Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club
Ah, The Mafia
. Known for their subtlety and planning, they can orchestrate murder, drug dealing, prostitution, and the sale of illicit tomato sauce
without anyone finding out. But their fronts lack the same subtlety, as can clearly be seen on the massive sign above their hideout that says "Legitimate Casino! Not Mafia-owned!
" Expect a great deal of Doublespeak
Sometimes non-Mafia criminal organizations also employ this trope.
The Trope Namer
is Fat Tony and the Springfield Mafia's lair on The Simpsons
, itself a reference to Al Capone
's famous claim of being just "a legitimate businessman". Compare Most Definitely Not a Villain
. Contrast Covert Group with Mundane Front
. Not to be confused with the Smoky Gentlemen's Club
, although it may look
like one, especially if it's the personal hangout of The Don
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Anime and Manga
- Baccano!: The Martillo Family run a speakeasy in Prohibition-era New York City, with a shop selling honey as a front.
- Black Lagoon: The Church of Violence is a supposedly Christian church that sells weapons, despite that the church doesn't seem to do anything even remotely religious. Other organizations in Roanpur are a bit more legitimate.
- Sin City mobsters usually tend to hide in plain sight. They pretend to be country clubs, legit casinos, and even the church but they are usually fronts for criminal organizations. Most people know this, though. They just choose to ignore it.
- The Kingpin's organization from Marvel Comics used to pose as a normal spice business before being eventually exposed.
- In the Batman comics, The Penguin runs the Iceberg Lounge, a seemingly innocent nightclub, but with areas hidden from the public to deal with things of a more illegal nature. Batman is aware of this and sometimes hangs around the club in disguise to keep tabs on The Penguin's activities.
- In The Godfather films, Vito Corleone poses as an "Olive Oil Importer", and occasional references are made to "the Olive Oil business" when characters do not want to refer to what actually goes on. (Subverted in that he actually does have a legitimate business that imports olive oil; it just isn't where most of his money comes from.)
- Some Like It Hot: The climax involves the Friends of Italian Opera.
- Nino's Pizza in Drive. Doubly so because as Nino's introductory scene points out, he's actually Jewish, and aspires to be held in higher esteem by the Italian Mafia.
- In Mississippi Burning, a savvy, Southern-born FBI agent discovers a hangout where some local men are drinking beer. When he orders one, the crooked sheriff's deputy tells him, "You have to be a member to drink here." The FBI agent asks, "A member o' what?" The deputy replies, "The social club," but it's obvious to everyone (including the audience) that he really means the Ku Klux Klan.
- In the original Scarface, Castillo is president of the "First Ward Social Club". After Camonte kills him and Lovo takes over, it becomes the First Ward Athletic Club.
- The Serial Murders by Kim Newman: Lampshaded — psychic investigator Richard Jeperson is introduced to some very obvious Legitimate Businessmen by the villain, who is auctioning his supernatural powers to be used for assassination. Upon being introduced to them, Jeperson guesses that they're 'olive oil salesmen', in reference to The Godfather example above. They appreciate the joke, but the villain — who is both rather uncultured and a bit of an idiot — is lost.
- Impro Fanfic Do Gooders had the "Tokyo Legitimate Businessmen's Club" — probably in tribute to The Simpsons. To their credit, neither the heroes nor the main villain realized their actual purpose until the shoot-out started. Then again, everyone else knows what they really do...
- According to The Discworld Companion, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch first became suspicious that Chalky the Troll was a drugs smuggler for the Breccia when he registered the company name "Hollow Statue Imports".
- Intelligence (2006): The protagonist has many front companies, including a shipyard and a lumber business, but his favorite is a strip club called the Chick-A-Dee.
- Although they're a motorcycle gang rather than the Italian mob, SAMCRO in Sons of Anarchy uses this trope in the exact same fashion. Everybody knows what they do for a living, but whenever they're accused of being a biker gang by law enforcement officers, they'll assert that they're just a club of Harley enthusiasts. Most of the members are employees of the Teller & Morrow Autobody Shop which is a legitimate business attached to their club house. However, it is clear that it does not get much business (customers tend to be discouraged by too much gunfire) and cannot fund their lifestyle on its own.
- In Dharma and Greg, the parents once jointly bought a boat from a friend of Larry's who would soon be needing a lawyer more than a boat. The name of the boat? Innocent Fishing Boat.
- In the 1998 thriller Oktober the hero notes ironically that the thugs for the international drug corporation that's hunting him down belong to its "Ethics Division".
- Kingdom of Loathing has a Penguin Mafia. They run The Raffle House and Uncle P's Antiques, both which are "legitimate establishments".
- In City of Heroes, Mafia Expy "The Family" has a pizza chain. Billboards advertise "Made Fresh. By Made Men." Which is most likely a shout-out or homage to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash for his Cosa Nostra Pizza, Uncle Enzo and the world's most brutal 30-minutes or less delivery guarantee.
- The Hairy Ape: Subverted — Yank goes to a meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World, expecting it to be a front for an organization that achieves its goals by blowing things up. The people there assume that he is a government spy trying to entrap their genuinely legitimate organization when he approaches them, and kick him out.
- The Simpsons
- The Trope Namer is Fat Tony's hideout. They have a softball team and "family" picnics.
- In the episode where Fat Tony's son appeared, the front is "Waste Management".
- The Simpsons also has the Ancient Society of No-Homers, which meets at an old Baskin-Robbins with a marquee reading "Abandoned Store".
- Also, in "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", Moe's Tavern becomes a speakeasy when prohibition is declared in Springfield, and changes its name to "Moe's Pet Shop". The true purpose of the place is obvious, but fortunately for Moe, Rex Banner - the guy in charge of enforcing the law - is just as stupid as Wiggum. (Maybe even more so; unlike Wiggum, Rex can't be bribed, but he still can't solve crimes worth squat.)
- Bender was very disappointed to learn that the League of Robots is very legitimate and hasn't killed a human in centuries. (And that was a pretty sick Girl Scout.)
- The Robot Mafia, which is based in a meat store called "Fronty's Meat Market: Not a front since 2437". They also run "Small Bill's Laundering".
- A subversion also appears in "Bender Gets Made," in which it appears that the Robot Mafia really are members of a legitimate club:
Donbot: "Perhaps you'd care to join us later, at our... social club."
- Family Guy: The Mafia do their dealings in the "Pet Store. That's it, pet store." All of the "pets" are cardboard cut outs, and people regularly order "bunnies" in both 12 gauge and semiautomatic (the cops have it bugged).
"Whatever sort of 'bunny' you think would be best for shooting a guy in the head."
- Parodied/subverted/etc in one Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Bugs torments a couple of crooks, and finishes up by erecting a huge sign on the side of their hideout. The police find the two crooks in no time.
- Played with in The Fairly Oddparents: Fairy mobsters actually do manage waste. Big Daddy's (Wanda's father) company even has the slogan "A Legitimate Business!"
- The infamous Kray brothers of London ran several legitimate night clubs which let them mingle with celebrities. Some of the celebrities were prominent politicians who ran interference for the Krays for a number of years, until their criminal activities became so open and notorious that nobody could get away with defending them any more.
- Al Capone was officially an antiques dealer. He even owned an antique shop. However, most people, including the police and the press, knew what he really was, but could not arrest him for anything worse than tax evasion.
- For much of his career as a major player in Los Angeles organized crime, Mickey Cohen worked out of a men's clothing shop and referred to himself as a haberdasher.
- The Japanese Yakuza gangs stand in an interesting contrast to this trope: they are in no way secret societies, and openly maintain offices. Members may even have business cards. That being said, the Yakuza are known for referring to themselves as "ninkyō dantai", literally "chivalrous organizations."
- Dean O'Banion ran a floral shop in addition to his bootlegging operation. He was evidently a pretty good florist, and seemed to have as much of a passion for flowers as he did for crime. Admittedly, many of his customers were mobsters, but it wasn't a money laundering business. He was just good with flowers, and they knew him.
- Whenever a high-ranking Chicago mobster was killed, O'Banion's shop sold lots of flowers to the funeral home. He made a killing.
- Chinese-American (and -Canadian) gangs called "Tongs" literally translate to "social club". Some tongs have actually reformed and become actual civic-minded organizations.
- Former Gambino boss Paul Castellano had at one point launched a poultry business called "Dial Poultry" (based on Castellano's background as a meat butcher); which supplied poultry to several New York City grocery chains. While technically legitimate, Castellano would not hesitate to resort to various forms of intimidation to convince the "customers" to carry the poultry. Part of this was that Castellano fancied himself more of a "legitimate businessman"; and while some businesses he ran did technically become legitimate, the intimidation tactics and the Mob ties helped ensure their success.
- John Gotti maintained two of these establishments: the Ravenite and the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club.