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Augie's Secrets

Augie's Secrets

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The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip

Author Neal Karlen

Minnesota Historical Society Press (February 1, 2014)

A treasury of family secrets exposes the seamy underbelly of Minneapolis—gangsters, gambling, brothels, and the social life of organized crime.


There’s an old Yiddish saying: two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. But two living people could keep a secret—as long as one of them was Augie.

Augie Ratner, the proprietor of Augie’s Theater Lounge & Bar on Hennepin Avenue, was the unofficial mayor of Minneapolis’s downtown strip in the 1940s and ’50s. In a few blocks between the swanky clubs and restaurants on Eighth Street and the sleazy flophouses and bars of the Gateway District, the city’s shakers-and-movers and shake-down artists mingled. Gangsters and celebrities, comedians and politicians, the rich and the famous and the infamous—all of them met at Augie’s: Jimmy Hoffa, Henny Youngman, Kid Cann, John Dillinger, Jack Dempsey, Peggy Lee, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, and Gypsy Rose Lee. Augie Ratner knew everyone, and everyone knew and liked Augie, and they told him everything.

Mixing careful research with long suppressed family and community stories, Neal Karlen, Augie’s cousin’s grandson, who always considered him a great-uncle, tells the real story of the seamy underside of Minneapolis, where Jewish mobsters controlled the liquor trade, invented the point spread in sports betting, and ran national sports gambling operations. Even after Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey supposedly cleaned up the town, organized crime quietly flourished. And Augie was at the center, observing it all.

Author information

Neal Karlen, who has written for the New York Times, Newsweek, and Rolling Stone, is the author or co-author of six books including Slouching Toward Fargo.

Reviews and news

Oy, gevalt! Brimming with street smarts, Yiddish wisdom, and the hidden history of legendary 1940s celebrities and nefarious ganefs from mobster Kid Cann to gambling kingpin Davey ‘the Jew’ Berman, Augie’s Secrets is a singular achievement with great heart and thrumming energy. If Damon Runyon had been Jewish, he would have written like Neal Karlen. Augie’s Secrets is filled with stunning, stylish prose that captures the flavor of the Jewish underworld of downtown Minneapolis down to its last rubout and pastrami sandwich.”
Paul Maccabee, author of John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920–1936

“Karlen offers a colorful and impressively researched account of the Minneapolis underworld and his fascinating relative that feels right out of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls.”
Star Tribune

“Deliciously snappy.”
American Jewish World

“Karlen brings back the days when Peggy Lee walked into Augie’s straight off the bus from North Dakota, when mid-century celebrities like Frank Sinatra visited Hennepin Avenue, and when the most powerful crime lords in the land checked their guns at the door when they visited Augie’s.”

More Media:

MplsStPaul Magazine
The Journal
TC Jewfolk
Minnesota Daily
Minnesota Monthly
Hazel & Wren
KUMD interview

Book Excerpt

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 224 pages
  • 20 b&w photos
  • 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519328

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