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Red alert: Denver's old-school Italian joints are disappearing

If you're a relative newcomer -- i.e., not someone with a "Native" sticker on the bumper -- you might be surprised to hear that Highland wasn't always a synonym for "hot, new restaurant." Back in the day, the area once known as Little Italy was full of family-owned restaurants dishing up spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala and spumoni to northwest Denver's Italian population -- and anyone else with a car and an appetite.

See also:

- Photos: Last supper at Pagliacci's

- Longo's Subway Tavern reaches the end of the line

- Lechuga's in northwest Denver is famous for its canolis

- Patsy's Italian Restaurant has a rich, colorful, unbeatable history

Then in August, Pagliacci's Italian Restaurant closed after almost seventy years, breaking the hearts of generations of diners who'd swooned over its seven-layer lasagna and other traditional fare. Barely a month later, mourning continued as Longo's Subway Tavern, purported to be the first place in Colorado to serve pizza, shuttered after more than a half-century.

Now, it seems, Denver's original red-sauce institutions can be counted on one hand. There's Patsy's Italian Restaurant, which opened in 1921 and is now owned by a relative of the founder; Carl's Pizza; Lechuga's Italian Restaurant, home of the famous meat canoli; and Carbone's Italian Sausage Deli, which is part-market, part-sandwich shop. Outside city limits, there's Dino's Italian Food in Lakewood and Romano's Italian Restaurant in Littleton.

And then there's Gaetano's. After closing for renovations this summer, the 65-year-old restaurant -- once owned by one of Denver's old crime families, the Smaldones, now owned by another family altogether, BW Holdings, a joint venture of the Wynkoop group and Breckenridge Brewery -- reopened this fall with a new vibe and a new menu.

Is a meal at Gaetano's still an offer you can't refuse? Find out tomorrow when this week's review is posted here. And in the meantime, if you know of other old-school Italian joints around town, let us know in the comments section below.