Goodfella's Guide To New York

Mob informant and now author Henry Hill, right, talks to 16-year-old Matthew Tweedie about the importance of living an honest and good life, during a book signing event in a coffee shop in Renton, Wash., June 2003. AP

Henry Hill saunters across Rockefeller Center, eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. He peers at the site of the famous skating rink, conjuring up an image of New York City past.

"Right there," he says wistfully. "My daughter used to skate there all the time."

Hill, the infamous mob informant portrayed by Ray Liotta in the classic film "Goodfellas," has many such scenes that endure almost solely in his memory.

He can summon the fabulous Copacabana, where Sammy Davis Jr. once sent him a bottle of champagne. He can revisit other old mob haunts: the Bamboo Lounge (burned out by an arsonist), Snoope's Bar (where John Gotti made his bones), Robert's Lounge (a dozen bodies buried beneath its bocce court).

All gone - but not forgotten.

Hill summons up much of his storied past in a new book, "A GoodFella's Guide to New York," a memoir-tourist guide-mob history. It's his second foray into publishing; last October, he released "The Wiseguy Cookbook."

Hill lives across the country now, in a quiet West Coast town of a few hundred people. He's no longer No. 1 on the mob retribution list - most of his contemporaries are dead or in jail, and the number of Mafia informants is now immense. Still, the Brooklyn native remains disinclined to stay too long in his hometown.

"I miss it," Hill says over coffee and a bagel - a New York bagel - one recent Manhattan morning. "Greatest city in the world."

Hill, his gray hair slicked back, wears a beige sweater and a smile that spreads slowly across his wrinkled, 60-year-old mug.

"But you know what?" he says, starting to laugh. "I'd rather breathe."

It's been 24 years since Hill, an associate of the Luchese crime family, opted for the Witness Protection Program over life outside the law. He became a devastating witness, and the best-known informant since Joe Valachi first broke the mob's vow of omerta back in the '60s.

Hill's criminal exploits, detailed in the best-selling book "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi, were later turned into Martin Scorsese's 1990 film "GoodFellas."

In his guide, Hill reveals that Scorsese never let him meet with Liotta, his on-screen alter ego. "He didn't want me to influence him whatsoever," writes Hill.

Robert De Niro, in contrast, endlessly quizzed Hill for insights into the character based on Jimmy "The Gent" Burke.

Hill and co-author Bryon Schreckengost provide a tour of the city as filtered through the mobster's memories. "I'm about to show you a New York you've never seen," Hill says in the introduction. "My New York."

This is, of course, a New York that disappeared years ago, much as Hill vanished from the city after turning government witness in 1979.

Before that, Hill was a serious gangster. He was involved in two major criminal endeavors: the 1978 Lufthansa heist that netted $5.8 million, and the Boston College point-shaving scandal a year later. And he dabbled in crimes from hijacking to extortion to drug dealing.

In the book, Hill offers his take on everything from hotels to mob hits, from great restaurants to really bad guys.

On the celebrity-owned restaurant Man Ray: "It would be a great place to rob."

On Madison Square Garden: "We've run more bets at games that happened here than any other facility in the country."

According to Schreckengost, attorneys for publisher Random House nixed some of Henry's suggestions for the book. "They didn't want to reopen any old cases," he said.

Hill is not so leery of mob retaliation that he's dodging publicity. He did appearances at two West Coast book fairs, and VH-1 did a recent "Where Are They Now?" piece on Hill.

When he went for a walk on this trip to New York, Hill was recognized by three young men - and he enjoyed the attention.

"I'm a (expletive) icon!" Hill says, laughing. "Get out of here!"


By Larry McShane
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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