By Joe Bonadio

When you say North Beach, there are a few things that come to the typical person’s mind. And while Italian food, jazz, barflies and beatniks likely lead the list, to be sure, coffee isn’t too far down the page. For good reason: when Gianni “Papa Gianni” Giotto opened Caffe Trieste on Grant Avenue back in 1956, it was California’s first espresso bar. The place quickly became a gathering place for the writers, musicians and other creative types streaming into North Beach at the time, prompting imitators across the neighborhood.

Today there are a dozen or so proper coffee shops in North Beach, and as of July 25th, there is one more: Vigilance Coffee on Green Street is now open. Why you should care: they’re brewing exclusively Graffeo Coffee (a world-class roaster that has called North Beach home for almost ninety years). And they’ve taken up residence at the neighborhood’s most popular outdoor patio bar, Belle Cora.

David Burbank and Nils Marthinsen in front of Belle Cora, the new home of Vigilance Coffee. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

To make it all happen, Belle Cora co-owner Nils Marthinsen partnered with David Burbank, long a familiar face in North Beach. David held the title of Sacristan at Saints Peter & Paul Church for over twenty years—meaning he basically ran the place. And until recently, he was also a regular barista at Hole In The Wall Coffee on Union Street. 

I’ve known both Burbank and Marthinsen for over a dozen years, and consider them both close friends, so when I heard about the project I knew I had to get it up on the blog. It only makes sense: when I started the Joe Content blog eight years ago, Marthinsen opened Belle Cora the same month—and was my very first client.

Burbank and I sat down over a (quite delicious) cup of coffee last week, and our conversation is below.

After bartending for decades, David Burbank is no stranger to the service business. | Photo: Lauryn Strobel

Joe Bonadio: So Dave! You have just changed the game a bit in terms of coffee in the neighborhood. Tell us about Vigilance Coffee.

David Burbank: Well it’s a pop-up here at Belle Cora. We’re open Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and we’re serving coffee, pastries and donuts.

JB: Cool. Tell the readers what kind of coffee you’re serving?

DB: Graffeo.

JB: My favorite! And they’re right around the corner. Where are your baked things coming from?

DB: Happy Donuts, right down on Columbus and Kearny.

JB: Perfect. And how did this whole thing come about?

DB: Well, I noticed this place is empty for the first half of the day. And Green Street didn’t have a coffee shop.

JB: That is sort of odd. I guess you fixed that…

DB: Yep!

Elizabeth relaxes on the outdoor patio at Vigilance Coffee in North Beach. | Photo: David Burbank

JB: So how are things going so far?

DB: So far so good. We’ve been open a week, and we’re getting a lot of repeat business. People have been coming in for cold brew concentrate to go. We’ve already got clientele we expect to be picking up a bottle every week.

JB: Very nice. So what does this project mean to you?

DB: Well, I used to tend bar and manage restaurants for forty years back in the 70’s and 80’s.

JB: You were a bartender for forty years?

DB: Yeah—but that was before all these foo-foo drinks.

JB: (Laughter)

DB: That’s back when you had one tequila: Jose Cuervo Gold. The most exotic drink we had back then was Sex On The Beach.

JB: I remember those. Can you still remember how to make one?

DB: Nope.

JB: They were pretty disgusting, if I recall correctly.

Vigilance features North Beach’s Graffeo Coffee, one of the best and most traditional roasters in the Bay Area. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

DB: They were! But the young girls loved them.

JB: So it’s only been a couple of weeks, and people around North Beach already seem pretty excited about your new place. 

DB: I’m grateful for that. I’m really excited to welcome the neighborhood in.

JB: Congratulations Dave, and best of luck.


Vigilance Coffee (@ Belle Cora)
565 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 872-5451