gang2 80 St Marks Place’s shuffling reincarnations have been many: a theater, a revivalist cinema, a jazz dive, stage to Thelonious Monk, residence to Leon Trotsky, and Walter Scheib’s infamous speakeasy. This March, the collaborative efforts of Lower East Side History Project bring the Museum of the American Gangster.

Whether personally relevant or film-oriented, feed your crime fetish at MOAG, whose goal is “to objectively present the role that crime has played in shaping the politics, culture, myth and lore of New York City — and beyond.” 

MOAG’s exhibits will school you on the Gangster Lingo (“Chicago overcoat” anyone? Hint: It’s not a good thing.) and the early life of LES crime legend “Lucky” Luciano, plus all things gangster: trinkets (boot pistols, Tommy guns, brass knuckles, oh my!) and stories (from James Cagney to “Tony Soprano”) as well as lots of relics left to fester about by the former Ukrainian-American speakeasy proprietor, including prohibition-era bottles, a cash stash, and human remains.

The project’s outreach assistant/writer Adam Berger tips that some of the artifacts come from KGB Bar. Now the neighborhood writers’ salon/drinking hole padded in Soviet kitsch, KGB Bar similarly lived many lives and was once purchased by “Lucky” Luciano. The receipt from this transaction was discovered in its secret passageway and will be on MOAG display with the Luciano’s biographical exhibit. Berger enthusiastically devolved a few juicy bits, from Lucky’s early roots of Sicilian grade-school extortions and a clever combination of hat delivery day-job and opium dealing hustle in NY, to his modernization of mafia from vendetta obsessed tedium to efficient business. That and all the Jewish bootlegger connections helped, as the diversity in Lucky’s associates, though not popular in the strictly Sicilian pack, proved quite lucrative and left behind a large cash bounty, which is on display at MOAG.

Luciano’s residences and places of business, as well as most of his associates’ and enemies’, are scattered quite densely throughout the neighborhood. So, LES’s cultural history has not been completely bulldozed over with soulless condos and sterile wine bars of the yuppie invasion, thanks to ardent historians like Eric Ferrara, founder and executive director of the Lower East Side History Project, who keeps the word alive by organizing walking tours, visual displays and now MOAG. Several New York galleries and venues wanted to host the crime museum, but 80 St Marks seemed too much of a perfect spot to pass by.

Excited over his new upstairs neighbor, Theatre80 owner/local friendly Quaker Lorcan Otoway shows how old Walter’s former speakeasy became a fountainhead of LES performance history in October of 1960. With Joan Crawford and Walter Scheib himself in attendance, the joint was raided by police. A subsequent seizure of Lord Buckley’s cabaret card over a two-decade-old marijuana arrest lead to protests by intelligentsia to abort the cabaret card system. Without that, New York would have started to lose its edge a lot earlier.

Tonight at 11pm, Lorcan invites locals in the know to a little tour/sneak peak of the speakeasy. Museum previews begin Sunday, March 7, 2010, 12:00pm – 5:00pm, with special programming/entertainment to be announced.