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Gaetano’s has a very colorful past. The Smaldone family founded the Italian-American restaurant in 1947, serving homemade pasta and meatballs doused in red sauce in the dining room while book-making and other less savory operations went on behind closed doors – which explained the bulletproof glass in the front of the joint. Ultimately, the family discontinued that portion of their operations, then sold Gaetano’s altogether to the Wynkoop Group, which, nearly a decade later and now partnered with Breckenridge Brewery, undertook a major renovation, knocking down walls and revamping the menu. When the changes were unveiled in the summer of 2012, they came as a shock to generations of north Denverites – but the new interior was actually a pleasant surprise, with big windows (not bulletproof) and comfortable booths by the bar. The menu updates were less successful. When in doubt, go with dishes flavored by the old-school Gaetano’s, including meatballs (offered both as an app and a side), lasagna and gnocchi. And for an offer that you – and the kitchen – really can’t refuse? Ask for the on-request-only pasta topped with sausage, green peppers and a very traditional red sauce.
Originally opened a few blocks away on 36th Ave, Ralph and Mamie Smaldone raised their growing family during tough times in the “wild, wild west” in the early 1930’s. To boost business in the café, the entrepreneurial couple bootlegged moonshine during prohibition while their three sons, who would grow into Denver’s charismatic mobsters, were in and out of jail for any number of minor offenses. In the late 1940’s, sales were down in the café, so Clyde vowed to help his parents upon his latest release from jail. In 1947, Clyde moved the café to the present day location at 3760 Tejon and renamed it, Gaetano’s, Italian nickname for Clyde.