When we think of Newport today, we naturally think of the trendy and thriving spot by the Ohio River: the aquarium, an IMAX theater, various restaurants, bars and a crowd-pleasing atmosphere for your Friday night. 

Now say we rewind to the 1960s. Only two words would unquestionably come to mind: Sin City. Drinking, prostitution, guns and gambling—the attractive spot that we know now was once occupied by money, mafia and gangsters. 

The Glenn Schmidt Playtorium was a hot spot in this era, and owner Pete Schmidt had many ties to the mafia. He ran his building as a bar, casino and bowling alley before closing down.

About 20 years ago, it was renovated into the Newport Syndicate, a unique event venue located on 18 E. Fifth St. in Newport. Current managing partner Sharon Forton has run the venue for 20 years. Still, from the outside looking in, you can sense the history of the building. 

The Newport Syndicate has two sides to the venue: the banquet side and the dueling piano bar, Gangsters. The banquet side includes the Grand Ballroom, which is the largest in the area making it ideal for wedding receptions. “The volume and size that we can do is what makes this ballroom so unique, as well as the antique bar located right next to the dance floor,” Forton explains. 

The venue features the extravagancy of the ‘60s with dangling chandeliers, antique oak bars and one of the largest dance floors in the area. 

“I think the biggest surprise for people is the food, because we are the caterer,” Forton says, “Everything is made in house.”

However the real gem here is the Gangsters Piano Bar, a restaurant and bar with a dueling piano at center stage. “It’s a really playful, silly place to come and just unwind,” Forton says. 

Gangsters is fully decorated with black-and-white photos of Hollywood stars varying from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe and the cool atmosphere takes guests back into time for a whole new experience. The bar made its debut in 2010 and is now open Friday through Saturday. Live entertainment from the pianists start at 8:30 p.m. and they take song requests ranging from current pop songs to country to rock ‘n’ roll. 

If you can’t make a Friday night, consider attending one of the events held at the Newport Syndicate or hosting your own. Every year they put on the largest New Year’s Eve party in the city, hosting around 800 people for dinner and 400 more for the party. 

“Every year I try to make it better,” Forton says. The event sells out every year to people from all over. According to Forton, “it’s like going to Vegas.” 

The Newport Syndicate has remodeled what the building once stood for, but not without keeping a bit of its roots. Whatever the occasion, look into taking a visit to Gangsters or booking an event with the Newport Syndicate for a taste of the new Sin City.