Thursday, May 19, 2016
FFB: The Westies and the story of Mickey Spillane
Today, the neighborhood, which is bounded on the east by the theater district and the west by the Hudson River, now attracts crowds of young professionals, theater folk, and visitors to its many new restaurants and bars.
Walking up Ninth on a trip to New York City, one of those bars caught my eye. Mickey Spillane’s is at 49th Street and Ninth Avenue. Notable figures often put their names on drinking establishments, like Mickey Mantle’s bar on 59th Street. But Spillane’s in Hell’s Kitchen is not named for the famous writer of the Mike Hammer mysteries. There was another Mickey Spillane.
Michael J. Spillane was considered the boss of the west side in the 1960s and 1970s. It was said that he ran a predominately Irish-American gang that was later called the Westies, and allegedly ruled not only the neighborhood but also the piers that once thrived there. His reign ended when he was gunned down in 1977 at age 42.
Spillane, who was married to a local woman whose family dominated west side Manhattan politics, had a son, Michael J. Spillane, Jr. The son opened the bar several years ago and named it Mickey Spillane’s.
In 1990, journalist T.J. English published his book, The Westies, a non-fiction account of the history, violence and politics of Hell’s Kitchen.
English’s book is thoroughly researched and at times a first-hand account of the people he came to know through reporting on the area and from covering the trials of members of the Westies.