Demolition begins on the iconic Gaetano's

demogaetanos.jpg
Chris Cina
Gaetano's, the northwest Denver Italian restaurant opened by the Smaldones in 1947, is getting a major facelift.
I grew up on the far west side of town, a culinary black hole -- at least in the '70s and '80s -- that forced me and my family to drive what I believed were impossibly long distances to dinner. We went out to eat -- a lot -- and from as far back as I can remember, we graced Gaetano's at least once a week. We loved the classic margherita pizza (even when the tomatoes were wan) and the brothel-red color scheme, my mom was enamored by the whole mystique of the Mafia, and my stepfather, who has the bushiest eyebrows on the planet, a pronounced nose and a New York accent, seemed to think that he was Mafia; he certainly tried to play the stereotypical part, never leaving the house without a "Godfather" hat, a long black trench coat and a cigar.

Gaetano's has a long history, beginning in 1947, when Eugene, Clyde and Clarence Smaldone opened the Italian restaurant -- the name is Italian for Clyde - and began slinging pizzas and pastas slicked with red sauce, but the brothers were conducting "family business," as well, and after decades of gambling, bootlegging booze, loan sharking, tax evasion and other gangster crimes, they were convicted.

But Gaetano's prevailed, continuing its tradition of serving red sauce American-Italian food, and little changed, except for the clientele. In 2005, it was purchased by Wynkoop Holdings, the same company (which has since merged with Breckenridge Brewery) that owns Wynkoop Brewing, Ghost Plate & Tap, Wazee Supper Club, Cherry Cricket, the former Pearl Street Grill, and more.

And up until a few months ago, Gaetano's had ambled along, staying true to its roots, but when chef Chris Cina was hired by BW Holdings (Wynkoop/Breckenridge) several months ago to spearhead the kitchen at Ghost Plate & Tap (he's now overseeing the kitchen at the Wynkoop Brewery), he also turned his focus to modernizing the menu at Gaetano's, a move that would coincide with another change at Gaetano's: a major interior overhaul.

The makeover was meant to start next week, but a pipe burst at the restaurant last Friday night, and rather than fixing the pipe, reopening for a few days only to close a few days later, the clan figured that the plumbing issue was as good a reason as any to start the demolition process sooner rather than later. "We're getting ready to start construction. We have the plans and we've got everything laid out, but we're waiting on permits," says Cina, who estimates that Gaetano's will be closed for a minimum of six weeks.

Location Info

Gaetano's Restaurant

3760 Tejon St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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23 comments
TommyT
TommyT

Correct me if Im wrong but this is the third establishment that Westword has written about Matty Durgin being employed at in the last five months.  Adrift, Z Cuisine and now Gaetano's.  Remind me why i should be excited about someone who clearly cant hold down a job?

Duncan Poop
Duncan Poop

matty is a hack he has about as much personality as a tiki drink umbrella. it is awesome when he comes into a new restaurant dazzles the owners with promises and then scares away the patrons with his limp demeanor, and his cocktails suck. it is about time someone saw through his mixologist bullshit and called him out and the only thing i would call to him was a shot and a beer and sure he can put an umbrella in it!

Brian Hoffmeyer
Brian Hoffmeyer

Chris - one request for the menu: Italian classics like carbonara, puttanesca, amatrciana! Denver doesn't have a place that serves those (especially at a reasonable price AND with quality)!

foode
foode

 And i reiterate my previous comment - CHANGE the name.  Your place isn't Gaetano's in any way, shape, or form.  Your place will no longer evoke the history of the place.  Those that will come to the new place will do so with a different name.  For the rest of us, it will only be a depressing reminder.

BadSauce
BadSauce

Yes, it is.  You should try it, in all aspects of your life. When you're done with it, it won't be Gaetano's so why trade on the name?  Won't the food be good enough to get people in the door?

Bombdotcom2012
Bombdotcom2012

FINE: Do the remodel PLEASE...keep that old Italian charm that kept people going back for all of these years.Some of us actually appreciate red vinyl and bad art on the walls. If they manage to "update" the place, without making it look like every other mediocre Italian joint, then maybe they will achieve a nice result. I wish BW luck with the project. Hope it doesn't bite ya in the arse

Jake Browne
Jake Browne

I remember when the new construction project was going to be installing vents to pipe up the smell of the red sauce to the dining room and street. Clearly, it's the locals that are the problem. Passing judgement on the new space isn't fair yet, but neither is blaming the customer base that didn't want to visit, as you put it, a "dump." Fact is, as much as you ignored it in your post, the menu has been 10-15 plates too big for years, not to mention the noticeable decrease in quality. None of that is our fault. Your ownership group has never understood Gaetano's and simply let it run into the ground until a Highland's style remodel was inevitable. Sure, the space wasn't perfect, but it was also salvageable. New tables, booths, banquettes? What a waste. It sounds like you took a bat to a problem that could have used a little Gorilla Glue. 

Nmrosi
Nmrosi

I'll give it a chance.  Will it have better Italian food than was being served?  will it be the basics that so many of us went there to eat?  I hope there will be a place for this kind of food there.  New interior and better Italian food would be a draw for me.  I did like the old feel but sure understand that it needs to stay in the black to keep on being a restaurant that can pay it's staff!  Good luck and I hope it goes well. 

Christopher Cina
Christopher Cina

The bullet proof door has been gone for some time.  A car crashed through the entrance of Gaetano's back in 2006, took out that door completely.  The interior door (not bulletproof) was moved to become the main door.

Christopher Cina
Christopher Cina

Let me set the record straight... this has nothing to do with becoming the next Squeaky Bean, this has nothing to do with my ego, hard as that may be to believe.   It has everything to do with trying to breathe new life into a failing business.  Perhaps I shouldn't be airing company business, especially in a forum such as this, but the truth of the matter is Gaetano's is a dump.  Sure it has charm, sure it has history, it also has bathrooms that won't accommodate a wheelchair, it has severe plumbing issues and, most importantly, it doesn't generate enough revenue to support itself and hasn't for a long time. Everyone can crow about how much the history of Gaetano's means to them yet they haven't patronized us enough over the last 8 years to keep us out of the red.  There are many more options in North Denver/LoHi, some you may like, some you may not, but it's a thinning customer base.  To continue on the path we were on is pure and simply bad business.  How many of the commenters on this board would willingly throw money away for 8 years without expecting some type of return on your investment, regardless of your means.  I bet not one. So I would ask, respectfully, that before you decide to pass judgement on our intentions with regards to Gaetano's, please understand we are not trying to give it a corporate feel, quitethe contrary, we're not trying to ignore the history of Gaetano's, we're trying to save a business that employs 25 or so Denver residents at great expense to the company. Will it be the same old Gaetano's? No, but we are trying to do the best we can to preserve what Gaetano's is as well as giving Gaetano's and it's staff an opportunity at a future.  @d8a623f8de552ea5f18b28eae27c46bb:disqus  Anonymity is comfortable, isn't it?

sarcasmplease
sarcasmplease

 Lori, I forgot to ask; what is happening with the bullet proof front door?

BadSauce
BadSauce

Cina's in charge of the new menu?  Save alot of time and money.  Just slap an Olive Garden sign over the door, and call it a day.

IsWhatitIs
IsWhatitIs

He'll shut up when you get it right. Looks like he'll be around forever.

Steveo65
Steveo65

Hopefully they find a secret vault so John Ferrugia can do a live special. "The Mystery of Clyde Smaldone's Vault".

Dancinella
Dancinella

Yay Matty!  Boo for the remodel.  I love the feel of this place; not everything has to be shiny and new. 

Jon S
Jon S

I think this change might be a step too far. The old menu definitely needed editing, but I'm not so sure a complete overhaul of concept is a good idea. The dark, dank black and reds along with the sense of history were the biggest draw to this place. The old-school Italian-American red sauce joints are slowly dying out in Northwest Denver. Gaetano's might not have had the best food of them, but it had a lot of solid offerings and the best atmosphere. I'll definitely give Gaetano's a shot when it re-opens. But I fear it may just end up as another dime-a-dozen casual Italian restaurant.

Linz
Linz

This breaks my heart.

Manfrenjensen
Manfrenjensen

It will be interesting to see what they find in the walls, or heaven forbid if they dig into the floors!

No one of consequence
No one of consequence

Don't let the haters get you down Dave. We all know how much work and effort it takes to be a pedant of such extraordinary magnitude.  You keep doing your thing.  I for one am especially glad for the way your witty one liners always lead to additional discussion and wonderful revelations.

Christopher Cina
Christopher Cina

 Try it? Why?  I have nothing to hide. Yes, the food will be good.  Regarding the name or renaming of the restaurant, that doesn't fall under my job description.

foode
foode

 Maybe if you had the food like the OLD Gaetano's (not the way it was in the last 10 years or so before you bought it) people would have patronized. Yeah, you kept the decor, but the food was not really much of an improvement over the crap being served the last few years of the old ownership. Anyone who could replicate the old stuffed crust pizza, meatball/sausage sandwiches, and fat homemade spaghetti would get my business nearly everyday.

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