If you spilled tears at the news that Gaetano's, one of Denver's only remaining red sauce joints, was temporarily shuttered for an extensive facelift (and a new menu to boot that's definitely not old-school Italian), grab a bucket and a box of Kleenex, because after 66 years of serving spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and minestrone soup delivered to tables in steaming saucepans, Pagliacci's, Denver's oldest single-family-owned Italian restaurant, will close on Sunday, August 19.
See also: - Slide show: Last supper at Pagliacci's
"It's been an awesome experience," says Mark Langston, whose great-aunt Thelma and her first husband, Frank, opened the restaurant in 1946, converting the former house -- and, at one time, Vito's Cabaret -- into a convivial gathering place for north Denverites who came to feast on plates of spaghetti in garlic-kissed tomato sauce.
"It's just time to move on," says Langston, whose mother, Rose, bought Pagliacci's in 1977, giving the dim-lit dining room with its arches and Italian countryside murals, an uplift here and there. "There are no extenuating circumstances. We all just decided that it was a good move for the family," he explains, noting, too, that it's the only Italian restaurant in Denver that's operated under the original name and remained in the same family and in the original location since its inception.
The restaurant, which Langston says was named after Thelma and Frank's favorite opera, will be bulldozed to make way for apartments, which will undoubtedly make regulars, nostalgic types and red-sauce worshipers more bitter than stale garlic. "We have people who come in once a week, and I know it's not going to be easy telling them that we're closing, but I think we've given people a lot of great memories," he says, adding that he made the announcement today to the staff, one of whom wept.
And Langston admits that what he'll miss the most are the faces of those regulars, some of whom have been coming in for decades: "I'll really miss the relationships that I have with all of these people. I see kids coming in here before prom -- kids that I knew as babies. We've had a lot of people coming through these doors...it's like throwing a dinner party every night."
But while the Langstons are shuttering their iconic restaurant, they're not leaving the food business -- or selling the name. "While it's time to give this up, we're looking to develop a product line of our soup, sauces, salad dressing and lasagna," he tells me. "We're exploring that option right now and entertaining a company to produce our recipes under our label."
In the meantime, you've got just over a month to get your spaghetti and meatball fix, and there will be no goodbye celebration -- or commiseration. "There won't be a last hurrah," says Langston. But you can bet there will be plenty of tears.
"I know," laments Langston, sighing. "I starting rolling meatballs here when I was ten years old and now I'm running the place. I wouldn't have given it up for anything, but it's time for a new chapter."
And one less old-school Italian joint with Frank and Dean crooning in the background.