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House-made tortellini is one of many classic Italian dishes on the menu at Gaetano’s. Photo courtesy of Nam Phan

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Gaetano’s

The iconic, onetime mob restaurant turns 70—and you can party there all weekend.

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The legend of Gaetano’s looms large in the Sunnyside neighborhood. Clyde Smaldone, of the infamous mob family, started the Italian restaurant in 1947, where it was home base for good food—and illicit gambling and poker games (read more about that here and below). Today, the eatery’s criminal history is just that—history. Ron Robinson took over as owner in 2013, and has worked to both embrace the venue’s colorful past and modernize it for the area’s growing population.

In honor of Gaetano’s 70th birthday (read more about the celebration below), Robinson is sharing five things you might not know about his notorious restaurant.

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Gaetano's Ron Robinson
Gaetano’s owner Ron Robinson

1: Those Poker Games Brought In Big Names

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. both played in high-stakes card games at the eatery, sometimes in the basement, sometimes on the upper level. Today, the subterranean, low-ceilinged rooms serve as Robinson’s liquor storage, prep room, and an office.

2: The Restaurant Is Haunted

Robinson had some mediums check out the basement level a few months ago. They sensed an angry woman in what’s now the liquor storage and that someone was murdered on the couch in one of the offices. For his part, Robinson has seen a swizzle stick move on its own in a pint glass and says that late at night, he’ll sometimes hear clinking glasses or people laughing in what he calls the red room. “I know this room is haunted,” he says. “The medium went in there and she ran out of the room, [saying] something really bad happened in there.”

3: Gaetano’s Connection to Al Capone

“In the ’40s and ’50s when the Smaldones were there, they were buying their whiskey from somebody up in Canada,” Robinson says. “Then they found out this guy in Chicago was selling whiskey cheaper—come to find out it was Capone. I was told Capone frequented the restaurant at one time.”

4: You Can Sign Up for a Mob Tour

Learn more about Gaetano’s—and the city’s—history with the mob on a Denver Mob Tour. The bus ride takes you to the restaurants, homes, and hot spots frequented by Denver’s most notorious gangsters, including Gaetano’s haunted basement. You’ll enjoy lunch in the ghost-free dining room afterward.

5: The Restaurant Is Getting Its First Big Menu Overhaul In Years

Executive chef Kevin Savoy was hired about a year ago, and he’s making his presence known. The new menu additions stay true to Gaetano’s roots with dishes such as house-made lemon-dill-ricotta tortellini, a charcuterie board, flatbreads (taking the place of pizza on the evening menu), Italian cobb salad, and crispy chicken. Longtime customers will be happy to know the from-scratch pastas they love—including the number-one selling lasagna—are staying put. “The neighborhood is growing now…so we’re trying to create the old and the new,” Robinson says. “We just want to keep it going. I hope we go another 70.”


Join The Festivities

Gaetano’s is celebrating with an all-out birthday party weekend. Help ring in the big 7-0 at two events this weekend: Friday, November 10, is Mob Night, featuring a live band, throwback cocktails, and an appearance by the Clocktower Clockettes burlesque troupe; mobster and vintage outfits are encouraged (there will be prizes for best male and female costumes). Saturday, November 11, features a mobster brunch and Bloody Mary bar (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and an evening gala (starts around 6 p.m.), during which the birthday cake will be cut and shared.

Daliah Singer, 5280 Contributor

Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.

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