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

Ligambi, up close, doesn’t seem troubled by his dual lives, not in the least. As I munch his pizza, I ask how long he’s been married. He says 36 years.

“What’s the secret to a long marriage?” I ask him.

He looks momentarily embarrassed by the question, then answers: “Take her out dancing on Saturdays in the summer.”

He recommends a store on Grays Ferry Avenue for high-quality steaks and veal chops. He talks about his old favorite roast beef shop, which he says isn’t so good anymore. Then he asks me where I live. I tell him my block and cross street. “They say it’s the Grad Hospital area,” I tell him, “so they can charge $50,000 more for the house.”

“Good area, though,” he says. “Getting better.”

“The neighborhood’s getting better,” I tell him, “but we hope this is the first summer we don’t hear any gunshots.”

He grimaces. “This city,” he says. “The same thing that happened to the roast beef happened to this city.”

Once, we edge up to the line we’re not supposed to cross. Perhaps he catches sight of an American Indian on the television at the bar, because he looks over my shoulder, in the direction of the screen, and suddenly says, “Them Indians got all the gambling.”

He looks almost sheepish for a second after he mentions this, as if he’s been caught complaining about the competition.

“We owed those people something,” I say, smiling, “after what we did.”

He laughs: “We stole everything from them people.”   

“Did you ever hear Chris Rock, the comedian, do the bit about Indians?” I ask him.

“No,” he says.

So I tell him: “Rock says, ‘You ain’t never seen two Indians. You’ll see two polar bears before you see two Indians.’”

Ligambi smiles at this, but I’m not sure he gets it. I can’t remember Rock’s next line, so I panic and improvise. “We killed so many of those people,” I say, still supposedly imitating Rock, “they can’t even find each other anymore!”

Ligambi laughs like hell, shaking in his bar stool.

We talk a little more, about his son Stephen, who lives in New York now and is in hot pursuit of an acting career. Ligambi says he goes to New York to see his son’s “every production, every event.”

When he says this, I think about how a conviction now would likely doom him to spend the rest of his life in prison. And more than at any other time during our interview, I want to drop all the pretenses and ask him a straight question about who he really is, and what he’s done with his life. But that wasn’t the agreement, and I know I won’t get a straight answer, so I just finish my slice of pizza. And maybe that should be all we need to know about Joe Ligambi. That he has lived a life that precludes straight answers, and in this crucial respect, Bruno, Scarfo, Merlino, Ligambi — who cares? They’re all the same.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 < Previous Next >View as One Page
  • 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.