August 8, 2022

Could Tony’s Pizza Napoletana Have The Friendliest Bar in North Beach?

by Joe Bonadio

North Beach is a neighborhood that has long been legendary, not least for its  plenitude of bars and cafés. People come from far and wide to see our little corner of San Francisco, and it’s hardly a surprise. The Beach is a wealth of  riches, especially for those who imbibe: within just a handful of blocks you can visit historic venues like Vesuvio, Gino & Carlo, Specs’, Tony Nik’s, and better than a dozen other venerated watering holes.

As you might expect, those of us who live here tend to get a little spoiled with  so many choices. Nonetheless, we all have our favorites. I do my best to spread the business around, but I’m admittedly a creature of habit, and my  friends know to find me at the local wine bar on Green Street. But over the past few years, my “final-final” has become the bar at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

Another lively lunch at Tony's Pizza Napoletana

Another lively lunch at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco’s North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

There are a lot of reasons for this. First off, I know a lot of the people  at Tony’s, and it’s always satisfying to walk into a place where you’re friendly with the staff. And some of my favorite ‘tenders work behind that bar: Stephanie, Robvell, JP, Jose, they’re all terrific. Thanks in large part to them, the place has become part of my North Beach backyard.

Tony’s is also a great bar to dine at, and for all you regulars out there, I don’t  need to remind you of how good the food is. But it goes beyond that.

Fact: nearly every time I sit at this bar, I meet someone. I’ve been to a lot of  bars, and Tony’s bar is the ideal environment for connecting with people. The atmosphere is totally convivial; almost everyone is drinking and eating, many of them marveling over the best pizza they’ve had. The air is filled with the smell of good Italian food, and everyone in the room is typically on their second cocktail, and basically blissing out.

Bartenders Jose Acevedo and Stephanie Danese

Bartenders Jose Acevedo and Stephanie Danese, just two of the reasons for the positive vibe behind the bar at Tony’s. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

In this setting, it’s the most natural thing in the world to turn to the person next to you, and ask: “What did you guys have?”

Trust me, this works like a charm. What can I tell you? A shared love of pizza turns out to be the ultimate icebreaker. People obviously love to talk about great food; eating is the one thing we all have in common. And once you’ve shared the details of a good meal with someone, everything just flows.

I’ve had some of the greatest conversations at this bar. I’ve met cool people from all over the Bay, and all over the world. I’ve been invited to concerts, barbecues and countless Giants games, and pocketed a trade show’s worth of business cards.

JP working at Tony's bar

Like Robvell and Stephanie, JP has been working the Tony’s bar since its earliest days. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

A couple of weeks back, I helped some friends open a new restaurant/wine bar in the Inner Richmond, Cantina Los Mayas. A couple of days prior to the opening, I sat down next to a very nice couple at Tony’s, and we ended up  talking. I mentioned the Cantina, and they were intrigued by the Mexican wine bar concept. It wasn’t a long conversation at all, maybe 5 minutes.

I didn’t think about it again until that Thursday, when in the midst of our first night of service at the Cantina I looked up to see the woman I had met at Tony’s. Her husband wasn’t with her, but she had brought along her daughter, and they were at the bar having a glass of wine. I was nearly dumbstruck. We had spoken for just a few minutes, and she came across town for our grand opening.

Bartender Robvell Smith

Bartender Robvell Smith chats with the locals as he presents one of his meticulously prepared cocktails on Monday. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Suffice to say, the Tony’s bar is a goldmine for social interaction.

Meanwhile, if you’re local to North Beach, you might already know about Money Monday. That’s locals day at the Tony’s bar, named for veteran bartender Robvell Smith, AKA “Money.” All of the regulars stop by on Mondays—and it’s the perfect way to start out the week.

Do yourself a favor, and stop by to see Robvell and the rest of the Tony’s crew soon. And I’ll see you in the neighborhood!

The Seven Ovens Blog brings the stories behind Tony Gemignani’s San Francisco pizza school  and remarkable group of restaurants to a wider audience. Make sure to bookmark us, and we’ll  see you here soon.