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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 3/31/17

Mob Rule

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Friendly Lounge, 2017
Friendly Lounge, 2017
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My local dive, Friendly Lounge, was mentioned in I Heard You Paint Houses, a book soon to be turned into a movie by Martin Scorcese. Now Friendly's featured quite prominently in The Last Don Standing, an account of the Philly mob by Ralph Natale. An infamous snitch, Natale still spent 27 years inside.

As I type this at Friendly, guitarist Jimmy Bruno and organist Joey DeFrancesco, both Philly guys, are killing it in the background. Anyway, this new book dubs this bar a training ground for the Mafia:

Hard case DiTullio developed an instant soft spot for the young Natale, providing a master's class in the Mafia to his young and ambitious charge. His classroom was the Friendly Tavern on South Eight Street, where Natale proved a particularly apt pupil.

DiTullio is best known as "Skinny Razor," father to Dominic and Marco, Friendly's current owners. Marco loves that there's a spotlight on this rather grungy, nondescript bar. Dom hates it. The book calls Skinny Razor a "legendary local mob killer." A woman told me, "He was so handsome and impeccably dressed, but tough. He was a real badass!" The book:

if you were his enemy, [your] life would be considered shortened. "We had more arms than an armory under the bar," Natale recalled.

As far as I know, there's only a blackjack behind bar now, and it hasn't been used in years. The last time there was a commotion here was when a drunken Felix said to John the Hat that maybe John's sister was pleasuring him. Absolutely not cool. John leapt off his stool, but Brad got in between them, and I, sitting next to Felix, persuaded him to apologize. Within minutes, everybody was laughing. We're all friends here.

Another time, Johnny A.C. (for air conditioning) repeatedly screamed, in his bellowing, tenor voice, that Felix should move to Canada, all because Felix had mentioned Michael Moore. Felix actually hates Michael Moore. All across this increasingly angry nation, Americans are screaming at each other. Short fuse has become the norm. The very next day, Johnny came in with no memory of his bourbon-induced meltdown, and Felix holds nothing against him. We're all family here.

Sometimes, though, retaliation or punishment must be met out. In the early 40's, an insolent wise guy with a fake Irish surname showed up at Friendly. Not long before, Harry Barry had slashed a boss' bodyguard in the face. Spotting Barry, Skinny Razor whispered to bookie Joe Panisi that he better collected whatever Barry owed him. Next morning, Barry's corpse was discovered near the George Washington Elementary School.

"That's bullshit," Dom objects. "He was found outside the police station, where the library is now. You know something else? If they were going to take out a guy, they might tip you off so you can go borrow money from him." Dom grins. "There's a lot Ralph Natale got wrong. My father got his nickname because he was a sharp dresser, not because he always carried a razor. Natale's embellishing because he wants to sell books! Everyone has a story about my dad. He's like the Paul Bunyan of South Philly."

Dude's a legend. At the end of "I Ain't Got Nobody," Louis Prima could be heard to yell, "Skinny! Skinny!"

Book, "He wasn't flashy and never did anything for show. Killing was for business, period."

In Friendly, there's a charming, amateurish oil portrait of Skinny Razor in a suit and tie, smiling and smoking a cigarette. More than anything else, he resembles an insurance executive.

Dom, "It was rough back then. If you weren't vicious, you wouldn't survive. Guys on 9th Street all carried guns and knives. Now, they take debit cards. Get the f*ck out of here!"

For all the alleged hits, Skinny Razor was never convicted, so technically, he never swatted a fly. Suave, he was seen with Kim Novak under his arm.

For all his bluster, Ralph Natale is the nadir of the Philly mob, a mascot for its most bumbling and farcical years. Natale got locked up for the first time in 1979 for torching Mr. Living Room in an insurance scheme. After a co-conspirator burnt himself, the doctor who treated him was visited by the fed, so a wise guy dropped by to tune him up. "Why beat up the fuckin' doctor?!" Dom throws up his hands.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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