Sunday, July 18, 2010


Yesterday was the first time I had been in the neighborhood of Gino's at 61st and Lexington since it closed. The green and white awning was gone and there was a for rent sign in the window. All was locked up tightly behind green gates. 1945 to 2010 is a pretty long run for a restaurant -- just think, it opened as my father was returning from WWII.

For while over a decade, Gino's, was one of my three favorite restaurants in NYC (the other two are Union Square Cafe and Big Nick's). It was the kind of place where the maitre'd would greet me Italian style when I wandered in for a meal.

This was a restaurant that was all cash all the time and sometimes, if you looked in the corner, it seemed that the bosses had taken over one corner and their bodyguards the other. It drew upper Eastside couples dressed in silks, ascots, and double-breasted navy blue blazers. There were tourists who had must have read about it in some guidebook or spotted it's green and white awning as they exited Bloomingdale's. And, it drew people like me who came in for a meal and stayed for a decade.

The vibrant yellow doors opened to a red foyer which then opened to an intimate space lined with tomato red wallpaper garnished by prancing zebras. Legend has it that after a fire in the 70s, Gino himself had the wallpaper remade because nothing says Italian restaurant like zebras. Sadly, they are unlikely to survive the next tenant.

Periodically, I would toddle over for a dinner of spaghetti with bolognese sauce. They served two wines -- red or white. And, they saw my own wine tastes morph from red to white once the red started to give me headaches and hot flashes. Antonio was my favorite waiter but others entertained as well. They were all gentlemen of a certain age and they dressed like waiters of old in their starched white shirts, bow ties, and short grey jackets.

I brought many an out-of-town guest and new and old friends over to Gino's for a meal. If I was in the neighborhood, I would sometimes pick up a quart of bolognese sauce to take home with me. On one memorable occasion, post having my gallbladder out and after 3 months of eating NO fats and certainly no red meat, my friend Linda sent a quart of Gino's bolognese sauce over to my apartment. Heaven.

Alas, there is no more Gino's bolognese sauce to savor and no more Italian kisses for me. The doors were shuttered when the rent was raised too high for the restaurant to even break even. the space now sits empty. One has to wonder if an empty store front with no rent is such a great business plan but who's to say.

And me, I've moved on to the Isle of Capri -- it's a little younger than Gino's having opened in 1955 but it does have a good bolognese sauce and these great little private rooms. I miss Gino's intimacy and the zaniness of the zebras. Mostly, I mourn the end of a decade-long love affair with the bolognese sauce.

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