August 7, 2018

Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini And The North Beach Cocktail

A few years ago in Las Vegas, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini spoke at a luncheon sponsored by Ciao Tutti. To many Italians, Ray was not just a boxer–he was an inspiration.

I remember watching Ray fight when I was a little boy with my grandfather Frank and the rest of our family. My brother and I would sit on the floor while my grandfather was in his rocking chair, my mom and dad on the couch. Fight night was a big night in the Gemignani household. My nonno (grandpa) Frank loved Boom Boom, and adored boxing in general. This was during the heyday of the sport, and the field was crowded with stars: Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Leon Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, Hector Macho Camacho–at that time, boxing was it.

But nobody stood out more in our household than Ray Boom Boom Mancini. Was it because he was a great fighter? Was it because he was Italian? Or because he had that smile, that charisma and charm? To me, it was all of the above.

Today, I feel fans have lost interest in boxing. There seems to be no love for the fighters anymore. As a kid you always had a favorite, and today if you ask a kid who their favorite boxer is (or even who the heavyweight champ of the world is), they would probably not know, or spit out the name of an MMA fighter or wrestler. Sad but true.

About five years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Ray at a luncheon in a popular bar in North Beach (San Francisco’s Little Italy) called Gino & Carlo’s. The place has been around for decades, and it’s this kind of bar that makes San Francisco so great. Diverse, friendly, mostly local and very old school, it’s the kind of place where every once in a while you got to be a tough guy. I’ve been drinking here for over 20 years, and the bartenders are the best.

If I remember right, at one time Gino’s had four or five different bartenders named Frank–such a classic neighborhood joint. At this bar, I always order a drink called ‘The North Beach:’ Campari and soda with a brandy float, typically A. R. Marrow. I have heard from a couple of sources that the Italian fishermen of North Beach claimed this cocktail was born at sea, because it is so cold out there. Out on the water amidst the Bay Area fog, they wanted their drinks with a little more oomph–hence the brandy. Others say that the imported Campari (with added soda) wasn’t strong enough, and the hardworking Italian immigrants added brandy to make it stronger. Maybe the stories are true, maybe not. But the flavor combination to me is absolutely delicious.

This cocktail is still served in Italian clubs and a few restaurants in North Beach. A lost cocktail to others, the Italians keep it alive. At the luncheon in question, I ordered one while listening to Ray speak about his boxing career, his father and the state of boxing is today. I remember one attendee asking if Sugar Ray Leonard or Floyd Mayweather was a better fighter. His reply was diplomatic: both of them are great fighters, but Sugar Ray can knock you out!

One of the best parts was listening as Ray remembered and reminisced about his father. As an Italian family man, I found it touching that he was such a big inspiration to Ray. The boxer also reminded everyone that he was Italian and Irish, and explained that if he were to get into an argument at this bar, the Irish side of him would take the guy outside and talk with him. Then the Italian side would take the guy outside, talk with him–and punch his lights out. That was the best thing I heard all day.

The next time you find yourself in San Francisco, head to North Beach and stop by Gino & Carlos for a North Beach Cocktail. Cent’ anni!

The North Beach Cocktail

8 oz short Collins glass*
1.5 oz Campari
Add ice, top to full with sparkling water
0.5 oz A R Marrow brandy float on top
Garnish with orange slice

*Note: short Collins glasses can also be called pony glasses or juice glass.