Anthony Giovanni of Gaetano’s
If you have stepped foot through the doors of the newly revamped Gaetano’s, there is a chance you have had the chance to exchange conversation with the motivated talent they keep behind the bar. Anthony Giovanni is among the promising talent that is bringing Gaetano’s back into the limelight. His personality resonates across the full length of the bar, engaging each and every guest in a single conversation. Come in for spaghetti and you leave with 3 or 4 new friends with whom you have already made “same-time same-place” reservations for the following week.
My first encounter with Giovanni was at Taste of the Nation where I felt truly invited to enjoy the cocktail that he and bar manager Kyle West had crafted for the event. Reaching halfway across the bar, he brought me in with a big handshake and began shaking the cocktail they were pouring that evening. Of course I enjoyed the cocktail, sure, but I found myself sticking around a few more minutes for the conversation. Giovanni has displayed a clearly visible passion for hospitality and an elevated enthusiasm for his craft, so I felt inclined to drop by Gaetano’s to find out why I keep coming back.
Anthony will also be among the 6 bartenders showcasing their talent on December 3rd at the Winter Talent Showcase. He has been paired up with Leopold Bros. to collaborate on two cocktails that will be served that evening.
So where did you come from before Gaetano’s?
I started bartending in a nightclub, really quick paced, not too much thought behind the drinks. It was fun but for the past year I have been getting into cocktail bartending, and really falling in love with it. I was actually at a sports bar in 5 Points called Jake’s. They gave me the opportunity to build them a cocktail program, which was really exciting, but it just wasn’t the right fit for the bar. People really enjoyed the cocktails, but it was still a beer and a shot kind of bar. When the Gaetano’s opportunity came about, I was all about it and jumped right on it.
So you came right in for the reopening?
Yeah, and right when I got behind the bar and touched around a bit, it was takeoff time. I learned everything I could from day one. Having had the opportunity to learn from Ken (Kodys) has been an amazing experience for me. I have a lot of respect for that guy.
Of course, I think that’s unanimous by now, is he one of your influences?
Totally. I’d like to think he sort of took me under his wing. He got me into a Campari competition right away and pushed me to do those sorts of things. In a way, he was saying, “Hey, you say you got a passion for this, get out there and prove it.” He is really motivating in that way, he knows what is going on.
I’ve seen you around a few competitions now, how have they been going?
They have all been great! I am just looking to get out there now, anything that comes along, sign me up, I’m in, you know? Kyle (West) brought me on to compete at the Taste of the Nation event and we ended up bringing home first prize; and we all had a good time, too so that was cool. Lately, the Pierre Ferrand hospitality competition that Matty (Durgin) put on… I had a lot of fun competing in that one. Didn’t finish so strong but qualified for the final round which was exciting. I’m all about getting involved in anything now.
So why are people coming to Gaetano’s?
Well, I think that having the location that we do, we have to not only executed on our food and cocktails, but our hospitality has to be excellent for them to come back. Given, the Lower Highlands neighborhood is the height of food and cocktails in Denver right now, but it is a destination neighborhood and if we can’t make every guest feel welcomed, then its very easy for them to not come back.
And what are you doing behind the bar? Is this for me?
[Slides a cocktail my way] What I made you is something that’ll warm your belly when the snow gets falling… I’m anticipating the snow so I can start making this for my guests. It’s called Crème de Chateau: Frangelico, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Tawny 10 year Port, and Mullen Spices tea. I finished it with a crème that I made with whipping cream, orgeat syrup, orange juice, and spiced vanilla bean sugar.
You are right; this is perfect for when the snow hits the ground.
[We both look out the window: nope, no snow] Yup, still waiting to bust this one out.
What is everybody’s take on service here?
Everybody is all about the cocktail revival right now, everybody is all about the classic cocktail right now, but what I don’t hear enough of is asking what service was like back then, you know? These bartenders back then weren’t just bartenders; they were your concierge, they were who could get you tickets to a show, they were just that guy for everything. We strive to create that experience here as well. The history and heritage of the building itself gives us the opportunity to be that guy, that bartender—or barmen.
What’s an experience at the bar like?
It begins with a warm welcome through the door; we bring you in with a handshake and go from there. “What’s up, I’m Tony. What’s going’ on? How we doing? What’s the haps [his words, not mine]? Let’s hang out. High-five!” But yeah, that’s usually how it starts.
How’s the rest of it go?
Hospitality all the way through. You’re sitting here, we’re gonna hang out. I want to know what is going to make your night. I’ll give you an example: Williams & Graham, we love those guys, pinnacle of the industry. Often, we have guests in because of the difficulty getting a seat at their bar. “Here, let me make a call down there and we’ll let them know you’re waiting.” They take care of our guests and shortly after, they’ve got a seat waiting for you. And you know what, those guests always come back in to tell us what a great experience they had there—and everybody wins.
Isn’t that amazing how that works?
It is. The fact that we as barmen are able to make such an impression on that guest, that they feel inclined to thank us, let alone come back is an awesome feeling.
Where do you go to learn cocktails?
All of us here bounce a lot of sources off of each other, we trade ideas and new concepts, and we are all up to date and well read-
[Kyle West interrupts] “You can’t read, Tony”
[To which Tony rebuts] I’ve got braille cocktail books that I feel sitting at coffee shops, and I got myself a Nook to listen to cocktail recipes on the way to work or driving around town.
Well played, you were saying?
No, but I was saying we all share cocktail books and read them and learn from them, we blend that with prior knowledge and a little bit of innovation and see what happens. Gin is something that I have been exploring lately. There is such a strong history in cocktails with gin and all of it is a reflection of a high-class, or prestigious drinker. I am really excited about collaborating with Leopold Bros. for the showcase coming up.
Where do you find yourself on a night out?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m getting off work, I’ll sit at the bar here for a few and maybe cruise down to LoHi Steakbar for a cold PBR and a shot of Jameson. If I’m still in the mood for a cocktail, of course I’ve got Williams & Graham, Colt & Gray, Squeaky Bean. But when it comes down to it, it matters more to me about who’s bartending, who do I want to sit in front of, who is welcoming. That matters to me.
Where you headed from here? What’s in your future?
I’d eventually like to find myself among the ranks of the leading barmen and barwomen someday. I want to participate in upcoming USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) competitions and events and share my craft to the people outside of Denver. I aim to find myself traveling and competing and continuing to learn and share my knowledge.