Book Review: "Peppermint Lounge: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the '60s

Book Review: “Peppermint Lounge: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the ‘60s”
Authors: John Johnson, Jr. and Joel Selvin
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
All Access Review: A-
Peppermint Lounge - 2012
The mob had its hooks into the Peppermint Lounge and Johnny Biello. A high-ranking Mafioso, Biello was a silent – deathly silent – part-owner of the hottest nightclub in New York City in the early 1960s, thanks to a dance craze called “The Twist.”  
At the height of the Peppermint Lounge’s popularity, there were nights when the police would cordon off the entire block in an attempt to manage the overflowing crowds that descended upon what was once a small unassuming little joint where shady, backroom dealings and criminal enterprises were conducted with the utmost secrecy. It was Biello’s son-in-law, Dick Cami, who suggested the place start playing rock and roll, and business took off. Biello and his cronies wanted none of the attention.
The parallel universes of the thuggish, brutal world of the mob and star-studded, “Twist”-mad club-goers collide in the engrossing “Peppermint Lounge,” a book written by John Johnson, Jr. and Joel Selvin in collaboration with Cami for Thomas Dunne Books. Laced with danger and full of mob intrigue, “Peppermint Lounge” provides an insider’s look at mafia life, with a cast of colorful, if violent, characters running devious racketeering operations and committing daring robberies, bloody hits and failed executions, bruising beatings and treacherous acts – all of which Biello unsuccessfully sought to leave behind in attempting to become a respected businessman.
Blissfully ignorant of the criminal underworld operating behind the scenes, the glamorous denizens of New York City’s Peppermint Lounge – another was established in Miami Beach – danced and partied into wee hours, as “The Twist” swept across the nation. The place was hopping, and Cami recounts how celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Shirley MacLaine mingled with sweaty youth and nubile, rail-dancing wait staff in writhing nightly orgies of twisting to house band Joey Dee and the Starlighters and Chubby Checker. Along with detailing historic Peppermint Lounge visits by the likes of Muhammed Ali, John Wayne, Tennessee Williams, and The Beatles – a whole chapter is devoted to the Fab Four and how Ringo Starr, unbeknownst to him, almost found himself in scalding hot water – Selvin and Johnson deftly chronicle the rise and fall of The Twist with heady writing, compellingly arguing for its importance as a force for cultural, sexual and societal change while gleefully delving into all the silly marketing schemes it birthed.
Well-paced, often funny and occasionally heartbreaking, “Peppermint Lounge” seamlessly shuffles between the disparate worlds of the mafia – with Frank Sinatra caught in its orbit – and the glitzy Peppermint Lounge in a confident, conversational manner, using a wealth of anecdotes and insight from the likeable Cami, and others, as a means of pulling back the curtain. Not just a dance club, the Peppermint Lounge holds a special place in rock and roll history, as it helped propel The Twist into the national consciousness, while also helping to launch the careers of such greats as Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, whose story gets special attention in the book. Selvin, Johnson and Cami have admirably preserved legacy of the place.
- Peter Lindblad

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read this new account of the wild and twistin' goings-on at the mobbed-up Peppermint Loungue, written by a couple of reliable, veteran reporters. It looks like a great companion to my 1992 book "The Twist" (