The Denver Post reported on Tuesday that Pagliacci’s, the venerable Italian restaurant and North Denver fixture for over 66 years, will close its doors on August 19th. For fans of old school classic Italian food, this is a sad end of a delicious era.
However, the closing of Pagliacci’s also symbolizes the closing of a political era in North Denver. Italian Americans have long since left North Denver, and with that dispersal, the political influence of the Italian American community also dissipated.
But the closing of Pagliacci’s feels like the final turning off the lights on that era.
Having family and very close ties to both the community and the area, I do not take either of these eras lightly.
I am one of those mourning the loss of Pagliacci’s but I do not mourn the evolution of the political influence of the Italian American community.
Before I am disowned by my family and friends, allow me to explain.
When my great-grandparents arrived in North Denver, they were part of a tight knit Italian American community, but not because it was a nice part of town to live in. The community came together out of a need. Like countless immigrants before them, they found solace, safety and comfort by creating a community out of a neighborhood.
But as my grandparents’ generation took over, they found that the community now had political power. City officials knew that to get votes in North Denver, they would need to win over the Italian American community. Places like Columbus Park were created and became physical evidence of the community’s power.
But when my parents’ generation grew up, they didn’t stay in the neighborhood, they moved to the suburbs. They moved there because the community’s influence enabled the next generation to be independent.
Past generations relied on the neighborhood for safety and then for influence. But because of the success of the community, future generations were able to move away and be influential on their own, not as a tight knit Denver neighborhood, but as business owners and political leaders in other cities and towns.
Descendants took the values and lessons learned from the neighborhood and brought them to the suburbs. Those values helped them become true leaders and enabled them to be far more influential than any neighborhood could dream of being.
In my eyes, it is the natural and proper evolution of every minority or immigrant community to grow to the point where future generations do not need to rely on a neighborhood for power and influence. When a community’s future generations can move on and be influential leaders wherever they go, that is when true assimilation and the American Dream can happen. And frankly that is when a particular community is truly influential.
However, this does not occur without a cost. Inevitably, when any community begins to disperse, much of their heritage dissipates with the population. Venerable institutions find that their clientele literally begins to die off. Some businesses find a way to carry on with new clientele, but eventually, they all move on.
Pagliacci’s is one of the last Italian American institutions in North Denver. Patsy’s remains, as does Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, the Potenza Lodge and Carbone’s deli. But Pagliacci’s was one of the city’s top Italian restaurants. Being in business for 66 years, great grandkids of the restaurant’s first customers were bringing homecoming dates there as recent as this year.
So as Pagliacci’s disappears, making way for an apartment building, we are reminded that all good things must come to an end, including a neighborhood’s influence.
But let this be a lesson and a goal for other ethnic neighborhoods everywhere. The ultimate goal is not to be influential from simply a neighborhood, but to eventually take that influence far beyond the old neighborhood. There will be casualties with that growth, but in the end, it is how it should be.
But I will tell you, we will never see Minestrone like the one at Pagliacci’s ever again.
About The Blogger
– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.