January 9, 2018
Late last month, at the gloaming of 2017, die-hard EssEff natives (even if they now live in Marin) turned out in force on Green Street to toast the venerable Gino & Carlo bar on its 75th anniversary.
Beneath a warm winter sun, the place was packed with fans who also spread out on the sidewalk and along Jasper Place partaking of a joyful, old-school festa and Italian feed (roasted peppers, pasta, sausages) hosted by owner-cousins Marco Rossi and Frank Rossi Jr. with their partner Ron Minolli Jr. on Dec. 23.
Founded in 1942 (though that date and the forgotten last names of the founding Gino & Carlo inspires some debate), this storied boîte in the heart of North Beach was bought in 1954 by the late Italian immigrant Donato Rossi and his brother, retired publican Frank Rossi. Now under their sons’ steady leadership, Gino & Carlo remains a real-deal, old-school saloon.
That longevity proved a welcome contrast when, days later, a New York Times article by technology writer David Streitfeld, described how the recently opened Salesforce Tower has rendered our San Francisco skyline “inescapably transformed by tech.”
Clocking in at 1,070-feet, the 61-story, $1.1 billion behemoth — located South of the Slot amid the long-congested newly dubbed “Transbay” micro-hood district — is visible from almost every inch of our formerly quaint city of Victorians, cable cars and open sky.
Or as Streitfeld opined: “The tower is not beautiful but is impossible to ignore. The top floors are set off from the rest, and the crown is flat rather than a spire. It looks as if a rocket were stowed up there, an escape vehicle for the tech overlords when the city is consumed by disaster.”
Thankfully, a few institutions like Gino & Carlo still reign. Untouched by tech, save for a newfangled “jukebox” rife with Sinatra or Dean Martin tunes, these spots are redolent of classic San Francisco — a once-upon-a-time village divided by distinct neighborhoods wafting with the essence (cioppino, dim sum, beer, Irish coffee, deli delights, pupusas, Crab Louis, sourdough bread) of immigrants who tamed the rough and tumble early Barbary Coast shores.
Marco Rossi credits his bar’s continued success to the groundwork and goodwill laid down by his family — from monthly Italian lunches cooked up in the kitchen to spirited summer bocce tournaments and an 8-Ball Pool Tournament every February.
“As a little boy, I’d visit my dad and the place was tutto Italiano — all Italian. Then we had the beatniks, later hippies, followed by yuppies, hipsters and now techies,” says Rossi. “Times change; it’s not just old Italian men drinking Fernet anymore. This is about doing what you love and giving back to your community. Six a.m. till 2, we’re here for you.”
Like a cozy man cave, Gino & Carlo is a longtime gathering spot for wedding receptions, wakes and World Series celebrations. And it endures as a beacon, luring loquacious politicians, raconteurs, lawyers and ink-stained scribes, including the late Chronicle columnists Charles McCabe and Warren Hinckle, who preferred penning their copy atop a barstool.
Technically, Gino & Carlo bills itself as a “cocktail lounge and sports bar.” Numerous TVs (usually tuned to Giants, Warriors or 49er games) and two backroom pool tables attest to that pedigree. But the beating heart of Gino & Carlo is defined by the denizens of this still bohemian hood.
“It’s one of my favorite North Beach hangouts. In the old days you could cash a payroll check here Saturday morning at 6 a.m. just as the garbage men, bakers, fishermen and cops were ending their night shift,” says poet Tony Dingman, who’s bent his elbow atop that plank since 1978. “By 7:30 or 8 a.m., it was like ‘last call.’”
Irish Pat Lawlor, a retired boxer dubbed “The Pride of the Sunset,” said Gino & Carlo is “top-notch” and the most family-feeling bar he’s ever experienced.
“In 2016, a bartender saw the Oakland Estuary fire on the bar’s TV burning her houseboat. She lost a lot. But the bar supported her by holding a fundraiser,” Lawlor recalled. “Whether it’s morning, afternoon or late-night, the clientele is mostly natives. You don’t find that much anymore in San Francisco.”
While the pool tables don’t interest Dingman, he appreciates the sports memorabilia lining the bar’s walls — a proud display of great Italian American athletes like Joe Montana and Dan Marino.
“But I’d never call this place a sports bar or a dive bar,” he insisted. “Gino & Carlo is a human place with a true Italian touch."