San Francisco has had a love affair with coffee that dates back to when the Hills Brothers Coffee was founded here in 1878 and subsequently built their headquarters along the Embarcadero in the 1920s. Lately boutique chains such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee have been the darlings of the city’s cafe society, featuring single-origin, fair-trade coffee served in individual pour-over servings, pleasing the palates of those who eschew the likes of Peet’s and Starbucks.
And now Cow Hollow is home to San Francisco’s third Espressamente Illy, a high-end coffee bar serving authentic Italian espresso along with a selection of food in a sleek, modern environment based on a concept by renowned Italian architect/designer Luca Trazzi. (The other two locations are on Market Street and Battery Street; Joe Gurdock, who also owns the Prima Cosa cafes, owns all.)
Dr. Ernesto Illy, whose father, Francesco Illy, founded his eponymous coffee cafes in Trieste, Italy in 1933, espoused that “coffee inspires socializing, friendship, and stimulating conversation, and therefore, one should never drink coffee alone.” No two Espressamente Illy cafes are alike, with each striving to offer a local take on the traditional Italian coffee bar.
Certainly, the Espressa-mente Illy on Union is inviting, with red walls, bright-yet-not-glaring lighting, and a unique 96-cup “chandelier” featuring colorful, unique Illy cups designed by film directors, including Francis Ford Coppola and Julian Schnable. The film theme was selected because the cafe is housed in the restored and landmarked Metro Theater building, home to both the new Equinox gym and the preserved floor-to-ceiling mural by Anthony Heinsbergen, considered the foremost designer of North American movie theater interiors.
Bright silver, black and red Illy coffee cans complement the decor. Food is showcased in an attractive, circular glass display case, and there are plenty of tables and booths with high and low seating for 49, and free Wi-Fi. Espressamente Illy serves a full range of traditional espresso drinks like cappuccinos and espressos — after all, Francesco Illy invented the modern-day espresso machine — along with brewed coffee, and specialty drinks like lavender-mint, clove, and jasmine-vanilla lattes. Mediterranean-inspired snacks and light meals are available all day and range from fruit, pastries, and granola and yogurt parfaits ($2.50–$5), panini and salads ($5–$8) based on recipes by respected San Francisco chef Joyce Goldstein; and a sampling of delectable desserts ranging from tiramisu made with a shot of Illy espresso to macaroons ($1.95–$6). Local vendors provide the baked goods (Semifreddi’s), dairy products (Clover Farms), and bread (Acme).
In addition to coffee drinks and food options, Illy’s full range of espresso machines and coffee in the form of whole beans, ground coffee, and single-serve coffee pods are available for purchase.
Brave the wet weather and stop by Espressamente Illy for a cuppa and a snack, Italian style.
Espressamente Illy: 2055 Union Street, daily 6 a.m.–9 p.m., 415- 500-2788, illy.com