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

At Broadway, I’m not sure if I’m entirely welcome onstage or not. After I finish a second beer, the bartender looks at my empty bottle, looks at me, then begins reading the newspaper. When I’m ready to leave, I ask where the bathroom is, and he points me to the back of the bar. I stand up, then reach down beneath my bar stool for the big black bag I use to carry my laptop. By now, the bar has gained another four customers, who pay me little mind. When I pick up this bag, however, their heads swivel suddenly in my direction. Maybe they just find it odd to see a dude carry his bag to the bathroom, like a girl with her purse. Maybe, in some places, bags are used less to carry than to conceal. But at this point, it’s too late for me to put the bag down. So I take it with me to the bathroom, thank the bartender on my way back out, and exit to the sidewalk. There, standing by the door, smoking the same cigar he was smoking inside, one of my fellow customers eyes me and says, “You look like a salesman or somethin’ with that bag.”

I say, “Or somethin’.”

He lets out a brief, low, laugh: “Or somethin’.” He takes a heavy drag on his cigar. I walk away. But I walk right back in a second time, a week later, with a  friend. This time the bartender is a woman, whose eyes dart back and forth to the men surrounding the bar. When no one raises any objections, she serves us a pair of Yuenglings. We sit down. All the televisions are turned to horse-­racing. One man at the bar sure acts like a bookie: He scribbles on the papers in front of him after every race and accepts dozens of fast cell-phone calls, during which he mostly listens and takes notes. A big stack of $20 bills sits on the bar in front of him.

Throughout South Philadelphia, gambling is a part of life. Horse-racing beats ESPN all to hell as the daytime choice for barroom TV viewing. And as the Daily Number nears, bar patrons all over the neighborhood quiet down while speaker volumes are turned up. Old women who miss the drawing lean their heads into corner bars and holler, “What’s the numbers, hon?” to bartenders who are expected to know.

Near as I can figure it, there are some customers in the Broadway Theatrical Club who think gambling laws are made for breaking. But the establishment strikes me mostly as a bar. We drink a few beers. The bartender loosens up somewhat. The owner buys everyone at the bar, including us, a round of shots, and we even order a burger, which arrives char-grilled and delicious. And yeah, this is what we’ve come to — a city with mob bars that aren’t really Mob Bars, that undercover cops can’t get into but civilians can, a mob that is tourist-friendly, and clearly not what it used to be.

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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.