Part II: The GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room
Matty The Horse Ianniello
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
"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.|
“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.”
“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)
“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.”
“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.”
- “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”. Jigiart.blogspot.com, 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.