IT STARTED, QUITE SIMPLY, LIKE THIS…
An Italian-culture institution, Gaetano’s was founded in 1947 by Denver’s legendary Smaldone mob family. Today Gaetano’s is a landmark establishment and one of the last throwback Italian eateries in town. Locally owned and operated by Ron Robinson (former longtime general manager of Denver’s famed Wynkoop Brewing Company), Gaetano’s specializes in exceptional made-from-scratch Italian cuisine built with locally sourced ingredients from premium purveyors. The Gaetano’s kitchen is helmed by executive chef Kevin Savoy (an acclaimed veteran of Denver’s culinary scene) and creates old-school classics and contemporary takes on Italian cooking.
The house fare is complemented by a top-shelf selection of wines, local beers, cocktails, desserts and more. Winner of three 2017 Westword Best of Denver awards – Best Italian Restaurant, Best Old-School Italian Restaurant, and Best Bloody Mary Bar. Gaetano’s delivers big thrills for those who feel amore for all things red, white and green. Now approaching its 70th year, Gaetano’s continues to pay homage to its deep roots while tastefully embracing new culinary touches for a changing neighborhood.
The Gaetano’s history is a rich one. In the 1930s the Highlands neighborhood was more wild west than trendy. Ralph and Mamie Smaldone opened their first café here in 1936. To boost business, the couple bootlegged moonshine during prohibition while their three sons — who would become charismatic mobsters — were in and out of jail for minor offenses. In the late 1940’s sales were down in the café, so son Clyde vowed to help his parents upon his latest release from jail. In 1947, Clyde moved the café to our present location at 3760 Tejon and renamed it Gaetano’s, an Italian nickname for Clyde.
With the move, prosperity was restored to the family business. The notoriety of the three brothers grew as the local press portrayed them as debonair mobsters running a successful (and undercover) gambling ring above the booming restaurant. Access to that second floor and its illicit activities was granted only to those invited upstairs through a hidden door in the men’s room. The Gaetano’s basement also welcomed its share of vice, including poker games that once included Frank Sinatra. Today our restroom walls are graced with the faces of the characters who ran with the Smaldones and their extended crime family
The history of the Smaldone family was artfully captured by longtime Denver Post columnist Dick Kreck in his book, Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family. It chronicles the early years of bootlegging, Denver’s coming of age and emergence into the classic cocktail era, and the evolution of a modern Mile High City. As the Smaldone family stepped out of the limelight and each brother was laid to rest, the Smaldone saga became the stuff of mobster legend.