all the time, and was sorry I was late to that party.

  4. Myself & my two girlfriends had just turned 18 ( 1975 or 6) & it was our first time in N.Y. We were like " let's try & get in Studio 54!Forget it.....that qeque was insane....didn't get anywhere near the place. But we found our way to GGs Barnum rooms ...they ushered us in, hid us upstairs, gave us some drinks & we watched open mouthed as half baked men ( guess which half) swung from trapeze's in the ceiling! At some point, we went to another room where there was a catwalk & the competition was for Miss Mahogany.....I have never seem such beauties in my life!!! What a place & what a night to remember!! I have often looked for the place online but only found your fab page after watching this he Andy Warhol Diaries & seeing it on screen!! Didn't know the GG stood for Gilded Grape!! What a place!!! Xxxx


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