Like all things, neighborhoods are subject to cycles. They wax and wane; businesses come and go, and within a matter of a few years, yesterday’s sleepiest corner can morph into today’s hottest new destination.

As one of San Francisco’s original settlements, North Beach has seen both sides of this equation over the decades. And as you may have heard, the neighborhood is in the midst of a big upswing right now: over the last few months better than half a dozen new bars and restaurants have opened in The Beach, with several more in the works. But in a field of promising newcomers, the biggest story might just belong to the man behind the long-awaited Lillie Coit’s.

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The duck confit, one of the highlights on the menu at San Francisco’s Petite Lil’s. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Mindful of its history, the new place takes its name from one of North Beach’s most well-remembered citizens: a longtime champion and patron of the fire department, Lillie Coit was also the woman who gifted the neighborhood with Coit Tower. Just as notably, it occupies the former space of the most famous bar/restaurant in recent San Francisco history, the Washington Square Bar & Grill.

While the space looks terrific, owner Nick Floulis insists there is still work to do. So while improvements continue apace, their spiffy new sign bears a sobriquet: Petite Lil’s.

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Petite Lil’s tiny new sign belies the ambitious scale of the project. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

The project was originally conceived nearly five years ago, and if you think that seems like an awfully long time to build a restaurant, you’re not wrong: from the beginning, the enterprise has been beset by delays, the first of them being the massive 2018 fire that gutted the building directly across the street at 659 Union.

That setback alone might have been enough to change the mind of another restaurateur, but Floulis wouldn’t be so easily deterred. The former co-owner of North Beach staple Chubby Noodle, Floulis was a veteran of the business, by reputation as scrappy as he was savvy.

While he did decide to push back the projected opening date after the fire, Floulis was determined to go forward. He kept at it, and it wasn’t long before he was hosting events in the space, still taking shape. Along with his then-partners, Floulis also put together Doors Open, a pop-up concept created to benefit the scores of workers who had been displaced by the tragic fire.

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Petite Lil’s luscious duck prosciutto is a crowd favorite. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

All the while, Floulis continued developing the property, working to realize his long-term vision for Lillie Coit’s (or Lillie’s, as some had already begun referring to the place)His dream would require more than a routine buildout, however. What Floulis had in mind was a complete reimagining of the space. The ancient bar on the south wall would be entirely removed, to be replaced by a 30-seat circular bar in the center of the space. What’s more, a sweeping mezzanine would overlook the bar below, construction which would eventually add fully 50 seats to the venue.

Along with a roster of other improvements, these changes would utterly transform the Powell Street space. When I toured the site with Floulis in December of 2019, the project was well on its way to completion—but as we would soon find out, the world had a few more curveballs in store for Lillie Coit’s.

Of course, we all know what comes next. In March of the following year, Covid Hell froze over. Lockdowns began; in a dozen ways, all of our lives were forever changed. As one effect of the pandemic, brick-and-mortar businesses were in big trouble. And once the veil had descended, suddenly the idea of opening a new restaurant—and quite a big one, at that—seemed almost insane.

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Petite Lil’s is just steps away from the historic Saints Peter and Paul Church in Washington Square Park. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

But despite the doubters, Floulis kept at it. And to be sure, by 2021, plenty of people were starting to doubt Nick Floulis. Unfortunately this included his landlord, and none too few of his investors. But Floulis wouldn’t stop working, he wouldn’t cave. He just kept building.

On August 23rd, Floulis hosted his first big event at the fledgling Lillie Coit’s. Billed as the Bar Break-In, the party was no less than a complete blowout, with well over 500 people (!) showing up over the course of the night. Keep in mind this was an event promoted with an 8.5 x 11” picture frame next to the coconuts at Floulis’ tiny Hole In The Wall Coffee around the corner, held at a venue that wasn’t even open yet. It was an auspicious start: right out of the gate, it seemed San Francisco had an appetite for Lillie Coit’s. The event was no fluke, as a number of subsequent happenings in the space have clearly borne out.

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Andrew England (L) of San Francisco’s Real Old Paper Gallery with Nick Floulis in front of one of his enormous vintage posters, now adorning the south wall of Petite Lil’s. | Photo Courtesy of Nick Floulis

After six weeks dedicated to holiday popup Natale, a lavishly lit paean to all things Christmastime, in January Petite Lil’s threw open its doors with a streamlined design and a brand new brasserie-influenced menu. If you haven’t seen this space yet, you owe yourself a visit.

Don’t expect to see any traces of the old Washbag, because the interior has been gutted and redesigned from floor to ceiling. While a work in progress, the venue’s decor is unique, featuring a wide collection of striking large-format vintage posters, many well over a hundred years old. A knowing nod to Europe’s storied Belle Epoque, the atmosphere harkens back to a more glamorous time–one that would have been familiar to Lillie Coit herself. Suffice to say, the place has never looked better.

When I spoke with Floulis this week, the restaurateur seemed galvanized by this new stage of his project. “It’s great to watch the neighborhood slowly discovering us,” he told me. “We’ve still got plenty of work to do, but we’ve gotten off to a festive start.”


Petite Lil’s is now open from 4:00 PM-1:00 AM every Wednesday through Sunday, serving a full menu until closing.

Petite Lil’s
1859 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94133