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NYC tour covers the violent history of Hell’s Kitchen and its notorious gangs

Hidden New York Tours explores the former haunts of the likes of Jimmy Coonan and Mickey Spillane.

A New York City tour about Hell's Kitchen's

A New York City tour about Hell's Kitchen's gang history stops at Hellcat Annie's, which used to be Mickey Spillane's headquarters. Photo Credit: Hidden New York Tours

The tiny bathroom inside Mr. Biggs Bar & Grill has a grim secret.

It’s the scene of at least two violent murders carried out by the Westies — an Irish gang that set up their headquarters inside what used to be called the 596 Club.

Under the direction of the group’s leader, Jimmy Coonan, loan shark Ruby Stein was butchered there in 1977 before gang members made his body disappear in the East River, according to gang lore.

Stories like that are the subject of a harrowing tour by Hidden New York Tours this spring.

Every Friday and Saturday night, the tour group’s founder Russell Wolin leads a group of about 25 around Hell’s Kitchen, telling almost-too-crazy-to-be-true stories about the gangs that ran the streets, the pubs and the former seedy businesses in that neighborhood.

Hell’s Kitchen, which is bound by 34th to 59th streets, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, is ritzy condos and tapas joints now, but it has a long history of violence, Wolin said.

Irish gangs ruled the neighborhood from as far back as the late 1800s, first with The Gophers (named for holding meetings in tenement basements) and later with the Westies, who kept their business going for nearly 30 years, from about 1960 to 1988. Others, like the Lady Gophers (with leader Battle Annie, who had a mean brick throw) and the Hudson Dusters (named for their penchant for cocaine) cropped up, too.

But the tour itself largely retraces the grim business done by the Westies, and many of their haunts are still around and very much unchanged, Wolin said.

Some of their most notorious crimes took place at the following addresses:

452 and 448 50th St.

Westie Eddie “The Butcher” Kaminsky and Jimmy Coonan murdered a druggie who killed one of their fellow members and carried the man’s body across the rooftops from one tenement building to the other in order to use the building’s incinerator, Wolin said. The man’s body was never found.

501 1/2 43rd St.

Mickey Featherstone, one of the most-feared Westies who had committed multiple murders before he even got into the gang, was raised in this building with nine brothers and sisters. Featherstone, who at one point was Coonan’s right-hand man, went on to sell out his fellow members in the late 1980s as an informant and was released from prison in 1988. He’s currently in a witness protection program, Wolin said.

596 10th Ave.

Mr. Biggs is owned by Mickey Spillane Jr. — the son of Mickey Spillane, “the last legitimate Irish godfather,” Wolin said. The former 596 Club was the gang’s headquarters under Coonan, who came after Spillane as the gang’s leader, Wolin said. Owning the bar has been said to be a big “screw you” to the memory of the Westies and Coonan.

637 10th Ave.

Before Coonan, Mickey Spillane’s HQ was here — the White House Bar, now Hellcat Annie’s Tap Room. Spillane would do his business dealings here, taking “clients” into a backroom.

While gentrification eventually pushed out the other gangs, the Westies endured until Featherstone metaphorically pulled the trigger on the operation as an informant.

“You are never going to walk through this neighborhood and see it the same way again,” Wolin said about the tour. “All those buildings are still standing. The old tenements may have been converted to condos, but people who live there come out of the condos and hear me talk about the bodies that were cut up in the basement. It was a very different New York City.”

The tour runs each Friday and Saturday through the end of April. You can sign up on

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