After Almost 50 Years, Gino’s Café Says Goodbye
By Jon Minners
You’ve heard of Al Pacino, Chazz Palminteri, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, Tony Randall, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, The Sopranos’ own Dominic Chianese, John Cusack and even funnyman Jackie Mason, right? Well, one thing they all have in common is their love for the great food at my hometown restaurant; Gino’s Café.
You never knew when any one of those stars would step in and out of the famed eatery and when they weren’t there, each and every one of them would be immortalized with their names on the much heralded wall of fame that had become as much a fixture at the location as its tranquil fish tank.
And while Hollywood has become a part of Gino’s Café’s legacy over the years, the truth of the matter is that the popular restaurant goes beyond just the glitz and the glamour and the memories of Bronx Tale. Putting the stars aside, when you wanted a good meal, Gino’s Café was the place to go. When you wanted an over-the-top theme party, such as one of the funeral theme parties that restaurant owner Domenic Broccoli once threw, you went to Gino’s Café. If you just wanted to organize a small gathering, you did so at Gino’s. If you wanted a romantic moment with your girlfriend, there was always La Catina at Gino’s Café. If you wanted to listen to Dave Valentin or one of the many other jazz musicians that Broccoli had on stage, there was Gino’s for that, too. Good food, good people, great moments – Gino’s was always there, but not anymore.
Sadly, on Saturday, June 24, as the popular eatery in the Allerton Avenue community neared it's 50th anniversary, Gino's closed it's doors for the last time--saying a bittersweet goodbye to a rich history that spanned generations.
“When I think back on all the memories I have had here, I think of all the great people,” said Broccoli while reminiscing. “That’s why I have been here for so many years. Every customer that walked in that door became friends; they became family. This was my home and it was my job to make them feel comfortable, but now it is time to move on.”
So, on Friday, June 23, Broccoli opened his doors one final time to paying customers before throwing a goodbye bash the following day, welcoming regular customers back to enjoy one final meal, even giving away several bricks from the restaurant and pennies he found behind the famed original Waldorf Astoria Hotel bar to his most loyal customers.
The popular restaurant has its roots as a speakeasy in 1929 before becoming a neighborhood tavern in 1934. In 1957, Gino Broccoli and his father Domenic, established what is now Gino’s Café. During this time, the restaurant featured a 40-seat family trattoria with homemade Italian specialties. In 1964, seating was expanded to 70 and remained so until 1982 when Gino and his son Domenic, the current owner, added three dining rooms. In 1988, Domenic aggressively remodeled the restaurant.
After seven years of renovating four adjoining buildings including courtyards, first floor apartments and lower levels, the smoke cleared and La Cantina, a Grotto and cobblestone wine cellar with relics brought from Gino’s hometown in Calabria, Italy, emerged. A banquet room designed and built with etched illuminated mirrors and a cathedral ceiling was also created. Domenic put a lot of work into his family’s pride and joy, believing it was what his father wanted.
“I would do it all over again; no regrets,” said Broccoli. “What I am most proud of is that I kept my father’s memory alive. This place was such a part of who he was. It’s such a part of who I am. I went from a kid to a man in this restaurant. I became a part of so many people’s lives here.”
Michelle Luciano celebrated her wedding to husband Anthony at Gino’s Café in 1993 and has celebrated their anniversary at the famed restaurant every year since. “This is the place where our family started,” she said. “I remember when our anniversary was on a Monday and they were closed. Domenic let us in and told us to order whatever we wanted. We ordered Spedine, our favorite dish. Now, we have nowhere to go for our anniversaries. I am heartbroken.”
And so were so many others who spoke about memories they had at Gino’s Café and of the owner himself, but Domenic Broccoli is not going anywhere. Broccoli will rent out the facility, but not to a restaurant. Broccoli is remodeling the eatery to accommodate retail business, believing that the corner should never house a restaurant again, while at the same time become home to various businesses that can make the community a better place to live.
“I’m not leaving Allerton Avenue behind,” he said. “It’s just that I won’t own a restaurant here anymore. But I still love this community. I want nothing, but the best for Allerton Avenue. And I will do my best to help it grow. You haven’t heard the last of me.”
Friends, family, and customers alike applaud Domenic’s happiness as he said his final goodbyes. At Gino's, a customer was a friend, and a friend was family. To all, including many famed faces, Gino's Cafe had left its impact.
Chazz Palminteri, the creator of Bronx Tale, said a few words at the dinner party. Having gotten married at Gino’s Café and having even celebrated his bachelor party there, Palminteri knew the place very well – his hand prints are even immortalized in the famed Wall of Fame that Broccoli plans to remove intact from the restaurant to be used in a future venture somewhere down the road.
That said, Palminteri believed the ghost of Gino still walked through the restaurant. “If Gino was here right now, and he is, do you know what he would say,” asked the star. “He would say, ‘Domenic, my son, I’m proud of you. You did a great job. Your raised a great family. I just want to tell you, enough; now it is time to go live a new life.’”
But summing up the love people had for Gino’s Café best was Michael Marinaccio, who stated, “If you want to go out to dinner with me, I’ll go wherever you want to go, but if you leave it up to me, I want to go to Gino’s.”
And you can still go to Gino’s Café. Yes, Gino’s Café will continue to live on in spirit and on the web. For those looking to keep the nostalgia alive, go to http://www.ginoscafe.com/.