North Beach Journal

Changes: Good and bad in the old neighborhood

Yes, our city is changing. but not all the changes are good. Not all the changes are bad, either. And, here in North Beach — one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods — change is in the air as well. Certainly, some of the changes in North Beach are bad. We have lost some of the old places that added so much character. Nevertheless, some of the changes are good and are solid contributions to the North Beach mystique. That’s the way it goes in vibrant urban areas.

I’m optimistic about our city and about my North Beach neighborhood. Consider these changes.


It was an avoidable tragedy when we lost Capp’s Corner in a landlord-tenant squabble. It had a fine bar with good food. But there’s a new player going into the corner of Powell and Green Streets. It’s called the Boardroom, and it’s currently right across the street from the old Capp’s Corner. Proprietor Keith Wilson serves good drinks and saloon fare.


This classic hardware store is a wonderful addition to our neighborhood. It has everything you need and some things you didn’t know you needed. Old-
timers will remember when the building (at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Vallejo Street) was Rossi’s Market, with good produce and a butcher shop. Rossi’s closed and a few years later reopened as the Piazza Market. That was short-lived. It sold wine and a few Italian specialties and, for a time, served a good lunch. Activists wanted a full-service market in the place — a new Rossi’s. It just wasn’t in the cards.


Rose Pistola’s on Columbus was a ground-breaking, popular restaurant — until it wasn’t. It closed earlier this year. Now there are newcomers planning to open in the barn-like space. It’s wait-and-see time.


Byzantine, internecine warfare has taken over this landmark coffeehouse on Vallejo. The quarreling Giotta family is skirmishing over ownership of this great old institution founded in 1956. Who knows what’s going to happen in this Italian soap opera.


Kitchen fire. The place was gutted. Will proprietor-chef Graziano Lucchesi rebuild and reopen? I hope so. A salubrious coffeehouse that served some of the best pasta in North Beach.


An enigmatic guy named Bill Haskell operated this funky collectibles shop on Upper Grant Avenue for as long as I can remember. Then recently it closed. Bill took his trays of glass eyes, his 19th-century zoological charts, old wooden typefaces, and split.


This was a wonderful collectibles hole-in-the-wall on Upper Grant operated by John Perino. When Perino decided to make a change, he joined artist Kevin Brown’s gallery, Live Worms. Meanwhile, Berz Gallery of African Art is opening in the Focus Gallery spot.


Rats, pigeons, and a lax proprietor did in this fine old bakery. That was bad. But now it’s Sylvia’s, a coffee and pastry shop.


What’s an Austrian restaurant doing in North Beach? Well, why not, when it’s this good. And not all North Beach restaurants must be Italian. We also have Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Mexican.


This is the Italian language bookstore on Upper Grant — a welcome addition to the neighborhood! It’s in the space where Old Vogue was for 30 years. I miss Old Vogue and its great vintage clothes.


At the time, this was my favorite North Beach restaurant — Italian, with good lusty food. It closed, and after a few unsuccessful iterations, the site became Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It’s wildly popular, but is it a fair tradeoff for La Felce? I still miss La Felce.


Tony Gemignani, of the above-mentioned pizza emporium, recently opened this carefully curated shop on Union Street across from Washington Square Park. He hit a home run. Tony has reinforced the Italian character of the neighborhood with a range of imported olive oils, vinegars, cheeses, canned tomatoes, and hard-to-find items that set culinary imaginations working. To these he’s added a variety of house-made pastas and a few takeout appetizers. I think this is one of the most important additions to North Beach in recent history.


Down on Columbus near Broadway, this was a great tradeoff for what it replaced — Viva (yes, a pizza joint). I love pizza, but how many pizza joints does North Beach need?


Opened by restaurateur Gigi Fiorucci in 2007, he sold it in 2014 to Richie Azzolino, who carries on the tradition.


Have you ever heard of OJ’s? Of course, I write about it constantly. The original Original Joe’s in the Tenderloin was destroyed by fire in 2007. Then in 2012, the Duggan family reopened it at the corner of Union and Stockton Streets, the former site of Joe Dimaggio’s Chophouse, and earlier the storied Fior d’Italia. Now OJ’s and Molinari, the nearby delicatessen, are by my reckoning the two undoubted stalwarts in North Beach, adding panache and fame to this old neighborhood.

Conclusion: The bad sometimes makes room for the good — and vice versa.


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