Elaine Romagnoli Apparently Was Not the Owner of New York City Lesbian Bar Bonnie and Clyde
Elaine Romagnoli, a decades-long influence in New York City’s lesbian bar scene, died in October 2021. However, there has been some confusion generated by assorted obituaries and other posts regarding her specific role with the bar Bonnie and Clyde which operated from 1972 to 1981 at 82 West Third Street in Greenwich Village. For example, Romagnoli variously has been described as “the creator” or “the founder” of Bonnie and Clyde; however, she apparently was not its owner. The owner or licensee reportedly was Louis Corso, and that inexplicably has been omitted from all the coverage celebrating Romagnoli’s ten years with Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie and Clyde apparently was not Corso’s first queer joint. Joel Sappell, a reporter for the New York Daily News, wrote a February 10, 1981 article (“Anatomy of a mob front”) which alleged that Louis Corso opened the gay bar Hip-O-Drome with Nicholas Bari at 165 Avenue A in 1968 as supposed frontmen for Genovese capo Matty Ianniello who at that time controlled much of LGBT nightlife, and further alleged “two years later, Corso, then 27, sold his interest to his uncle, Salvatore Corso, to devote full time to his next venture — Bonnie and Clyde [which] is a shabby looking reputed lesbian bar and restaurant at 82 W. Third St. in Greenwich Village. In 1976, when the SLA balked at renewing the joint’s license because it allegedly discriminated against straight men, it was Ianniello’s lawyer, [Carl] Moskowitz who successfully defended Corso. Corso is still the licensed owner.” Presumably, Joel Sappell examined the liquor license for Bonnie and Clyde which was a public record, and if Elaine Romagnoli also was listed as a licensee would have so reported. Moreover, there is no later indication in the Daily News that either Elaine Romagnoli or Louis Corso made any objection to the reporting that the latter was the Bonnie and Clyde owner or licensee.
Curiously, Bonnie and Clyde shut down shortly after this 1981 article. The 82 West Third Street building at that time was owned by Regina Equities Funding, Inc. of which Louis Corso was President with an address at 135 West 50th Street in New York according to real estate records. Funny enough, 135 West 50th Street is the same address of the high rise where Ianniello and Moskowitz shared an office suite on the 18th floor from 1966 until 1985 when they were indicted and convicted for their roles in a skimming operation to evade taxes involving some of the gay bars they controlled.
The LGBT community had been no fan of the Hip-O-Drome. In 1970 the Gay Liberation Front held a protest after a black trans woman named Nova complained to the activist group that she had been rudely thrown out of the East Village dive. In his 1971 book Homosexual Liberation John Murphy writes that once “a large group assembled in front of the Hip-o-Drome and tried to enter there was some business with baseball bats and bouncers at the door, and several squad cars quickly showed up.”
The two establishments prior to Bonnie and Clyde at 82 West Third Street, the Pompier Restaurant and Tenth of Always, both catered to the gay scene. The Pompier allegedly was where Gambino soldier Eddie DeCurtis spent much of his time in the management of his extensive gay bar interests during the 1960s, and then the subsequent Tenth of Always allegedly was owned by Nicholas DeMartino who supposedly had some help in running the place from Ed Murphy. DeMartino reportedly was the stepson of reputed Gambino soldier Paul di Bella, and Murphy was the convicted leader of an extortion ring targeting gay men. Bonnie and Clyde took over the space after DeMartino and DiBella, among others, were busted by federal authorities in July 1971 involving their alleged operation of nine West Village gay joints.
So call Elaine Romagnoli “the hostess with the mostest” at Bonnie and Clyde but it probably is not accurate to call her its owner, and apparently she was just hired help who worked there for someone else.