On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte
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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.