When Gattò opened, thirteen years ago, it would take a while to understand exactly what it was. At the time, the street where it’s located wasn’t one of the hip areas of the city, and this place took on a hybrid shape: a travel agency where you could buy clothes, hiding a small restaurant in the back. At that time Milan had a much more small-town mentality and such a poly-functional space, mixing activities apparently far from each other, confused the inhabitants of the neighborhood – the way that we go haywire for things we don’t understand. The years passed and Gattò changed, the restaurant kept growing until it “ate” first the travel agency and then the shop, and Gattò’s neighbors started to realize that there was no need to understand what it was – they just had to live it. Today Gattò is mainly a restaurant, but it wouldn’t be fair to simply describe it this way. It takes just one night sitting at those tables to feel that it’s much more like being hosted by some family friends. Olly will do the honors. She didn’t simply take over the activity, she basically moved here: “Yes, I live here. I mean, I have a shower, a wardrobe, most of the things that were in my bedroom, and then I have all drinks and food I could want… If I had to choose a place to stay, I would choose Gattò blindly.”
We sit at a table outside Gattò, and between clients that step by to say hello, Olly tells me how they conceived the idea and developed it during the years. “My mum opened this place as a travel agency and my sister Valeria cooked like a goddess. At some point my parents decided to combine the two activities: their idea was that you could come here to book a holiday, then step in the back to have something to eat. And then there was me. I started working here selling objects, that’s why it’s called “Gattò. Robe, viaggi, cucina”, which means “stuff, travels, cooking”. My parents had nothing to do with the restaurant industry, except for my mother’s talent as a chef (she’s from Naples, that’s why Gattò has really strong Neapolitan roots – they are very much felt by my sister, while I feel more Milanese, like my father). Then Valeria went on a maternity leave that lasted for about seven years, because she kept having children, and little by little all my family moved somewhere else, except for my twin Angie, who’s in the kitchen, and me. I feel sick if I have to spend one day away from Gattò. To make up for it we moved in our long-term boyfriends: Fabrizio, my sister’s ex, is in the kitchen, and Brian, my ex, is now a partner. You know, I could have done something else: I was a university student and a stylist, but I felt this place was calling me. I realized it when my parents asked me to cover a shift at Gattò: I would FLY to replace them, take my moped and rush here. It was home. And just like home, we were always moving stuff around – we move the furniture everyday. At some point we had to close the travel agency, because with Internet and the crisis it made no sense anymore. At that time in Milan there were people who would easily give up on a new jumper to enjoy a dinner with friends, so the restaurant started to grow until it became what it is now. The space once taken by the travel agency is now the area where the aperitivo and the Monday concerts take place. I started to organize small concert in the dehors with Enrico Molteni, who owns the independent label La Tempesta. At first it was very simple, something conceived as a party for a couple of friends, and it was on Mondays because there’s no much else to do in Milan. I have a goal in life, which is to always be up for something, I fight sadness because I believe in happiness, and I thought that it wasn’t fair for Monday to be a sad day, a day devoted to work, because Monday could also be a day about parties. I remember that the first concert we held was such a success that the whole street was crowded, there were so many people that we decided to organize another one the following month, and then twice a month, and finally once a week. That’s how we became a place with live music. This is not something rare in Milan, but it’s rare to have it completely for free. Barnaba Ponchielli, who helped me from the very beginning, is in charge of the musical scheduling.”
“Valeria led the way in the kitchen, changing some of our mum’s recipes to make them lighter, a little bit more Milanese, without being too hip. People come here to taste simple dishes, this is the key of our cooking. Fabrizio, our current chef, has worked side by side with Valeria, so we were able to keep going without almost noticing the difference when she left. We want to get the best ingredients, otherwise we don’t put a certain dish on the menu. The only dish we could never take off is the gattò – we skipped a day and we almost got lynched – but we usually change the others according to the ingredients. It’s a place you come to feel at home, and when you’re at home you don’t want to eat the same thing everyday, so it’s fair to change. The kitchen is Gattò’s main core, it wouldn’t be a special restaurant without it, but just a place where you feel at home – that’s not enough. The soul of this place is a family, everyone who starts working here becomes a friend. We take it easy, we plan sustainable shifts, we add someone to the team if it gets too hard, but we really want to keep this place an oasis of peace in a city of sharks who eat each other – that’s not a sustainable food chain. Here we have a very deep human exchange, something you can feel.”
Much of the credit for this atmosphere goes to Olly – it’s easy to see it from the way she chats with her clients, how she calls them by name. “They’re my friend. I have a very good visual memory, so I notice if there’s someone new. I know all my clients and that’s something that makes them feel at ease. The relationship I have with them is the same I have with Milan: to me it’s not a close, snob city – it’s home.”
The neighborhood around Gattò has changed a lot in the last years, she explains. “When we opened we felt completely out of context, this was a residential area without many restaurants and bars. I was living upstairs with Brian, who was my boyfriend at the time. I was very pissed off when my parents decided to open a place here, it seemed like they made it on purpose. I’ve seen this area change through the relationship with our neighbors, with the old men in our building. At first they would call the police at 9 pm. Now we’re great friends”.
*5 places suggested by Gattò
VILLA INVERNIZZI: with the flamingos. I love them, I go there to smoke *censored*.
LACERBA: great cocktails here.
BACKDOOR: the smallest bar in the world, for three people max. I smoke in there and choose my own music.
JOHAN SEBASTIAN BAR: simply, the best place in Milan.
AKWABA: Patricia’s African restaurant, she keeps it open until 5am. I go at the end of a night out and I feel happy.