Scheib’s Place, the Speakeasy at 80 Saint Marks Place was where the New York City Council drank during Prohibition. Today one can find evidence of every aspect of the defense and camouflage of the hidden bar from the iron fittings that held steel plates over the windows to the bomb triggers in the basement – the final defense if the club was raided. At the top of the organization running Scheib’s Place was a Bavarian bootlegger named Frank Hoffman. Hoffman made tens of millions of dollars during Prohibitions. The public face of the club was the restaurateur Walter Scheib, from the Ukraine.
In 1964, when the present owner, Lorcan Otway, was nine, his father Howard Otway purchased the building from Scheib. That year Howard found two safes hidden in the basement. He called Scheib to come and open the safe, and they found two million dollars in 1928 Gold Certificates. Walter laundered the money in the Ukraine and built a new hotel in Florida in 1967. In 2009 Lorcan Otway found a mass of rotting material in the basement, uncovering the story behind the two million dollars found in 1964. We now know the money was connected to the murder of Frank Hoffman and his girl friend Ghia Ortega, a young Brazilian nightclub singer on November 7, 1945. This murder had gone undiscovered and is the subject of Lorcan’s upcoming book, “The Girl in the Safe.”
After Prohibition, Scheib’s Place had become a major jazz venue. Frank Sinatra began his career here in 1939. Monk, Mingus, all the jazz greats played here. Lord Buckley player here in 1960. The vice squad took his cabaret card, leading to hi death and the drive to end the cabaret card system.
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