Tosca Café Returns to the Stage for Her Encore Performance


Hello, Casino Bar Negroni 1919. Photo: ©


The back dining room and new backlit wine wall. Yes, it’s still dark in there. Photo: ©


The new open kitchen to the left of the dining room. Photo: ©

Late on Sunday evening, I figured it would be the best time to swing by and check out the new digs of my beloved ~TOSCA CAFÉ~. I was correct, and happily found a spot to perch on one of the new barstools, ready to soak in the fresh details. Owners Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield were exceedingly careful about not changing much, and kept the update on the enhancement side of things. The patina on the walls, paintings, and the checkered floor remains, although the paintings have a bit more light on them for you to admire them. The jukebox remains as is, but now there’s a better sound system for you to hear Johnny Cash and Un Bel Dì.

I ordered my Tosca usual (a Negroni), and the white-jacketed bartenders (Isaac Shumway is leading the show) will make you a very delicious one (with Antica) for $12, in a pretty, oh-so-thin glass, and with extremely clear and dense ice. The cocktail list (11 drinks in all) makes me thirsty, and they also did a nice update to the house “cappuccino,” which will still get steamed from one of the remaining espresso machines on the bar. The capp now has better spirits in it, and ganache from local Dandelion Chocolate.

Everyone is going to be collecting the new coasters, which feature quirky Italian artwork taken from illustrations that used to hang where the kitchen is now. There’s also one with an image of former owner Jeannette Etheredge on the back—reportedly Sean Penn secretly handed that image over for Ken Friedman to use. And reportedly people are asking Jeannette to sign it for them (when she’s in)—and reportedly, she’ll do so (for $10, and it better be cash). Heh. Although don’t look for her at her usual spot at the end of the bar, because now you’ll find a gleaming, red Italian meat slicer and a cook preparing antipasti.

So, the changes. The back room is no longer a place where you can traipse in and huddle with your friends at a table for drinks—it’s now a dining room, with the booths newly outfitted in red leather, and tables full of hungry diners. You’ll note a brand-new, open kitchen to the left, with plans to serve food until 1am nightly (Bloomfield is working with chef de cuisine Josh Even). The menu includes antipasti, from roasted Treviso to the rugged bites that we look for from Bloomfield, like oxtail terrine and crispy pig tails; first courses of chicken liver spiedini and a couple of salads; pasta like gemelli (but instead of saying cacio e pepe, it says black pepper and young pecorino) and bucatini (with tomato, guanciale, and chile—yup, that’s all’amatriciana, but you can see the team isn’t making this a facsimile of an Italian ristorante). Hefty meat courses include grilled short rib and roasted chicken for two, or trout. Cannoli for dessert, natch. There’s also a bar sandwich, which I was told comes with mozzarella, truffle cheese, and prosciutto, surely a bite of heaven at 12:30am.

I enjoyed looking over Ceri Smith and Randall Grahm’s wine list (and the glowing wine wall in the dining room), and saw that Ceri is even securing Monteraponi in classic straw-covered fiaschi for the restaurant. There’s also a Tosca ale on the menu from Fort Point, with four taps in all.

Alas, my favorite bathroom graffiti ever was painted over (but they did keep the bathroom pink), and Robert Mitchum is no longer—but I welcome the nice new hand soap instead of the toxic Boraxo.

I am happy to see the 92-year-old space get a new turn out on the track. Thank God it didn’t close. Yes, I will miss the quieter, moody, sleepy nights in there, but am so pleased the venerable location is in the right hands. The crowd is definitely going to change—with people going there who may not have ever stepped foot in the bar before—but that’s the fault of the hype machine (I know, I am a part of it).

I also paid for my drink for the first time at Tosca with plastic, but I also paid my first employer mandate charge there too.

Open Tue-Sun 5pm-2am (closed Mon through October). 242 Columbus Ave. at Broadway, 415-986-9651.