Time marches on, even in the treasured time capsule that is San Francisco’s North Beach. Change is inexorable, and after ten years here in the Beach, I’ve learned to take the constant transformation with a grain of salt. I’ve seen enough to know that every good thing that leaves this neighborhood is replaced with something else, typically just as good or better.

That being said, today’s article marks the beginning of a new regular feature: North Beach Fix will document these periodic shifts in the neighborhood orbit, both to honor those people and establishments that move on, and to celebrate the new arrivals. Our inaugural edition makes its appearance just as Indian Summer hits its stride, so it’s perfect timing for a warm, exploratory stroll around the ‘hood–and there are plenty of new things afoot.

For years, the northeast corner of Filbert and Columbus was home to Melt, an eccentric little bar with live jazz that trafficked in fondue and other cheesy fare. They were well-regarded, friendly and no-frills (though they did warrant a nod from from the Wall Street Journal for that fondue). They threw in the towel in June, and the space has been spiffed up and retooled as a wine bar.

The Reimagined Space At The Newly Opened Bodega

New arrival Bodega specializes in South American wines and small plates, and they are already packing in the crowds. The menu is market-driven and seasonal, with offerings like avocado toast, ceviche, and a Bodega bowl with kale, red cabbage, avocado, feta and grains (the latter already a neighborhood favorite). Owner Paria Sedigh took advantage of the unique space, which is bathed in afternoon light year ‘round, and resurrected it with white walls and spare, elegant decor. The transformation is total, and it’s all for the good. The beverage list is short and sweet, running the gamut from $3.50 canned beer to $10 glasses of wine, but whether you’re looking for a chewy malbec, a refreshing rosé or a frosty Modelo, Bodega has your number.

As I reported earlier this month, Broadway has added a serious player in the Mexican and late-night dining categories: Panucho’s. Open until 3:00 am (really, more like 2:30) six days a week, Panucho’s is the work of Morgan Anderson and Juve Carrillo, the latter of whom learned to prepare traditional Yucatan cuisine from his father and grandfather back in Mexico. The place is tiny and decidedly downscale in appearance (they occupy the old Vietnam space at 620 Broadway), but the food is exemplary: cochinita pibil, poc chuc and a host of other Yucatan specialties dominate the simple menu, and whether you go with tacos, tostadas or the namesake panuchos, your meal is sure to be plentiful, fresh and intensely flavorful. A note of caution: these guys aren’t joking–the habanero salsa is hot.

The Namesake Dish At Panucho’s On Broadway

Next, we’ll take a few steps east to ground zero–Columbus and Grant Avenue–where the rumors have been confirmed as gloriously true: Louisa Taylor, the former manager and notoriously fiery front-of-house at Sotto Mare, has partnered with her sister Betty Pesce and chef Hector Chapparo to open a new  surf-and-turf spot in North Beach. Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill, which is taking over the former Viva space at 318 Columbus, will serve a full seafood menu, including traditional Italian specialties like cioppino (for the uninitiated, a rich tomato-based seafood stew). Unlike Sotto Mare, Betty Lou’s plans to offer meat options as well.

Chapparo had helmed the kitchen at Sotto Mare since they first opened their doors, and his sudden departure last month evidently ruffled a few feathers in the neighborhood. But Hector’s a great chef and a wizard on the grill, and it’s good to see him striking out on his own–and hell, I’m excited to sample the man’s ribeye.

And what of Sotto Mare? I was just there for a leisurely lunch last week, and rest assured, they haven’t lost a step (or the ever-present line snaking out the door). We can never have too much quality seafood in the nabe, so controversy aside, Betty Lou’s is a win-win for locals. I spoke with a very-excited Louisa and Betty at the new location earlier this week, and they said they’re hoping to be open by Columbus Day. I’ll be there, and I can’t wait to see Louisa wrangle the unruly Broadway crowds. Crack that whip!

Heading a few blocks south to tree-lined Jackson Street, we’ve got yet another new arrival, this one a homecoming of sorts: The North Face has opened a brand-new boutique at 701 Sansome, just blocks away from where Douglas and Susie Tompkins opened their first shop in 1966, catering to rock climbers and other lovers of the outdoors. Those were different times: a huge photo of Bob Dylan dominated the front window, and the Grateful Dead played the opening party, where members of the Hell’s Angels supposedly worked the door.


The North Face’s Original Store In North Beach, 1966

The Tompkins sold The North Face to Kenneth “Hap” Klopp just two years later; shortly thereafter, the couple went on to found global mega-retailer Esprit. A half century on, the opening of The North Face’s newest shop marks the brand’s first location in North Beach since they moved to Berkeley in 1968. In the interim, The North Face has gone forth and conquered: from one tiny store, they have grown into an international fashion brand with over 75 locations in the US and many others worldwide. Their clothing (adorned with the ubiquitous North Face logo) is instantly recognizable, and The North Face has become an integral part of our culture.


The North Beach Logo, Repurposed To Represent

In a reflexive bit of marketing imitation, that logo was co-opted by the creative community here in North Beach. By incorporating the colors and silhouette of Italy and changing The North Face to The North Beach,  a local clothier–who shall remain nameless–reclaimed the iconic design for the neighborhood. In the process, he created (or co-created) a distinct logo for the place–one that has proliferated widely. It’s ironic: by swiping their logo for North Beach, he paid homage to a brand that took its first tentative steps right here in our little burg. Neat trick….and no word from the lawyers yet.

Finally, some extremely welcome news on the local bar scene: as reported widely, venerated dive bar Mr. Bing’s was sold early this Summer. As would be expected, ever since learning of its imminent demise, droves of pre-nostalgic imbibers have been making the pilgrimage to drink at their beloved Bing’s. Alas, a reprieve is at hand, and it looks as if the storied ginmill will remain.

The Notorious Mr. Bing’s

The new owner, Pete Cooper of stalwart Irish haunt Ireland’s 32 in the Inner Richmond, was canny enough to purchase the trademark from Bing’s former owners, and has decided to leave the name intact. Seems like the obvious choice: When you’ve got a national-level bigmouth like Anthony Bourdain extolling your virtues (love ya, Tony!), it’s clearly not time for a rebrand.

Expect some fresh paint and a little cleaning around the edges–but that’s it. According to the new regime, they intend to keep things the same. Hopefully that means you’ll still hear the whack!  of dice on the bar, and Scooter will be back there going shot for shot with everyone in the place, as usual. Here’s to tradition, attitude and momentum. Skol!


Joe Content reports regularly on all things San Francisco, with an emphasis on the historic northeast quadrant encompassing North Beach, the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf. For more great content, subscribe to our newsletter on the right side of this page, and come back to see us again soon.