HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the Lower East Side

Posted on: October 1st, 2012 at 12:38 pm by

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Volstead Act

On July 22, 1919 the Volstead Act was passed and remained in effect until the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933.

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Carrie Nation – hatchet bringer to thousands of unsuspecting bottles

Even non-drinkers were inspired (or affected) by Prohibition, especially this lovely creature (see above), Carrie Nation.

To every citizen, whatever made the 20s roar – be it illegal consumption of alcohol to kneecaps and bobs, speakeasies and moonshining – it was their own little slice of rebellion!

The Victorian age was over.  The Flapper emerged and even the most well-heeled men dabbled in illegal activities. After all, tell an entire Nation they cannot drink (save for medicinal purposes) and you’re going to see good guys (and gals) go bad.

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Clara-Bow-in-1920s. Seriously adore her

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The Purple Gang

If you aren’t already a fan of Boardwalk Empire, you should be. This show has been showing us the rip-roaring 1920s impeccably.

This may very well be the most widely depicted era of all time, but before HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, how many of us associated the 20s with Atlantic City?

Wait, you have? Oh.

Well that’s embarrassing. But I already put together a really great piece for you. You’ll read it anyway? Gee whiz, you are the best.

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Courtesy of Duke University

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Courtesy of Duke University

For more 1920s Atlantic City from the AC Visitor’s Bureau take a look here.

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Credit: NYPOST; Enoch L. Johnson and Enoch Thompson

Atlantic City was a refuge for city-dwellers seeking spirits, and while I may be a tad bit late…well done, HBO. Yes, three seasons into the show – congratulations. This continuously historically accurate drama is getting a big Bowery Boogie dap starting with a selection of our previous coverage of the show.

December 2, 2010 :

A recent email blast from the Eldridge Street Synagogue confirms that the neighborhood landmark was in fact featured in Episode 10 of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.  The scene in question actually transpires in Chicago with the Al Capone crew, which initially threw us off the scent.

May 4, 2011:

Boardwalk Empire is ready for another helping of the Lower East Side.  Even though the series takes place in prohibition-era Atlantic City, there are select scenes shot here in the Big Apple.

August 14, 2012:

Boardwalk Empire was in the East Village all day yesterday, transporting East Fourth Street back nearly a century. The popular HBO program turned the vacant lot neighboring the Cornelia Connelly Center into the “Carmine Street Garage.” Some sort of party scene ensued. Classic cars and all.

We like when you film in our ‘hood.  Just in case you decide to come back, here’s a closer look at how the Lower East Side factually ties into the series.

Early 20th century gangs had somewhat disbanded (or been killed off) by the 20s.

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Funeral of Monk Eastman

Monk Eastman, Whitey Lewis, Gyp the Blood, Dago Frank, The Five Pointers, Big Jack Zelig, Kid Twist (both of ’em) would give way to the Brownsville Boys (a.k.a Murder Incorporated), the National Crime Syndicate and their opposition:

Dutch Schultz (murdered by Murder Inc.), Meyer Lanksy (helped form Murder Inc.) Lucky Luciano (Founder of the Syndicate), Al Capone (Junior Forty Thieves, the Bowery Boys, the Chicago Outfit, the Five Points Gang), Arnold Rothstein (the “Brain” and “Moses” of Jewish Gangsters) and Benjamin Siegelbaum (a.k.a Bugsy Siegel who helped form the Syndicate).

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Dutch Schultz

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Meyer Lansky

All the characters in Boardwalk Empire are spectacularly and realistically portrayed. From Arnold Rothstein’s almost-demure persona and affinity for milk, to Capone’s stature and Lucky’s looks.

Can we look forward to Lansky and Siegel coming back in future episodes?

As for Lanksy, well Lower East Siders…guess where he grew up? The one and only Grand Street, according to several sources.

From, here’s an anecdote from his youth:

Famously, as a young boy, Lansky fiercely defended himself against a group of older Sicilian youths who were roaming the neighborhood looking for Jewish boys to extort “protection” money from. The leader was so impressed with Lansky’s tenacity and fearlessness in standing up to the group that the leader let Lansky off the hook. That day a life long bond of mutual admiration and respect was formed between the two, who in later years would become business partners and staunch allies. The leader of the Sicilians was a teenage Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Another such tale of Lansky’s integrity, strength, and pride in his identity, was when as a teenager he played basketball with a group of Irish boys who had the utmost respect for Lansky’s skills as a ball player. Knowing that he was a Jew, the boys asked Meyer if they could call him by the name “Mike” so that none of the other kids would know he was Jewish. Meyer refused. Once again Lansky gained a high level of respect for standing up for himself and his identity.

Atta boy!

Later, Lanksy would meet Bugsy Siegel, and by the early 1920s, Meyer along with Lucky Luciano and Siegel would become partners in a plethora of vice from bootlegging to racketeering.

Arnold Rothstein and Lansky would forge a mentorship; Rothstein recogned “a kindred spirit and genuine brains in Lansky and helped educate him on how to treat his criminal enterprises more like a true business rather than with the short sightedness of a street hoodlum.”

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Lucky Luciano

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Bugsy Siegel

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Arnold Rothstein

Lansky eventually left the LES behind, but definitely not on to bigger and better. We all know there’s no place better than LES. He would, however, hold onto his roots as would his neighborhood to him.

In 1997, the Daily News published the following:

Seventy years ago, Meyer Lansky sat in Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant with his friend Bugsy Siegel. They taught Lucky Luciano and every Mafioso who followed them how to organize crime. Lansky went on to invent the modern-day casinos, but he began by recognizing the fix in crap games on Delancey St. And although Lansky moved on to Cuba and Miami Beach long before Banco Popular and San Juan Jewelry became neighbors to Ratner’s, he really never left Delancey St. Now, 14 years after his death, the Chairman of the Board is back on the lower East Side. Or at least his memory is alive again. Get ready for Planet Gangster. At the back of the restaurant, construction workers are building a new bar and lounge. A sign hangs on the pale pine doors. Please pardon our appearance during renovations. Lansky’s Lounge. Opening in March 1997. “He used to sit right at this table, surrounded by bodyguards,” said Abraham Reinstein, about 75, who has been the manager of Ratner’s for about 40 years, “We didn’t approach, unless asked.

From New York Magazine:

Originally a speakeasy named after regular customer Meyer Lansky, Lansky Lounge has evolved from a small art deco space occupying one-third of Ratner’s—the Lower East Side’s kosher-dairy eating institution—to a swanky 200-plus-capacity supper club boasting a full dinner menu (sans the special “K” denotation). Slip through a narrow alleyway and up a small set of stairs to enter Lansky through the original front space, now a bar/lounge area decorated with framed photos of Lansky himself.

Lansky Lounge is now The Back Room. It’s very hush hush.

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Lanksy Lounge

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There’s a deli on the UWS of no relation we’re told.

Check out the ultra-redacted FBI file on him here.

So what say you, Boardwalk Empire? Want to set up shop on Norfolk and Delancey and re-create some quality time had by Lanksy, Siegel and Luciano in the old neighborhood.

Fine idea. We’ll be waiting.

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