In the trendy neighborhood of NOLITA (North of Little Italy) a stylish clothing boutique with a glass storefront resides at 247 Mulberry Street. If you had come here 40 years ago, you would have seen a brick wall with a simple white door and two small windows. This unassuming façade hid the Ravenite Social Club, the headquarters of John Gotti, the most infamous mob boss of the later 20th Century.
Gotti was born in the Bronx in 1940 and began a life of petty crime early on. In his teens, he began doing jobs for Carmine Fatico, a capo in the Anastasia family (later to be the Gambino family.) He went to prison for one of these jobs, hijacking freight from JFK airport, in 1968 and was paroled in 1972. In 1973 an Irish gangster named James McBratney killed one of Carlo Gambino’s nephews and Gambino selected Gotti and two other Gambino soldiers to hit McBratney in revenge. They managed the job, but were sloppy and got caught. Gotti was able to cop a plea for attempted manslaughter with a four year sentence.
Upon his release in 1977, Gotti was initiated as a made man in the Gambino family. While he was in prison, Carlo Gambino had died of old age and Paul Castellano had become boss of the family. Gotti did not respect Castellano, thinking he was more of an accountant than someone who had risen up through the streets like himself. Gotti eventually decided that he should replace Castellano.
In the Mafia, the proper way to remove a boss was to go to the bosses of the other families and get their approval, but Gotti did not do this. He went to other guys of his generation that felt the same about Castellano as he did. On December 16, 1985, Gotti made his move when he learned Castellano was having a meeting at Sparks Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan. He did not actually pull the trigger, but watched from his car with his associate Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.
While everyone knew Gotti was behind the hit and had gone about it the wrong way, he was elected boss of the Gambino family. Under his leadership, the Gambinos became the most successful of the five families with an annual income of $500 million.
While most mob bosses like to keep a low profile, Gotti loved the media and the media covered him like a celebrity. He was dubbed “The Dapper Don” for his stylish suits, which he always made sure to wear for the cameras. After his 1987 acquittal on racketeering charges, he became “The Teflon Don”.
Gotti continued the tradition of using the Ravenite Social Club as a base. It had been in use since 1926, first called the Alto Knights Social Club, then renamed The Raven Knights Social Club in 1957 by Carlo Gambino who liked the poem by Edgar Allen Poe. The FBI had bugged the club, but could never get anything incriminating on tape. Eventually, they learned through informants that whenever Gotti wanted to talk about something sensitive, he would go up to an apartment above the Ravenite, which was home to a widow of a Gambino soldier. The FBI bugged this apartment and eventually collected enough evidence to charge Gotti with a slew of crimes including murder and racketeering.
During the trail, Gotti is heard on tape disparaging his underboss Sammy the Bull and plotting to have him framed for a murder rap. This enraged Gravano, who turned state’s evidence and testified against Gotti. This sealed Gotti’s fate and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His son John Jr. became acting boss and his daughter Victoria got a reality TV show, Growing Up Gotti. John Gotti himself eventually died of cancer while in prison in 2002.
See the Ravenite Social Club on our Mafia in Little Italy Tour.