Exclusive first look: The new Gaetano's reopens on Saturday
For the past several weeks, whenever I've driven down 38th Avenue, passing my beloved Gaetano's on my way to somewhere else, I've experienced that pit in my stomach, the pit that comes with the fear of the unknown -- the dread that something you've come to know so well won't ever be the same.
It's that sappy thing called nostalgia, and when BW Holdings (Wynkoop/Breckenridge), the entrepreneurial group that owns Gaetano's (and several more iconic Denver restaurants and watering holes), announced in early July that Gaetano's -- the Gaetano's that I grew up in -- would be undergoing a demolition, my heart sank. And mine wasn't the only one. Many of our Cafe Society commenters cried out in anguished unison, pleading with the owners to, at the very least, "keep that old Italian charm that kept people going back for all of these years."
Did they listen?
When I walked inside the doors of Gaetano's earlier this week, hesitating on the sidewalk before pulling the handle, I was determined to smile through the shock and disappointment; I was prepared for the worst.
Instead, I gazed at the new decor and nearly wept -- and not because I was disheartened but because much to my amazement, it impossibly mimicked everything I'd come to love about Gaetano's...only it was -- dare I say it? -- stunningly better.
That "old Italian charm" was evident everywhere I looked, on the walls muraled with life-size black-and-white photos of personalities who, in one way or another, were involved with the Smaldone family back in their heyday; in the crescent-shaped, tufted, burgundy channel-back booths and club chairs that, while new, definitely mirror the old days; and at the bar, where I've spent countless nights with the people I love, drinking classic cocktails and plowing through plates of spaghetti. The bar, thank the Madonna, has been pristinely preserved, the rosewood top, stained glass and ebony-and-chrome stools, proof that the People in Charge are saints, rather than sinners.
Speaking of which, the bathrooms are bedecked with "confessional" stalls, and the floor-to-ceiling painting of the "woman in paradise," which graced the wall in the then-separate private room, now poses squarely between the two bathrooms -- and she still looks as ravishing now as she did four decades ago. Preservation endures.
"I'm not going to lie: Gaetano's was tired," says Lisa Ruskaup, VP of operations, "and we felt like we could be doing a better job for the community if we gave it a little lift." There are a lot of North Denver Italian families, she adds, "who are either getting old, retiring or losing their jobs, and we wanted to give them a neighborhood place to get together -- we wanted to show them that we believe in this neighborhood, and that meant putting some love into a building that, quite frankly, was eroding."