15 Romolo – The Best New-ish Bar in North Beach
I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the nightlife in North Beach. On weeknights it’s a great place to go out, hang with some friends and have a tipple with 75 year old poets. It’s also got the Holy Trinity of bars: Spec’s, Tosca, and Vesuvio.
But weekend nights in North Beach are fucking awful. The neighborhood gets filled with way too many knuckleheads. There are few things in the world with a higher propensity for violence than a group of drunk guys just getting out of a strip club. Take the combination of booze, lap dances, and looking at titties you’re not allowed to touch, and add in a healthy dose of the mob mentality, and what you’ve got on your hands is a savage recipe for broken body parts and punctured lungs.
Back when I worked in North Beach, my girlfriend at the time would occasionally meet me afterwork and then we’d go out together. If it was a weekend night, we’d go out of our way to avoid Broadway and Columbus. The last thing I needed was some jackass grabbing her, me knocking him out, and then his 12 friends stomping me into a puddle of blood, bones and vomit. No sir, not my cup of tea, not at all.
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So with this in mind, I was a bit underwhelmed at the idea of meeting up at 15 Romolo, in North Beach, a few Saturdays ago with Victoria Smith. Besides being a brilliant photographer (she shoots famous bands and did my SF book cover), Victoria is also a good friend that I hadn’t seen in awhile. So, while I was excited to see her, I wasn’t excited about going to a bar roughly 30 paces up an alleyway from the center of the shit-storm.
That all changed when I got inside 15 Romolo. The most noticeable thing was that it wasn’t filled with a bunch of bridge and tunnel fucktards in search of over-the-pants-hand-jobs and $10 drinks. It was actually full of various SF folks from tons of different scenes who I never get to run into. It was like a dimly lit, drink in hand, San Francisco version of This is Your Life. I’d been to Romolo a few times previously, but it had certainly been a number of years. The new owners had taken a bar that was good in theory and turned it into something that was excellent in practice. A perfectly low lit bar with attractive people, a great jukebox and $4 cocktails is a good thing. But making it feel like the rest of the world (meaning the dumb fucks below you on Broadway) isn’t in on your secret; that’s what makes it a wonderful thing.
North Beach is a place that never ceases to amaze me. Every time I’m about to give up, I have another amazing night there and fall back in love with it. There’s still something romantic about the neighborhood that no amount of bad vibes can taint, and that might be what keeps drawing me back. The knuckleheads can have Broadway, and most of Columbus for that matter. Just let me have the Holy Trinity and 15 Romolo and we’ll call it even.