Venice in the ‘Ville

On September 22, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

65 Holland St., outside Davis Square is now the site of Orleans, and The Bull Pen before that, and maybe a few others. I can’t keep track of all the restaurants that have come and gone. Back in the day it was The Venice Café, where you could get spaghetti and (huge) meatballs, antipasto, veal parmesan, chicken (marsala) dinners, seafood and fantastic pizza, and of course beverages of all kinds. The red wine flowed freely there. The Venice Café is one of those historic old places that a lot of Somerville people remember with a smile. For many of us it was the first real restaurant our parents took us to, especially if you lived near Davis Square.

When you entered, the décor was red and white and it was like walking into a place you would find in Italy. Vividly painted scenes of Venice were done in ornate raised plaster relief around the entire restaurant. It was around three feet by two feet and very detailed. A friend in the masonry business was wondering if any of the plasterwork was saved. But what was saved was all the memories Somerville patrons have of The Venice Café.

Sometimes you would have to go from booth to booth to find one of the table juke boxes that worked. Remember those table top jukeboxes? There was also a big aquarium in the dining room area.

Here is a personal memory: “My mother and father were there the night I was due. They were having pizza and beer, and the owner picked up their check as a congratulations. He then asked them to leave because he didn’t want a baby born in his restaurant.”  Do you remember the red plastic breadbaskets, cokes served in short highball glasses and A Boy Named Sue and Candy Man blaring on the jukebox?

Another friend used to get “all dolled up” with her girlfriends and go there alone when they were in junior high. Someone who was there seems to recall the owner having three Corvettes that he drove in rotation. They were parked out front. On Thursdays the crowd from St. Catherine’s bingo would pile in. A friend recalls that the ladies room smelled like cherries.

Popular opinion has the closing date to be around 1983 but I couldn’t get that on paper. My sources are my friends, the people of Somerville, and what they can remember. They have vivid memories of a comfortable place to go where you could see familiar faces. Faces like Eddie D, Jimmy P, Fred D, and Nunzi. The Venice’s pizza was so good that many a patron burned the roof of their mouths because they couldn’t wait to dig in. A survey that I conducted a while back had the pizza at The Venice as the best all time slice in the ‘Ville, ever.

Back when a lot of establishments took your word that you were old enough for a beer, The Venice was busy providing the people of Somerville with some tasty memories. Veteran ‘Villens like me may drive by the Orleans restaurant, but it’s the vision of The Venice Café that we see. The pleasant images and recollections flow as freely as the red wine used to back in the day.


11 Responses to “Venice in the ‘Ville”

  1. A Moore says:

    Yup, started going there in the early 60’s. Lived on Newbury Street then and could walk there. Food was great so it must have been bad for you. Don’t remember getting anything that was not good there. I know I miss it.

  2. j. connelly says:

    Great waitresses….Excellent Pizza and Pasta dishes…It was one of those places you could take the whole family and have a great time. There are a few of these restaurants that have survived and serve great food. Then there are some new restaurants that are a fad and do not last too long and other new restaurants that you will still be going strong five years later.

    It sounds like the people taking over the Paddock will be a good Restaurant and a few others coming in that will last. It is a shame that some greedy landlords charge exhorbitant rents that deter businesses from coming into Somerville.

  3. JohnK says:

    The pizza was excellent there. I also remember on Thursdays they had a turkey dinner special with all the fixings.

  4. Steve Keenan says:

    I loved their veal parm, but stopped eating it when I found out what goes into producing veal(the mistreatment of cows). I also recall a fire there I worked when I was on the SFD.

    A great eatery with great workers and patrons.

  5. A Moore says:

    Ditto on the veal thing. Wife wants to leave the restaurant now because she gets so mad when she sees it on the menu. Cetainly was good before we knew though.

  6. gary m. says:

    Yes, I agree —the Venice had great food!

    Regarding that other venue– was there the prior establishment at the Johhny D’s location???? It was probably mentioned in prior columns.

    Like your other fans- I’m waiting for that book. Best– Gary M.

  7. libertarian says:

    I remember walking by the venice on my way home from school at PHCS. It definitely closed after 83 – i attended the school from 83 through spring 92 and I remember walking by it in 4th grade. We were a Mike’s family, so I never got to try it. It always smelled good over there, though.

  8. Dick says:

    When we lived in Arlington in the 60s and early 70s, it was our favorite spot. We moved to NH, so only made it back occasionally. We took the kids to the Children’s Museum one day (early 80s?) and headed for the Venice on the way home. I had my favorite, the veal marsala. The waitress surprised us by telling us that it was closing in a couple of weeks because the owner was retiring. Ever since, I have regretted that I didn’t have the sense to ask for that recipe, because I have never had a veal marsala that good anywhere else.

  9. Chef says:

    My Grandmother Rose lived up on Wallace street next to the mayor. I grew up going to the Venice Cafe from about 1965-1978. My pretty famous Uncle Jackie un-officially worked there daily on the “serving side” of the bar & was only too happy to take bets on the “pool” or any sporting events! The owners name was Greg. I always remember that he wore polyester jumpsuits (disco-ee, even back then) I remember their meunster pizza, very good & never saw it anywhere else? (I’m a chef)
    Tiny side note on veal education, 1/2 of all veal in the world are discarded male calves off dairy farms, other 1/2 are raised like dogs on a short leash in with a “dog house” (still a little cruel but nut as bad as the “suspended milk fed rumors”) I do not sell veal in my business’s

  10. cambridgeyuppie says:

    It’s not only that the animals are mistreated. It’s also that it wastes so much energy, compared to vegetables and it is much worse for your health.

  11. Dan says:

    Veal is delicious. Please spend more energy to make more things delicious like veal if that’s what it takes.

Leave a Reply