According to Moses King’s Handbook of New York City (1892), this spot was once the German Branch of the YMCA, “organized in 1881 for work among the East-Side Germans, by whom it is greatly appreciated.”
In 1910, a club owner named Gerson Schmidt opened up the Stuyvesant Casino at 140-142 2nd Avenue. The Stuyvesant was the perfect place for high rollers and hitmen could rub shoulders and, occasionally, kill each other, like the night Big Jack Zelig murdered Julie Morello on the dance floor in 1911. Big Jack Zelig was a rising star in a local gang when the gang’s leader, Kid Twist, was arrested, leaving a power vacuum at the top of the heap. Zelig quickly took over operations and appointed Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker as lieutenants. But when cops arrested Zelig himself for robbing a whorehouse in 1911, Sirocco and Tricker refused to pay his bail in an attempt to wrest control of the gang from Zelig. Zelig eventually paid his own way out, but he was on his guard when he learned that his lieutenants had sent Julie Morrello to assassinate him. On December 2, 1911, Morrello sat in Ike the Plug’s bar and bragged, “I’ll fill that big Yid so full of holes he’ll sink.” Word made it back to Zelig, who lured the drunk Morrello to a crowded party at the Stuyvesant Casino. Around one o’clock, the lights went out and four shots rang out. When the lights flickered on moments later, Morrello was found prostrate on the dance floor, riddled with bullets.
In the 1940s and 50s, the Casino became very popular with Dixieland jazz artists. For a mere $1.25, you could hear Sidney Bechet or Wild Bill Davison, or see the New York debut of Bunk Johnson. The Casino also contained the Ukrainian National Home, a community center that opened in 1958. Along with offering cultural and social services to the East Village’s Ukrainian population, the “Ukie Nat” also hosted a diverse array of artists in the 80s like Elvis Costello, New Order, and the Misfits.
The original Stuyvesant Casino building burned down in 1985, though the casino had been closed since 1977. The Ukrainian National Home’s newly-designed building is, well, kind of hideous, but it’s definitely worth taking a closer look for two reasons. First is the solid dive bar at 142 2nd Avenue, the Karpaty Club, also known as Lys Mykyta. (The name means “Sly Fox,” a reference to a Ukrainian fairy tale.) The second is the Ukrainian Home Restaurant, a hidden-but-not-really-hidden gem of 2nd Avenue. Head down the long antiseptic hallway lit by flickering fluorescents, and you’ll find a cozy wood-paneled cafe. Rustic artwork hangs from the wood paneling, and jangling balalaika music fills the restaurant – except for Mondays, when José and Tioma teach beginning and intermediate tango lessons. Though not as popular nor as noticeable as it’s next-door neighbor, Veselka, the Ukrainian Home Restaurant is almost as delicious and half as crowded. The halušky and stroganoff are particularly good.