Unusual Italian restaurant with a Russian soul
Italian cuisine has long outgrown national borders and is popular in many countries around the world. Some establishments with Italian cuisine are held by Italians, for whom this cuisine is native, emigrants of the first wave, or the descendants of those who moved several decades, or even centuries ago. Especially there are a lot of such establishments in the USA, and in this article we will talk about one of such establishments, especially since it has some relation to Russia.
In the American city of Baltimore, on the east coast of the United States, 50 km from Washington, there is a quarter where immigrants from Italy have compactly settled since the end of the 19th century. It is called Little Italy (“Little Italy”). The natives of Genoa were the first to go across the ocean, so on the promenade near Little Italy you can see a monument to Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, whose homeland was the capital of Liguria.
If the stars coincide so that you find yourself in Baltimore, then be sure to visit this quarter. Not for the sake of some particularly outstanding architecture, but to go to one unusual Italian restaurant called Gia (410 S. High Street Baltimore, MD 21202). You will not confuse the Gia building with any other: it stands out against the general background with its bright graffiti, reminiscent of the passionate and flourishing Italy.
The restaurant’s interior (the restaurant, of course, has a big name, rather, it’s a cafe that does not serve Michelin specialties, but is cozy and atmospheric) makes an even greater impression than the juicy exterior design. No, this is not a restaurant, but an art gallery, but with one difference: paintings are not shown in frames, but on “everyday” surfaces – tables, walls and even mirrors.
Everyone knows how Italians know how to live – beautifully, easily, emotionally, and we, northern people, are a little jealous of this skill. The general mood and art deco style create a feeling not even of Italy, but of pre-war Europe, which lived a little Italian in all the horrors of war: languid dolce fa niente, the sweetness of a martini bianco drunk before a long-awaited kiss, relaxation and enjoyment of life.
Do not be too lazy to go up to the second floor, because there you will find real treasures. The main pride of the institution is more than 40 tables, each of which is unique: images are not repeated. Once a week, tables are rearranged, thus it turns out that even regular visitors have a chance to sit at 40 different tables.
As befits an Italian cafe, Gia is a family business. For 4 generations it has been owned by one family, immigrants from the island of Sicily. From graffiti on the walls of Gia, you can find out that Rosa and Pasquale got married in 1943 in Cefalu in Sicily. And 10 years later, together with their daughter Giovanna (Gia, for short) and their son Salvatore, they boarded the famous Italian airliner Andrea Doria and crossed the Atlantic. Today at Gia, this large and friendly Italian family delights its guests with home-cooked Italian dishes and, of course, Sicilian goodies like cannoli.
With the grandson of the mistress of the restaurant
But still, who worked on the design of the Gia? Who turned an ordinary cafe into a real art gallery? If you carefully read the inscriptions, you can see a few in Russian, and on one of the columns there is a very specific indication: Vasilyevsky Island, 6th Line, St. Petersburg, Russia, the Academy of Arts named after Repin.
Yuri Fatkulin, better known as the “artist Yuri” (“Yuri the Artist”), was a native of St. Petersburg, a graduate of the prestigious Academy of Arts named after I.E. Repin. He emigrated to the United States and moved to permanent residence in Baltimore. Yuri designed not only Gia, but also other Baltimore restaurants, and also participated in the restoration of the ceiling at the Belvedere Hotel. But the crown of his entire career was precisely the creation of small art masterpieces in Gia – a work to which he devoted the last 6 years of his life and in which he put his soul and all his skills.
Literally shortly before his death – Yuri died of cancer in 2012 – he completed the painting of the last countertops for the restaurant.
It is not known for what reasons the talented Russian artist Yuri Fatkulin decided to emigrate and leave his native St. Petersburg forever. He settled in Baltimore and lived in the city for the past 30 years. This means that Yuri left the USSR at least in the early 80s and left not just like that, but as a refugee, and the States granted him asylum. For Russia (in a note in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, “Russia” apparently means “USSR”) the word oppressive is used, which translates as “tyrannical, oppressive, cruel, overwhelming”.