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Tales of An American Gondolier

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Stripes of the Gondoliers are an important Venetian icon and remind us of a glamorous lifestyle. They represent one of the eldest trades in the city. There is however still a lot of mystery around the gondoliers’ world. It is a world where few locals, let alone foreigners, are a part of.

Gondoliers have been active in Venice for more than 1,000 years. The first official reference is a license from Doge Vitale Falier from 1094, in which he refers to a ‘gondalum’. In the past, gondoliers mainly worked for rich Venetian families. As they knew many secrets of the aristocracy, the gondoliers were treated with respect and were high up on the social scale. Nowadays, the majority of their customers are tourists interested in a romantic ride on the canals. We like to say here at the Gondola Getaway that what happens on our Gondola, stays on our Gondola!  A thousand year saying made new.


Gondolier in Venezia

FROM ALL BLACK TO STRIPES.  THE AMBASSADORS OF VENEZIA…….AND LONG BEACHThe red or blue striped shirt with a straw hat must be the most recognizable uniform in the world. It consists not only of the striped shirt, but also of black or dark blue trousers, black shoes and a dark jacket. The straw hat with a colored ribbon is optional. The gondoliers can choose between blue and red. In the earliest days of the Gondola, Gondoliers were mostly Moorish slaves.

old school gondolier

The Gondoliers were dressed mostly in black to match the color of the Gondola.  Some wore all white. After World War 2, The stripes became a part of the uniform.  Some say they were to match the striped poles in front of the Palazzo’s on the Grand Canal.  Through my research, I believe more in the fact that it came from the French Navy.  Stripes had become a typical shirt worn by men on ships and boats.  This was because the French Navy had designated that as a safety precaution so if a man fell overboard he could be spotted easier in the waves of the Sea.  Now, many of the striped t-shirts and jackets have an embroidered logo of the Association of Gondoliers. Here in Long Beach we have the Gondola Getaway logo along with brand “AMERICAN GONDOLIER.”

INSIDER TIP: You can buy a gondolier shirt at the Emilio Ceccato clothing store at the foot of the Rialto Bridge or online. By doing so, you support this Venetian tradition. The Association of Gondoliers invests all royalties in projects which safeguard the gondolier and artisan trades that surround the gondola and the Venetian rowing style tradition. NOW YOU CAN BUY Gondolier shirts right here in America.  A new American/Venetian tradition.


Gondoliers do not take their gondola out unless they are dressed in uniform. This is also the case when the gondola is used to spend recreational time with family and friends. We carry the same tradition.  We explain to all Gondoliers, even when in training, that if they are on board a Gondola, they must represent the tradition!  so if someone gets a random picture, no matter what they look the part.  If they were wearing board shorts, and tank top, people might say ” oh, thats those Gondolas we have heard about down here, too bad they don’t dress the part!”

American Gondolier at work


The Gondola Getaway has been in existence since 1982 in Long Beach, Ca.  Gondolas were first introduced to the Naples Islands and Alamitos Bay in the very early 1900’s.  Since our beginning, it has always been a constant battle to find the correct stripes of 1 inch blue and white or red and white stripes.  If I saw a rack at Target, Sears or any store over the past 37 years, I would buy all they had.  I would tell Gondoliers and their mothers to buy striped shirts.  They would show up with super thin, super wide, slightly off the correct colors.  Long sleeve, short sleeve, no sleeve.  Once a guy showed up with vertical!  I told him we didn’t need any refs at the time.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how hard it was to find the exact stripes needed to look like an authentic gondolier. I have always told the guys and gals here that the reason we have to try so hard to look like the perfect Gondolier, is because we are trying to replicate something that is over 7,000 miles away!  They see pictures of Gondoliers with no hats or a black jacket and say “see, they don’t always wear the same thing.”  Ha, I remind them that a gondolier in Venezia has the Grand Canal as a backdrop! They could wear a dodger hat, (I have actually seen that) and people would know they are a Gondolier.  We have to dress twice as well as them to live the part!  Many people have not been to Venezia and maybe only seen perfect pictures of perfectly dressed Gondoliers.  Those are the ones we have to replicate!


So, after all these years I finally did it.  I found a company to buy our shirts from, all the time.  In fact, right here in our own back yard, I found a company that actually makes the material, dyes the stripes into it, cuts the patterns, sews the shirts and attaches the logo’s.  All within one building!  These Gondolier shirts are 100% American designed and built!

This now is the official start of our new trademarked brand called AMERICAN GONDOLIER

gondolier in Venezia

american gondolier shirt

Some other interesting stuff for your viewing reading pleasure:

DID YOU KNOW? The black colored gondolas date from 1562. At that time, Doge Girolamo Priuli issued a ban on colorful gondolas which sumptuous decoration was only meant to impress. Now, colored gondolas are only used for regattas.

At the beginning of the 16th century, there were approx. 10,000 gondoliers in the city. Today, there are 433 gondoliers with an official license of the city of Venice. Here in are own Alamitos bay we presently have over 100 gondoliers with our official license!  

Passion to become a gondolier

Most gondoliers descend from a family of gondoliers. Inspired by the passionate stories of their fathers and grandfathers, pursuing a life as a gondolier is quite natural. It makes them proud to follow in their family’s footsteps. At the same time, they want to show their beloved city to the world.

We have been blessed with never advertising for a gondolier position.  They always come through previous or present Gondoliers which creates a great vetting process!  Not  too unlike the Venetian way.  Stripes in Long Beach was only a fashion choice before 1982 and the Gondola Getaway came to Scene.  Now, stripes in Long Beach , are associated with its own full fledged Gondoliers!  Its not uncommon to see a guy or gal in stripes and hear someone shout “Are you a Gondolier at the Gondola Getaway?”

We are proud of our stripes!!!!  We have become and are proud to be, the ambassadors of Naples Islands and Alamitos Bay. Have you hugged a Gondolier today?  He or she is wearing those fresh new stripes from the “AMERICAN GONDOLIER” line.

Michael O’Toole

Gondola Getaway

The American Gondolier

Michael OToole – Founder

Michael OToole – Founder

Tales of an American Gondolier

My name is Michael O’Toole, founder of The 37 year-old business “The Gondola Getaway.”  It started as College project at U.S.C. and has turned into lifelong business and passion.  The business has taken me to Venezia, Italia over 45 times now.  I have had the opportunity to live, eat, drink and row in the Laguna di Venezia being guided by the most local of Venetians.  I have rowed and sailed over 1,000 miles through the lagoon on almost every type of Venetian boat, stayed or visited almost every Island in the lagoon, eaten and learned to cook every classic dish and made the closest of friends. I have been able to bring so much of my experiences back here to Naples Islands, Long Beach and be shared with all the Gondola Getaway customers and locals of Naples Islands and Alamitos bay.

This blog will share tales from my experiences from the Venetian lagoon and how they have shaped my life.  You will find recipes, traveling tips, techniques, comparisons, funny stories, sad stories.  All the stories will be a reflection of my life that has, is and will be a blend of Venezia and home here in Long Beach and Southern California.  This will be my own unique blend of cultures that I hope you will enjoy!  I sure have!!

Michelangelo Otolini

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