Garibaldina, L.A.’s Oldest Italian American Society = Hottest Supper Club in Town

Olives at Bar Bene, photos by Emily Ferretti

My first visit to The G was a quick walk-through with Tom Wells, the rentals manager, after a year of DM-ing on their truly fascinating Instagram account. Tom greeted me warmly in the foyer with its marble-covered walls, the floor-to-ceiling wallpaper view of Venezia, and an 8-foot painting of the club’s namesake, General Giuseppe Garibaldi. The foyer alone had me giddy with its terrazzo-covered floors and a large chandelier hanging from the center. Tom escorted me through double doors to the fully red-carpeted 300-person capacity ballroom, lined with powder pink floral wallpaper. At its center was a two thousand square foot wooden dance floor flanked by round banquet tables and retro 1970s chairs. The antique kitchen was huge, with eight burners, a double convection oven, and endless possibilities--as a professional chef and event producer that was an astounding detail for me! I was awestruck; nothing in this building had been updated since its construction in 1967. Everything from the floor to the popcorn ceiling was original.

In the last few years, I have been deeply homesick for my family, in a way that a video call couldn't accommodate. My Mother, Tiziana, was born and raised in Italy but moved to the States with her family as a teen. For the most part, our home in New York and New Jersey was as Italian as a working single mother could keep. Every summer though, my siblings and I went to Sardegna to stay with our Nonna for several weeks. We would relax at the beach most days, play table tennis or bocce, and have an aperitivo at the bar before returning home for lunch; the routine remains to this day. Every year now I return home to LA with a bit of the blues, a small idea of what a different life could be, and then it’s back to business. I know this is a common story for many first and second-generation children. Since living here, it's been difficult to find a space that helps me feel a similar sense of home in a familial and cultural sense.

So, as I stood there on that first visit, stunned, I saw a woman rummaging through a pile of vintage decorations. This person was none other than Nicole Infante, an energetic hummingbird, who now maintains the Garibaldina Instagram account and has helped to spearhead this new era of the club. She had just become the new president and was reaching out to folks whom she thought may be interested in membership and contributing to the club. It was perfect timing as I was feeling ready to introduce a public offering of the Italian home food of my childhood.

As is easy to do with Nicole, we spent hours talking about our family histories, the history of the club, and where the club was at in general. She shared beautiful archival paperwork of meeting notes from the early 1900s, all written in Italian, of the private two-lane bocce court where members meet to play bocce and cards twice a week, as well as the most magnificent room, the midentury bar with its wood-paneled room, smoky mirrors, and classic curved bar. It reminded me of locations from the series “Mad Men” or even “I Love Lucy;” a sense of nostalgia for a generation I never participated in was everywhere.

The Società Garibaldina di Mutua Beneficenza of Los Angeles started as two separate mutual aid societies that were founded in 1877 and 1888 to provide financial and community support for new Italian immigrants. The societies eventually merged and, in 1916, created the Garibaldina Society as we know it today. The members later acquired the current property in 1967 where they built the club’s home as it exists today- completely intact! One of the core values of the club is to support the local community members and, in that spirit, the by-laws were amended to welcome the many individuals of non-Italian descent who are part of the club today.

Prior to Nicole’s presidency, the club was on the verge of closing. Aside from the old-timers and some solid word-of-mouth recommendations, few knew it existed and, if they did, there was limited interest in joining what they thought of as a kitschy and stuffy place that had been doing the same events for decades. It's been with Nicole’s strategic vision, and the help of many key members, including Lauren Veca, Ignazio Vivirito, Kathi Hannum, Aldo Blasi, and many more that the club has been reinvigorated. As treasurer Phil del Rivo, said, “It’s a boys and girls club for people who need meaning in their life.”

Dancing at Ferragosto

Twice a month the club holds large gatherings. The Pasta Platter happens every fourth Thursday and the Dinner Dance is every third Saturday of the month. Dinner Dances are themed and formal with many courses. There's Spring Fling, Mother’s Day, Ferragosto, and even Country Western. The Pasta Platter is playtime with no strict dress code; it's all about gathering over some pasta. Both events are centered around the dance floor with live music, some line dancing, and occasionally some dedicated speeches. As Nicole astutely pointed out, “Our ancestors gave us two bars, a bocce court, and a ballroom with a dance floor. We are here to entertain. This is part of our giving back”.

Since I was initiated as a member in the Spring of 2023, I'm now at the club at least two times a week to help in any way I can. It is my greatest joy to walk into the club’s massive antique kitchen, receive Ignazio’s sweet salutation, and check out what pastry projects he is working on that day

Ignazio is a retired pastry chef from a small town outside of Palermo, Sicily, and the sauce master for The G's Pasta Platter dinners. He enjoys teaching me how to create traditional treats and sharing his knowledge and passion for food.

Chefs Amanda Lanza and Ignazio Vivrito at the Garibaldina’s first annual Ferragosto Dinner

The bocce squad are the old-timer superstars, many of whom are elated that there is new interest in the club. I always pop into the back bocce room to practice my Italian with Gianni, Giuseppe, Pepe, and Lina. They are from all regions of Italy and love sharing their life stories with me.

Gianni, from Sicily, makes wine every year from the grapes he grows at his home and proudly shares videos of his fresh ricotta. Lina and her husband Pepe come from neighboring towns in Puglia. Lina was a master seamstress and was introduced to her husband by The G’s current sergeant of arms, Aldo Blasi. Aldo has been at the club the longest of all the current members. He has all the answers and is our Dinner Dance sauce master, a deep honor amongst this crew. Giuseppe Del Rivo hails from Trieste; he’s always representing with a big Trieste cap. Giuseppe and his wife Lupe have been in the club for several decades; their son Phil is now the treasurer, and their granddaughter Cici is also a club favorite. Lauren Veca makes the meatballs for every Pasta Platter using her mother’s recipe and Ignazio makes the sauce. Yes, The G serves the meatballs with the pasta- it’s the joy of being in America.

The drastic change of the last year has not been joyous for all members. Some miss their tiny, intimate dinners from the quiet club of years passed. It’s been hard to welcome so much change in such a short time. However, most are overjoyed to be a part of this revival.

Like the Del Rivos, there are several multigenerational legacy families, and more coming. With a supportive new leadership and council, The G is slowly losing the reputation of the grandparent retirement club and returning to a version of its original glamor. A young crowd has started to show up, attracted to the new energy. It's a cool and unpretentious place where we members get to participate in creating an intergenerational community; a place we are all proud of.

I have discovered the many ways to be Italian American through the stories of my fellow members. What gives me hope and joy is that many are third or fourth generation and still make the dishes of their great-grandparents and practice their rituals, particularly around holidays. Food is always the anchor to memories. We get overly excited, we talk over each other, and we share. Listening to how my fellow members remember how their grandmothers prepared fish for Christmas Eve dinner, lamb for Easter feasts, or dishes for Saint’s days has been such a testament to the power of sensory experiences and, more so, the practice of sharing them to bond.

Austin Manley at the bar

Of course, I've shown up for my calling to entertain. I fell hard for the mid-century bar and, along with fellow member Brion Brionson, we have created a new event, “Bar Bene.” We bring in buddies to play music, Brion serves low-intervention wines, Footwork Coffee Service serves up espresso and sweets, and I prepare some light bar food and a few hit dishes I grew up eating at home. As one of the few events totally open to the public, we have had an overwhelming response. Like my first visit to The G, guests are speechless, never having seen a place like this on the West Coast. So many people pull me aside to tell me how it reminds them of a version of their friend’s grandma’s house in New Jersey. Ignazio has been coming by around 10 o’clock to check in; he loves the music bumping and energy from service. We are scheming to prepare a Sicilian night together soon.

Molly Donnellon’s Apricot Semifreddo for Bar Bene

Clubs like this are closing all around the country. They aren’t cool, new, fresh, or have any social media clout. It’s for this reason, I love the Garibaldina. It’s not corporate, there’s an unwritten code of how things are done. We roll our sleeves up, we come together, we do it a little wild, but we do it well. Who knew that I'd find my own version of an Italian piazza in a time capsule building on Figueroa Street, and that it would become my second home.


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