Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour: New York's Little Italy

DiPalo's, a gourmet cheese and Italian gourmet shop,
in the heart of New York's Little Italy.
The Best Way to Visit a Neighborhood -- With Family
By Lauren Yarger
Wish you grew up in Little Italy? You might just feel like you did after taking one of the new “local tours given by locals” hosted by Raffaele (Ralph) Tramontana, Ernest Magliato and Bill Bray.

All are born and bred in the vibrant community known as Little Italy, a neighborhood located in lower Manhattan roughly between Bayard , Bleecker, Lafayette and the Bowery, once home to many Italian immigrants coming to New York City in search of a new life. The tour guides welcome you like a long-lost relative visiting from the old country and point out places of interest (as well as their own childhood haunts) along the three-hour walking tour.

I attended a press preview and recommend it to all of you readers who contact me about shows and other interesting things to do while you are in the city. Ernest does most of the talking in conversational form, rather than memorizing a long, pat tour-guide shpeel. Ralph and Bill were sort of the “color commentators” adding information and personal stories about growing up in the neighborhood.

“Hi, Ralph,” called one woman from across the street as the tour walked by. This greeting of neighborhood friends continued throughout.

Ernest and Bill getting ready to start the tour at Most Precious Blood Church.

Beginning at Sambuca’s Café, which Ralph owns, the tour stopped next door at The Most Precious Blood Church, home of the national Shrine of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples. (Ernest is a vendor at the saint’s annual feast, one of the largest street fairs in the country).

The tour heads down famous Mulberry Street to the Italian American Museum housed in the former Banca Stabile, which was the cultural center of Little Italy between 1890 and 1920. There immigrants could purchase steamship tickets, send telegrams back to the old country and exchange currency. The museum’s president Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa showed a short video about the museum and the area’s history (including a time during WWII when Italians were classified as “enemy aliens”) and noted interesting exhibits including a display honoring Luigi DelBianco, chief carver of Mount Rushmore, a sculpture titled “Resurrection” by Arturo DiModicau and memorabilia donated by Frank Serpico, the New York City cop famous for exposing corruption in the force in the early 1970s.

Next came a stop at DiPalo’s, one of New York’s premiere cheese and Italian gourmet shops, complete with samples of meat, cheese and wine enjoyed in the hanging-cheese trimmed store. Fourth-generation Tony DiPalo spoke about how some of the foods are made and Ralph shared a story about how his nephew put himself through college working for Tony.

The first American pizzeria, Lombardi's, above, and the oldest Italian bakery in Little Italy are points of interest along the way, as are other neighborhood buildings, like a school.

Bill and Ralph at Prince and Mulberry.

Before it was a school, Ralph, chimes in, it was an empty lot where the neighborhood kids played baseball. Also nearby is the corner of Prince and Mulberry streets, where “stickball” was born. And over there is where director Martin Scorsese , also a product of Little Italy, filmed the scene in one of his movies. Over there is a location from the TV series The Sopranos… and so it continues.

On to the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, above, (before the newer namesake was constructed on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street), now designated a basilica. Msgr. Donald Sakano met us for a tour of the church, which boasts a duplicate of the ceiling in the Fifth avenue cathedral and a massive organ.

The church also is the home of New York’s only underground catacombs, now closed to the public. Renovations are underway to construct a stairway and glass panels in the church court yard allowing a peek into the tunnels and the guides hope to include them on the tour in the future. If they do, I can report that it will be an interesting experience because Msgr. Sakano found the key and took our press group on visit as a special treat.

Most of the tombs are sealed, but the crypt where Gen. Christopher Carleton Rice, above, was interred in 1848, is open and still boasts its original Edison light bulbs (below right).

The tour concludes with a meal at Grotta Azzurra Ristorante, a Little Italy landmark since 1908 and a frequent gathering place for the Rat Pack (the food is included in the tour price of $59.95).

The three hours sped by, and rain showers didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the guides or those enjoying the tour.

For more information or to book a tour, visit, call 646=720-9410, or email Tickets also are available at E. Rossi & Co., 193 Grand St., at the Italian American Museum, 155 Mulberry St. or at Sambuca’s Café, 105 Mulberry St.

Tours leave seven days a week from Sambuca’s at 11 am and 3 pm sharp.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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