It looks the part, in any case. Any Denver history buff would love to see the place again in its mid-century glory, after it was built more than sixty years ago by what was then Denver's most notorious crime family. But after dark, the new joint has a bit of speakeasy-style elegance to accompany its historic charm. The black-and-white portrait murals on the wall evoke nostalgia for days gone by. The menu is nostalgic as well, with plates of meatballs, layered lasagna, chicken Marsala and the rest of the Italian food pyramid in attendance.
On a late weekday night, a few friends and I popped in to sample Gaetano's happy hour goods after most kitchens were closing up shop ."The Shakedown" offers discounts on red and white wine, a buck off of something from the well-thought draft list, or a $6 vodka martini. After the first round, we had the kitchen (which closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays) working furiously to pump out some heavy appetizers. Both late-night and afternoon happy hours bring a fleet of small plates for $5 each. Well, not "small," exactly — these half-price dishes are plenty big, meaning the meatball sliders bring two clementine-sized meatballs between hearty bread, slathered in an addictively briny pesto. Fried ravioli was a surprise hit at the table — hot, stuffed with fresh ricotta and far from a frozen Olive Garden nightmare. And the "tasty treats" ($7, not on happy hour) are back from the past in all their Euro-Colorado splendor: Strips of green chiles with cheese and a finely spiced and finely ground sausage proved a winning combination when wrapped in pizza dough.
Everything we ordered was accompanied by a ramekin of the house red sauce, and if it ain't like granny Smaldone used to make it, it was still the ideal accompaniment to all this dough and cheese. Factor in that pesto, and Gaetano's sauce game is on point. The only thing it couldn't save was an order of slightly rubbery and certainly bland calamari rings, which were eventually comped by our honest and unflagging server.
Even without the years of history behind it, Gaetano's has got the goods, and churning out dependable food later at night is a good sign. Add in a bit of the old Denver charm and some good liquor, and Gaetano's is an offer you can't... well, you know.
Perfect for: The barflies that used to haunt this place regularly might have moved to divier lairs, but ask around or interrogate the waitstaff for some juicy stories. The place is a crowdpleaser, so you can bring the extended family and wow them with tales of Denver's underworld.
Don't miss: Gaetano's offers a special deal for folks in the food service industry just getting off shift — or steeling themselves to go on. After 10 p.m. every day, order a drink and ask for the industry special and you'll get a Italian sandwich on the house. Consider it your new shift meal.