What Ever Happened to the South Philly Mob?

It’s been at least six years since anyone has been killed by the Philadelphia Mafia. Is it the passing of a way of life, or an eerie calm before an ­approaching storm? Our writer takes to the streets of South Philly — and sips wine with the current Godfather — to find out

ABRUPTLY, THE REPUTED Godfather of the Philadelphia mob snatches the glass of wine from my hand, a disgusted expression on his face.

Joe Ligambi is a compact little man, five-foot-seven and lean, with thin graying hair combed back over his head, a long, hawkish nose, and small eyes with little white showing, like the eyes of a bird. He wears a black short-sleeved dress shirt, the top couple of buttons undone so some graying chest hair spills out over the top. He wears charcoal gray slacks and simple black dress shoes — a middle-class, older Italian man, out for an evening’s entertainment.

We’ve agreed to meet here at Spasso, on South Front Street, and I’ve agreed to keep the conversation light — family, sports, nothing sensitive about his past or future, nothing about him being the reputed head of the Philadelphia mob or the rumored federal indictment with his name on it. Our time together will not in any respect be a traditional interview. The 69-year-old Ligambi never does interviews. This encounter at Spasso is just a chance to shake his hand and say hello, to be in his presence and write about whatever happens in this informal setting. I’ve been under the impression our meeting might last no more than a few seconds, so when I walk into the Old City eatery, I buy myself a glass of wine as an excuse to linger. When I introduce myself, Ligambi shakes my hand and says: “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Would you like something to eat, some cheese?”

With a wave of his hand, he indicates the array of food in front of him on the bar — roasted peppers, pizza, cheese, eggplant marinated in Italian spices. I take a piece of the cheese, and he says, “Would you like some pizza?”

Ligambi doesn’t know it, but I have, at this point, already been to his house in South Philly. I’ve lingered at the edge of his lawn. “No, no,” I say, “I don’t want to take your pizza.”

Ligambi looks a little surprised by my refusal, wrinkling his eyebrows and turning to glance at the television. Seconds later, he snatches my wine — quick and deft, without spilling a drop. “Here,” he says to the bartender, “take this.”

Ligambi puts my glass of cheap Hardy’s shiraz on the bar and exchanges it for a glass of his $200-a-bottle Opus One. “Drink this,” he says, jamming the new glass into my hand. “It’s the best.”

I take a sip.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“It’s great,” I say. “I love it.”

“This is the only wine I drink,” he says.

He asks again if I would like some pizza. And this time, I accept. “Would you like some red pepper on that?” he asks.

I never use red pepper on my pizza. But — yeah, I say, bring on the red pepper. “Red pepper,” Ligambi calls out to the bartender.

Next thing I know, the Godfather rises up out of his chair: “Sit down,” he says, giving me his seat before I can object.

Ligambi grabs another stool and sits down beside me. And there we are, just a couple of fellas, talking over a glass of wine.

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  • Matt

    Came across this article today. I live very near the "social club" on 13th street, and always had my theories on just what type of place it is. Now I know. Good read. And for the record, most of the clients there are good people, just the younger crowd making a ruckus at 3am that's a problem.

  • Jill

    I moved from Center City to 11th and Wolf a couple of years ago. I walk my dog past the club on 13th Street all the time. Like the previous commenter, I always had my suspicions, but the guys outside have always been courteous, even complimenting my dog. Oh, and the food at Bomb Bomb is really, really good. I'm really enjoying the neighborhood, which seems easier to do without Merlino-type antics happening.

  • Suite jimmy

    The Philadelphia{MOB} has always been an entiny unto itself,however, reporters will never get the true story straight it remains hidden for over a hundred years…EMERTA is alive and well!!!

    • Philly

      Omerta you mean. Code of honor / code of silence… Very powerful and the way to live. My grandpop always said keep your mouth shut no matter what!!

  • Pasquale

    Plain and simple…Uncle Joe has brought respect and stability back to this city's La Cosa Nostra. He's a proud man who have survived several regimes and is quite frankly "The Last Man Standing." He's smart in that he's learned from the mistakes the other have made. Good job Uncle Joe! We love ya!

  • Brian

    Anyone have any idea where the Grays Ferry steak and veal spot is? I can't think of anywhere on the street that Mr. Ligambi could have been talking about.

  • meat

    The only thing I can think of would be Gaupp Meat at 33rd and Dickinson,though it's wholesale. Of course, I am sure Mr. Ligambi could make that work.

  • BUCK

    I MYSELF COMMING AND GROWING UP IN ALL ITALIAN NIEGBORHOOD LIKE S.PHILLY; WALKED INTO THE BOMB BOMB BY CHANCE, LOOKED LIKE A PLACE I WAS USED TO AND WAS RIGHT, AT FIRST THERE WERE SOME SUSPISIONS PUT SOON SUBSIDED, THEY ASKED IF I WAS FROM S.PHILLY I SAID NO BUT A PLACE SIMALAR TO THIS, I DROPPED BY AFTER A DOCTORS APP. AT HUP. I TRULY THINK YOU HAVE TO BE, ITALIAIN TO UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE, AND HOW PEOPLE ARE I LOVE THE PLACE AND GO OFTEN AND NOT LOOKIN FOR A THRILL OF SEEING "MOBSTERS"

  • DINO

    ITALIANS ARE ALL OVER AND NOW WERE EVERYWERE PEOPLE ITALIANS ARE GREAT IN EVERTHING NOT JUST FROM BEING FROM SOUTHPHILA MY FATHER FROM SOUTH PHILA HIS FATHER FROM THE MOTHER LAND MY MOTHER FROM NORTHEAST HER PARENTS FROM ITALY THE MOTHER LAND YES IAM ALL ITALY SO WHAT IAM SOUTHPHILA ITALIAN WERE MY FATHER GREW UP OR JUST ITALIAN ITS CRAZY LOVE ALL ITALIANS GOD BLESS US ALL

  • Anonymous

    MY NAME IS NICKY AND I RELIZE THAT PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO GET RID OF ARE KIND BUT TO BE HONEST THAT AN’T STOPING ME FROM WHAT I DO AND AN’T STOPING THEM FOR WHAT THEY DO JUST GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE AND MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS AND GO BACK TO WHATEVER YOU FUCKING CAME FROM.

    • Danny Philly

      BADA BING. BADA BOOM. STFU.

  • erik “stick man”

    I lived in the 300 block of Wolf St. in the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s. i miss those days! I hope to soon come back with my wife and children to show them my old stomping grounds!

  • Robert Rura

    I need to know where i can find the italian mob. I’m 50% italian and i have no where else to go, i got a dui and my parents are kicking me out of the house. I grew up @ 12th and Moore and use to know people in the mob but have lost contact with them over the years. Please help me regain access to them. 215-301-7815 is my number

    • Danny Philly

      dude. stfu.