North Beach First Friday Art Crawl

An artist at work in the midst of Live Worms Gallery crowds
An artist at work in the midst of Live Worms Gallery crowd

A fingernail moon glowed brightly low in the Maxfield Parrish dark blue sky. Live music, restaurant chatter and laughter filled the night air.

The galleries were packed for last night’s First Friday art crawl, the art in the  galleries superb.

Don’t miss Nicholas Coley’s new California plein air impressionist work at Emerald Tablet. It’s coming down soon.

Make your way to Focus Gallery at the other end of Grant Avenue for Ferlinghetti’s works on paper and Jack Micheline’s portraits including Bar Mitzvah Boy and his 1961 Mexico City memory of Marilyn Monroe.

Focus Gallery owner John Perino told me a funny story about North Beach’s heroic criminal defense lawyer Tony Serra’s preparation for a recent talk there. Tony’s representing Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow in the recent Chinatown gang & corruption bust.

On the way stop in at Live Worms for a group show of 10 Bay Area artists. You may even see art being created in the midst of the appreciative crowd.

The North Beach art scene is booming. I Heart North Beach just opened next door to Green Street Mortuary with a group show of North Beach artists. A new gallery featuring digital art will open soon in the old North Beach Pizza space on the corner of Grant/Green.

Don’t miss North Beach’s next First Fridays art crawl. Mark your calendar for June 5 and be enriched by dozens of artists in more than 20 galleries. See you there.

North Beach sure is special. Subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss my new Gianni’s North Beach series where I share what’s happening in the neighborhood, in the farmers market and cooking in my kitchen. Oh, that’s Maury Lapp’s Washington Square behind me in the video.

North Beach is San Francisco’s Heart

Worth the wait!
Santo’s Cannolo at Cavali Cafe–A North Beach Treasure

So says Carl Nolte in today’s Chronicle.

“People will tell you that South of Market is the new center of San Francisco. But North Beach has all the contradictions that made San Francisco what it is. And for my money the heart of the town is North Beach.”

Molinari’s Deli, early morning tai chi in Washington Square, lunch at Original Joe’s where a mistress may be at the next table, Liguria Bakery’s fantastic focaccia, Carl surveys it all in his ode to North Beach.

You know how much I love North Beach. Come along with me as I scour what’s left of North Beach’s Italian-American neighborhood to get all the fixings for a 4-course meal with friends last weekend. Homemade ricotta and mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano tomato-basil sauce were the star of that 4-hour meal. Santo’s incredible cannoli weren’t too bad either.

Wayne Thiebaud's Laguna Rising
Wayne Thiebaud’s Laguna Rising

Only one week left to see the incredible Memory Mountains, the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery on Chestnut Street at the fringe of North Beach.

You may know Wayne Thiebaud from his luscious cake paintings or the gum ball machine. I love his landscapes as well.

At 94 Wayne remains a prolific artist. The exhibit features his recent work and older food and landscape paintings that give the exhibit context over time.

Don’t miss this extraordinary collection of art. See which new ridge painting resembles a cake good enough to eat and another like a swirl of chocolate gelato ready to be scooped up.

What’s not to love in North Beach?

I know, the messy and disruptive subway to nowhere dig, loss of old Italian businesses. Don’t get me started. I’m in a wonderful mood this morning.

Year of Italian Culture in America

Italian Consulate in San Franciscco
Italian Consulate in San Francisco

2013 is the Year of Italian Culture in America, a campaign by Italy’s Foreign Minister to create renewed buzz and help Americans learn more about Italia. Events are planned throughout the U.S.

San Francisco will play a leading role in the festivities.

I can’t wait for spring when Adoration of the Shepherds, a major painting by Caravaggio, one of my favorite Masters, arrives at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum.

Mauro Battocchi, the new Italian Consul in San Francisco, is heading up the festivities here. The Consul, who assumed the post last September, has his own blog, San Francisco Italy. I’ll be following him to stay on top of all things Italian in the Bay Area.

Here’s a SF Chronicle piece on the Consul and the 2013 festivities.

Christmas Alley, Naples

Nativity Scene on Naples' Christmas Street
Nativity Scene, Naples’ Santa Chiara Church and Monastery

I call it the “Holy Mile”, one of my favorite areas in the old part of Napoli. Baroque churches abound and a beautiful garden loaded with frescoes and majolica ceramic tiles is hidden behind the Santa Chiara Church and Monastery.

Via San Gregorio Armeno, a pedestrian-only street in the heart of this part of Naples, is known locally as Christmas Alley. It houses dozens of workshops that create everything you need for a precepe, everything you need to set up your own nativity scene.

They’ve been making the sculpted, hand-painted terra cotta figures and creche sets there since the reign of Charles II in the 1700s. Dozens of diminutive figures–angels, the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, villagers, camels, donkeys, sheep, even Pucinella, the impish commedia dell’arte character loved by Neapolitans, are all in the crowded workshops.

My favorite craftsman on Christmas Alley is maestro Ugo Esposito. I have several of his pieces. He carries on a proud tradition in his studio and showroom. The Maestro loves to talk about his craft and the long tradition of Neapolitan manger scenes and characters, both sacred and profane.

Nativity scenes abound all over Napoli, in churches and other public places, and in homes throughout the city. You could spend a whole day finding all the gorgeous public displays.

If you’re in New York City don’t miss the Neapolitan Baroque Creche surrounding the Christmas Tree at the Metropolitan Museum. It appears every holiday season and includes beautiful figures and creche pieces from the 1800s. I visit every time I’m back east for Christmas.

Got your nativity set up under your Christmas tree? That was my job growing up in Jersey and I still love them.

Happy Holidays! Buon Natale!

Al Baccari Knows North Beach Best

Buon Gusto Sausage Factory

The Chronicle’s front page Sunday Profile features Alessandro Baccari, Jr., an outstanding Italian-American historian, preservationist and collector.

Al is North Beach’s non-resident historian too. He lives on West Portal now but was born and raised in North Beach.

Al is 84 and he knows everything about North Beach’s Italian community and he loves to share his stories. He was the curator of the now gone North Beach Museum.

His personal collection of art and artifacts could fill a museum. In fact it did last year at the Old Mint’s Brava L’Italia exhibit in SOMA.

Here’s a post I did a year ago when I visited Al’s Old Mint North Beach exhibit and today’s Chronicle profile.

The Purple Onion: Bye-Bye

The Purple Onion, the North Beach cellar club where Phyllis Diller, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and the Smothers Brothers performed early in their careers, will close next month. A new owner has new plans for the building.

A comedy cooperative staged shows at the Purple Onion over the last 3 years. They filled most shows with “guerrilla” marketing–Tweets and Facebook posts the comedians send to their fans about upcoming gigs.

The Purple Onion is just down the street from Tosca Cafe, another old-time North Beach spot, that was served with an eviction notice last week.

Change is in the North Beach air.

Here’s Paolo Lucchesi’s Chronicle piece with a link to C.W. Nevius’ original story. Check out The Purple Onion 60s street photo.

Chinese Bakery Replaces Victoria Pastry

Victoria Pastry’s New Home Taking Shape

Victoria Pastry has been in North Beach since 1914. The Vallejo and Stockton corner bakery closed last month to move to a new space on Filbert and Powell on the other side of Washington Square Park.

As word about Victoria’s closing spread many wondered whether the south side of Vallejo would maintain its North Beach ties or solidify its ties to Chinatown.

I learned that a Chinese bakery will open in the Victoria Pastry space. The windows are covered and the renovation is underway. The only Italian business left on that side of Vallejo is Tony Gemignani’s new Capo’s restaurant and bar opening in a couple months.

While taking a Sacramento group on my North Beach walking tour I was happy to see some signs of progress at Victoria’s new spot. The build-out is well underway and this mural on the side of building was recently completed.

I can’t wait until I can buy Victoria Pastry’s St. Honore cake, a rum-soaked sponge cake filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with cream puffs. That’s the St. Honore cake in the first panel of the new mural.

North Beach Festival Next Weekend

North Beach Festival Street Painting

The 58th Annual North Beach Festival is next weekend, June 16-17. Don’t miss this opportunity to revel in all that North Beach has to offer. The weather will be superb.

Stroll Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco. Enjoy music, ranging from The Carol Doda Band to the Happy Strings’ Italian madolin and guitar classics. Picnic in Washington Square Park. Eat and drink to your heart’s content. Absorb all the art on the street and in the local galleries too.

The North Beach Festival fears over 125 arts and crafts booths, 20 gourmet food booths, three stages of live entertainments scattered around the Village, beverage gardens, children’s activities, the blessing of the animals at The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, and my personal favorite, Italian street painting.

While wandering the Village, discover the unique array of North Beach cafes, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, pizzerias, delis and bars.

Here are all the Festival details. Can’t wait. See you there.

North Beach First Friday Festivities

Columbus & Coit


Columbus & Coit
Columbus & Coit from the Transamerica building. Click to expand.

Enjoy a beautiful night in North Beach tomorrow. Celebrate the first day of June with your friends and neighbors. Wander the Village Streets and check out what 18 particpating galleries, shops, restaurants and bars have on tap for you. Lots of food, drink, music and art to choose from during North Beach First Friday festivities. Satisfy all you senses! Hope I see you there.

North Beach Walking Tour Saturday!

Gianni Guiding a North Beach Tour

Fans who took my tour a few months ago called to see if I would do a tour of North Beach for out-of-town guests this Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 a.m.

Do you want to join us?

Get to know my my favorite restaurants, bakeries, food shops, art galleries and North Beach history as we take a 90-minute stroll through the Village on a delightful spring day. We’ll eat together at one of my favorite caffes.  Enjoy antipasti, focaccia and a sampler of 3 Tuscan pastas with a glass of a special Chianti. Then we’ll head to another nearby caffe for espresso and the best cannoli or tiramisu in North Beach, your choice.

Tour with food–$50 per person. Tour without food–$25 per person. You can pay by cash or check at the start of the tour.

Just send me an email and I’ll save a spot for you or your group and I’ll let you know where to meet up.

Space is limited so sign up soon.

North Beach 2012 – A New Dawn

Gianni guiding his first tour
Gianni Leading a North Beach Tour

As 2011 comes to a close North Beach is healthy and on the verge of a new dawn.

New restaurants, shops and galleries brought more visitors to the Village and more choices for me and my neighbors. The evening Holiday Boutique Crawl featuring 26 unique North Beach shops and galleries last month was enjoyed by well over a thousand shoppers! Every day visitors and neighbors fill the caffes, restaurants, markets and art galleries. North Beach’s pulse is strong.

Washington Square is booming. Park Tavern in the old Moose’s space on the east side of the Square draws big crowds and is a fun place to have dinner. Bottle Cap on the other side of Columbus offers comfort food in the old Washington Bar and Grill space. Original Joe’s will open in January with lots of outdoor seating facing the Square.

Not all went well. The Neapolitan pizzeria Pulcinella on Vallejo closed but we were able to save the heavily damaged mural “Song of Pulcinella” by Vranas. After a successful restoration we’re looking for a place to display this beautiful view of the Bay of Naples. I miss Pulcinella, the only Neapolitan restaurant in the Village. Here’s a taste of the food and culture that Pulcinella represents now gone from North Beach. The new Pakastani/Indian place Maza on Union couldn’t get a footing and closed earlier this month.

I predict that 2012 will be the year that North Beach is back, updated but stronger than it has been in 60 years. The traditional roots of the neighborhood, Italian food, a vibrant artist community, and great shopping, grew deeper. New arrivals broadened the Village’s appeal. Two stretches of the neighborhood hold the key.

I have my eye on Vallejo Street. Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza will open Capos featuring deep-dish pizza and his pizza school in the Pulcinella space. An oil on canvas mural that captures Vallejo in all its glory in the 50s will be re-installed. (The rolled up mural was found stashed behind a wall during remodeling.) Victoria Pastry on the corner will move to Filbert near Washington Square. Italian-French Bakery now on Upper Grant will move in. Geppetto the new Italian deli (salumeria) will open in January. Vallejo between Columbus and Grant will be transformed into the Poet’s Piazza anchored by the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi and Caffe Trieste. I truly hope Italian-French will be re-born as a great artisan bread bakery. North Beach needs one.

Upper Grant is on fire. Park and Pond opened featuring the work of local artisans. 1814 a few doors away showcases great t-shirts and hoodies by local artists. Al’s Attire moved into a great retro space for his custom clothes and shoes. Tupelo, a new watering-hole, serves southern comfort food. The new Little Vine is an old-fashioned market with a great selection of cheeses, cured meats and carefully selected food products. Emerald Tablet will blossom in 2012 into a fantastic gathering space for artist workshops and other salon events. There are a couple of stores to be had and lots of opportunity for the right business. And it looks like the old North Beach Pizza space is being updated so maybe that long-vacant spot will be scooped up soon.

You can follow it all on Gianni’s North Beach 2.0. My producer Jeff Diehl and I will launch our new website in January. You’ll easily access my Village reports, all of my cooking demonstrations and blog recipes, upcoming private events and soon to be announced culinary tours in Italia on our cool new site. First up on the re-designed site are two new cooking demonstration episodes that you will love.

Felice Anno Nuovo! Buon Anno! Happy New Year! See you in 2012.

North Beach Boutique Crawl Thursday Night

North Beach's Upper Grant Avenue

The starry skies and crisp nights in North Beach have been dazzling lately. The holiday spirit is in full bloom as neighbors and Village visitors leisurely stroll the sidewalks stopping in a store or market here, enjoying a meal or an espresso at a restaurant or caffe there.

I’ve been jazzed with the new places opening up since the summer. Park Tavern on Washington Square garnered great reviews. Tupelo, the new bar on Upper Grant, is packing a very interesting and mixed crowd into their spacious, relaxed watering-hole.

In addition, Al’s Attire (@ Vallejo) created a beautiful retro space for his fashion creations. Just up the street, “1814” showcases a wild collection of tees from several local artists. Park & Pond’s varied selection of products spotlights the work of local artisans. Little Vine has a vibe and service that remind me of the old-time North Beach markets now gone. And, you never know which local artists will be showing their newest work at Focus Gallery or Live Worms.

The annual North Beach Holiday Boutique Crawl – this Thursday, December 8, 6-9pm – is a great opportunity to discover the new businesses and to renew your ties to merchants who have been here for years.

Twenty-six great shops, galleries and studios on Upper Grant, Union, Stockton, Powell and Green Streets, are participating. Each merchant will have something special going on inside their shops.

Come out and support our local merchants. Support North Beach!

Deep Dish in North Beach?

Future Home of Capos

Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Washington Square is taking over the Pulcinella space for a place he’ll call “Capos.” Not sure about the name. (Capo is often a reference to an organized crime boss, and that may not sit well with those concerned about negative stereotypes.)

So, what’s it gonna be? My sources tell me that he will do Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I hear he’ll move his pizza school to the Vallejo Street location, too [UPDATE: This has been confirmed by Eater].

Buona fortuna, Tony! Thanks for another investment in North Beach!

Special Event: Rescued North Beach Painting Will Be Unveiled to the Public

This Friday, December 2nd, I’ll be unveiling the fully-restored “Song of Pulcinella” painting. It’s a gorgeous work by local artist, Vranas, and his hand was essential in repairing it after it was ripped down, wall and all, from the recently-closed Pulcinella Restaurant. (Thanks also to local handyman, Sean O’Donnell.)

The event will also be the Grand Opening of Emerald Tablet, a sweet new gallery and artist workshop in North Beach. Stop by between 6pm and 11pm to view the painting, and to meet the folks at Emerald Tablet as well as tons of other local characters. Free wine and food will be served.

Song of Pulcinella Mural In Hiding

The Rescue Team (Sean, Della, Pulcinella, Vranas, Litlle Pulcinello & Me)

3 weeks to the day since the heavily damaged North Beach Song of Pulcinella mural was rescued from the dumpster and he’s back in his all his glory.

Today we gathered at Emerald Tablet where the artist Vranas restored his mural. We had to position the really heavy mural so that handyman Sean O’Donnell could trim off the excess and put on its new frame.

Oh no, a small piece of the bottom border popped off as we started to move the really heavy mural. I panicked but Vranas assured me that the border will pop right back into place. He’ll lightly touch it up after the frame is on. Whew, tragedy avoided. Vranas and Sean made a couple of design changes and Sean’s framing work got a whole lot easier.

Now that the restoration work is complete, Song of Pulcinella will be under wraps until its Second Unveiling on December 2. I can’t wait for the cloth to drop.

Song of Pulcinella carries some battle scars but I think the mural is back as beautiful as ever. Stop by Emerald Gallery after December 2 and let me know what you think.

We’re still searching for Pulcinella’s permanent home. Any thoughts about a public North Beach indoor space where Song of Pulcinella can be enjoyed by all?

Mural in Pieces As the Rescue Begins
Gluing the Pieces Back in Place
Sean Trims the Mural for Framing