A gorgeous space with hit-or-miss food at Asian-themed Downtown hotspot
An Italian-American special-occasion restaurant since 1977, D’Imperio’s in Wilkins will close Aug. 2.
“It’s time to quit while I still have the energy,” said owner Tony D’Imperio.
In recent years, the restaurant had been busy during holidays, “but during regular service we had been spending 10 to take in nine,” he said.
Former staff has been stopping in to say goodbyes; D’Imperio’s will not celebrate the restaurant’s run with a party. Among visitors has been Joseph Schilling, executive chef of the restaurant for 33 years until he resigned three years ago.
As a child, Mr. D’Imperio moved to the area with his family from Italy in 1955. A year later, when he was 11, he got his start in the restaurant business by washing dishes at the Sons of Columbus Italian Club in Clairton, a job he took to help his family out.
From dishwashing, Mr. D’Imperio learned to cook, left Pittsburgh to tend bar in the Poconos, then served in the Vietnam War. When discharged, he returned to Pittsburgh to finish college and to open D’Imperio’s, a restaurant inspired by the Italian dishes of his youth.
D’Imperio’s is among the last of its kind. Originally on the 10th floor of the Jonnet Building in Monroeville, the restaurant became known for its piano bar and lounge singers.
“Walt Maddox is singing the Stephen Sondheim song ‘Send in the Clowns’; the accompaniment is a chorus of conversations, laughter, clinking glasses,” wrote Marilyn McDevitt Rubin in a 1981 edition of The Pittsburgh Press. “Anticipation. Pretty women. Blond. Dimpled. Low-cut dresses. Handsome, broad-shouldered men. Tall. Dark. Macho.”
Even then, the restaurant was a classic. “It was as if you had drifted back in time to when elegance was epitomized by New York’s Stork Club and San Francisco’s Top of the Mark.”
The restaurant moved to its current location at 3412 William Penn Highway in 1982. It was smaller than the original, with a 100-seat patio Mr. D’Imperio added in 2001.
Diners cite Mr. D’Imperio as a warm host, always dressed in a suit as he tended to tables. Even today, he wears one, although he said he’ll take off his jacket and tie on occasion.
He gave away the baby grand piano to a bartender a couple years ago.
“We’re in a keyboard era,” he said.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198.
First Published July 24, 2014 8:00 PM