Neighborhood Bars: Gennaro's Stays True on a Changing South Broadway

Gennaro's has a lounge side and a restaurant side, but most neighborhood regulars hang out in the lounge.
Gennaro's has a lounge side and a restaurant side, but most neighborhood regulars hang out in the lounge. Sarah McGill
On South Broadway around the Overland Park and Rosedale neighborhoods, things have been in flux lately, with new bars, restaurants and breweries like The Post Brewing Co., The Brutal Poodle and Morning Collective moving in. This part of town even saw the debut of a huge music festival, Grandoozy, in its back yard (aka Overland Golf Course) last month. But there are plenty of old-faithful drinking spots along this stretch, too, and Gennaro's Lounge, at 2598 South Broadway, is one of them.

Originally opened by the Gennaro family in 1951, the bar carries on the traditions of another Italian family, that of owner Tonya Tiscanni, whose family recipes are on the menu and who will celebrate her ten-year anniversary as the owner next April.

Home-style Italian food is a highlight at Gennaro's, which has a restaurant side and a bar side, with two separate doors and a wall in between. I've been to Gennaro's quite a few times with various friends who live, work or otherwise hang out in the area, and there never seems to be a whole lot going on in the restaurant side; the lounge is generally where all the action happens.

On my last trip in on a Sunday afternoon, this observation held true. The bar side was pleasantly full, with a group of older gentlemen drinking beers along the central bar and a few younger folks having drinks and food at a bar table. I was meeting a friend who's also a regular (as are her brothers); when I arrived, she was already amiably chatting with the bartender, Christine, who asked after my friend's brothers — "the boys," as she called them. It's the sort of place where it seems completely natural that an employee would ask a regular how their family's doing.

We arrived during two-for-one happy hour, called "happy seven" because it lasts seven hours every day, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Gennaro's uses tokens to keep track of your two-for-one house wines, domestic beers and well drinks, something I love because it's a rarity, but a clear sign of a good neighborhood bar. I cashed in a couple of chips left over from a previous visit for some mixed drinks, and my friend went the beer route.

click to enlarge Happy hour comes complete with two-for-one drink tokens. - SARAH MCGILL
Happy hour comes complete with two-for-one drink tokens.
Sarah McGill
I was just hungry enough that one of Gennaro's generous Italian salads, layered with pepperoni, cheese and olives, felt like a better option than a massive calzone or sandwich. At times when I've been hungrier, I've enjoyed the pasta dishes and sandwiches, especially the eggplant parmesan, and my friend is a fan of the baked ziti. Other regulars swear by the pizza, though I've never tried it.
click to enlarge Bar rules: Make sure your healthy vegetables are accompanied by plenty of dressing, cheese, meat and booze. - SARAH MCGILL
Bar rules: Make sure your healthy vegetables are accompanied by plenty of dressing, cheese, meat and booze.
Sarah McGill
Christine told us that Gennaro's once hosted drag queens and jazz musicians for entertainment, but these days aren't quite so colorful. Tuesday nights are open-stage nights, and bands are booked on weekends, including on Sundays during Texas Hold ’Em poker games. The bar throws an anniversary party each year, and at 67, it's one of Denver's longest-running annual celebrations of its kind. Gennaro's is also a sponsor of the Colorado Wounded Vet Run and holds a yearly golf tournament to raise money for the organization.

On any given day, you'll find young neighborhood newcomers, old-timers who have been coming for decades, and others, like us, who fall somewhere in the middle. It's a space that invites conversation, with a central rectangular bar surrounded by plenty of bar stools for customers to gather ’round, and a few booths along the walls for good measure. A red, white and black color scheme helps maintain an atmosphere somewhere between vintage Italian restaurant, diner and late-night lounge, with decorations related to music, beer and Italian food that might be as old as the building itself or just designed to look that way. Murals on the outside, one of the Rat Pack and another of a woman sitting in a martini glass, continue the ’50s theme. And, of course, the neon "Gennaro's Lounge" sign is original, put in place by the Gennaro family.

The sign, the lounge and the restaurant have been well taken care of over the years, even as new decor and furnishings have been added in an attempt to keep up with the times. But it's clear that this place isn't trying to be anything it's not: just straightforward drinks, a menu of classic Italian-American food (without too many actual Italian words, unlike those at fancier counterparts) and a friendly staff — all of which are comforting in a neighborhood where, as in much of Denver, change seems to be coming a little too quickly. 
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Sarah McGill is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship, and it seems like this one might be for real.