One of the Wharf’s most beloved stalwarts, Fishermen’s Grotto No. 9 (2847 Taylor Street, 415-673-7025) has reopened under new owner Chris Henry. It has had quite the thoughtful remodel, thankfully keeping its fabulous vintage style intact, just refreshed and gently updated.
Henry bought the historic property in October 2016 (it was the first full-service, sit-down restaurant in the wharf when it opened in 1935) from the Geraldi family, who owned the Grotto for three generations, generations, but with expensive renovations looming, several family members balked and forced the restaurant’s sale.
Henry recently took over another San Francisco icon, Tommy’s Joynt, and understands the importance of keeping the nostalgia while giving things a gentle polish — “I want to bring things up to today’s standards for diners, but it’s important to preserve the rich history of the wharf.” He also owns the Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito and Dawn Patrol in Santa Barbara.
Upstairs is The Grotto, and all the original woodwork was stripped, repaired, and repainted white, from the panels to the beams — resulting in an airy and light feeling. The spectacular view of boats and the bay through two windows remains. The former fisherman-motif carpet has been replaced with blonde oak floors with wavy planks (inspired by the bar), and some inset bronze fish, crabs, and starfish. Some ocean-inspired carpet has been installed in the back section of the dining room along with the staircase carpet, which features octopus.
Slightly elevated banquettes and blue booths line the wall with some round tables down the center. The white tablecloths have been swapped out to reveal the wood tabletops, and fabric runners tuck into two slots on each end. The black walnut tables were handmade by Eastern European craftsmen Henry has worked with for over 20 years. The postmodern-inspired chair styles add to the vintage-yet-modern look.
The menu continues to offer the kind of seafood dishes people expect from the wharf, from chowder to cioppino to crab Louie, but with a bit lighter, fresher presentation by Heidi DiPippo, the corporate culinary director, and Paul Bruno, executive chef. Sustainability is highlighted, and they have added some fun seafood plateaus from the new raw bar (formerly the dining room bar, and you can still sit there). There is also an herb garden and a beehive on the roof deck.
The dining room has a staggering 240 seats. I spoke with General Manager Lisa Robins (previously at another vintage S.F. favorite, Alfred’s), who said it’s quite the marathon each day. She updated the wine list with California wines by the glass from kegs.
The crab stand has reopened downstairs — you can order cracked crab, seafood cocktails, fish and chips, and some of the wharf’s best chowder (made fresh two or three times a day). And yes, you can get it in a sourdough bowl. It’s grab-and-go, but there are tables (unlike the other stands). Daily 11 a.m.–6 p.m. (closes a little later Friday and Saturday).
No. 9, the downstairs casual cafe, is targeted for reopening in March. Its Venetian look from the jaunty striped poles to the charming booths is being preserved, and some of the blue barstools from upstairs will have a second life at the downstairs bar as well.
Speaking of the bar (the Fireplace Lounge), which was one of the finest retro time capsules in the city, it’s now the Sinatra Bar. The beautiful undulating remains, along with the funky gold wall medallions, the diamond-patterned wall paneling, the herringbone ceiling, and more. They even got the fireplace working. A jellyfish tank is coming soon, and you can come by and enjoy some piano playing Saturday and Sunday afternoons,1–3 p.m. Tuesday evenings will also be happening.
The talented Ken Furusawa (1300 on Fillmore, Ichi Sushi, Range, Saison, and La Folie) has gently updated the cocktails but nothing too crazy, just classics done right (all $13). Frank would approve of the Ol’ Blue Eyes, made with Jack Daniel’s (his favorite) single-barrel whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, bitters, and a brandied cherry. Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday through Saturday 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Another tidbit: Some ABC license-transfer activity reveals Henry is buying Tarantino’s Restaurant as well. I’ll keep you posted.
Now open in North Beach is Giovanni Italian Specialties (629 Union Street) from Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. This Italian shop and grocery store is stocked with house-made pasta, sauces, focaccia (with toppings), Italian meats, piadine (a type of sandwich made with flatbread — it’s like Italian pita), pantry items, and some cookware too. Daily noon–7 p.m.