New York Spaghetti House: A family-run favorite for 74 years

While restaurants tend not to have exceptionally long lives, Cleveland history offers several exceptions to this rule.

Alpine Village is one, a landmark on Superior Avenue for 30 years, from 1931 to 1961. Owner Herman Pirchner was a showman who kept this establishment in the public eye.

Nearby was Weber’s, located at 282 Superior Ave., operated for 60 years, from 1899 to 1959. Noted for its striking interior woodwork and including a unique floating staircase, the restaurant lingered long in Cleveland memory.

Inside the New York Spaghetti House during it's heydayBut the record for longevity is likely held by the New York Spaghetti House, a fixture on East 9th Street for three-quarters of a century. Founded in 1927, it was meant to recall Italian restaurants in New York City where owner Mario Brigotti learned the business as a waiter.

An immediate hit, New York Spaghetti House was known for its skilled waiters who took complex orders from memory and then proceeded to perfectly match each one with the correct diner.

The building itself was striking—originally built as the parsonage of the 1870 Zion Lutheran Church, it had strong ties to Cleveland’s theater history.

The building was purchased by a nearby theater at the turn of the 20th Century. The structure was adapted to house traveling actors while they visited Cleveland to perform.

The bar from the New York Spaghetti HouseTransformed into a restaurant, the New York Spaghetti House welcomed headliners like Jimmy Durante and W.C. Fields. A few years later Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton joined their ranks.

Greek and Turkish residents from today’s Gateway neighborhood were made welcome—with the restaurant being one of the few places in town where patrons could be seen smoking hookahs and Turkish cigarettes.

Other patrons looked forward to large bowls of spaghetti, topped by the restaurant’s signature brown sauce—Brigotti’s secret recipe made from a vegetable and plum tomato base, a secret blend of spices, and super-fine ground beef—available at local grocery stores for those who preferred to eat at home.

Several generations of the Brigotti family ran the restaurant successfully. In the 1950s, founder Mario Brigotti turned the restaurant over to his son, James Brigotti.

There were periodic updates to the interior with Art Deco tiles dating to the 1930s being replaced in the mid-50s by murals painted by Hungarian artist John Cgosz that portrayed scenes of Florence, the Coliseum in Rome, gondoliers in Venice, the harbor at Naples, and the island of Capri.

In the late 1980s James’ wife, Patricia Brigotti, opened a well-received art gallery in the renovated second floor dining room.

By the late 20th Century, time was catching up to the New York Spaghetti House. Put off by the challenges of downtown parking, patrons begin to drift away. James Brigotti had to make the difficult decision to close the restaurant in January 2001 after an extraordinary run of 74 years.

The former restaurant no longer exists. The building was demolished several years later, yet another Cleveland legend replaced by a parking lot.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.