A Marion bar will celebrate the birthday of a local legend.

Gilda Pietragalla Downey, who passed away in 2023 at 98, owned Gilda's Stone Rooster on the Marion/Wareham line. Her bright-red sports car parked in the front lot was as much a fixture at the bar as she was.

Before she retired, however, Downey wanted to make sure the business ended up in the right hands. She had multiple offers for significant money to buy the established business, but she had already decided to sell to two people: John Mello and Wareham's Gateway Tavern owner Joe Sauro.

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How Gilda Downey Chose the Stone Rooster's New Owners

Sauro introduced Mello to Downey over a beer at the Rooster. During the conversation, Downey asked Mello if he was related to Manny Mello. That would be his grandfather's brother.

Downey's face went blank. She waved her hands back and forth and said, "That's it.  That's it. You and Joe are going to be the next owners of this place."

The men were flattered but repeatedly declined. Months and months went by, but Downey wouldn't let go of the idea, and she wasn't going to be denied. She had bought the place from Mello's great-uncle, Manny Mello, and she had it set in her mind that Mello would buy it back from her.

Gilda Downey Did It Her Way

One day, the bank called Mello and Sauro, telling them that they were the only people Downey would let them talk to about buying the business.

Why was Downey so fixated on having the men buy the business? She wanted to go out on her terms, and she didn't trust anyone else to let her do that.

READ MORE: Marion's River Junction Has a Gilda Downey Ghost Story

"She didn't want to go out as the 92-year-old bartender rock star, she wanted 93, she wanted 94, she wanted 95," Mello said. "She wanted her spirit to be celebrated. She wanted everyone to know that age didn't define her spirit."

Downey said she trusted that the men would let her go out "on her own terms" and would support her legacy and "let me be me for as long as I can be."

Gilda Downey's 100th Birthday Celebration

So, here we are, just over a year since Downey passed.

The brand new River Junction bar sits on the plot of land that used to house Gilda's Stone Rooster, and on May 2, it will honor Downey's 100th birthday.

"Anyone who knew Gilda knew that she loved a celebration, especially one in her honor," Mello said. "It'll be very Gilda-esque. We're going to drink champagne, listen to jazz, tell fun stories and wear fun glasses. Hopefully, somebody wears some tights with a skull and crossbones on them."

Gilda Downey's 100th birthday celebration will raise money for Friends of Old Rochester Music.

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