Some big news regarding one of the Wharf’s most beloved stalwarts: FISHERMEN’S GROTTO NO. 9 has reopened under new owner Chris Henry. It has had quite the thoughtful remodel, thankfully keeping its fabulous vintage style intact, just refreshed and gently updated.
Henry bought the historic property back in October 2016 (it was the first full-service, sit-down restaurant in the Wharf when it opened in 1935) from the Geraldi family, who have owned the Grotto for three generations, but with no one in the family’s next generation taking it over, they decided to sell and retire. (You can read more about the deal in this in-depth piece in Forbes.)
Henry recently took over another SF icon, Tommy’s Joynt, and understands the importance of keeping the nostalgia of these places preserved and intact while giving things a gentle polish—he says, “I want to bring things up to today’s standards for diners, but it’s important to preserve the rich history of the Wharf.” He’s also the owner of Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito and Dawn Patrol in Santa Barbara.
The upstairs restaurant is The Grotto, and all the original woodwork was stripped and repaired and repainted white, from the panels to the beams—it now has such an airy and light feeling. The view remains as spectacular as it always has—there are two sides of windows looking out on the boats and the bay. The former fisherman carpet has been replaced with blonde oak floors with wavy planks (inspired by the bar), and some bronze fish, crabs, and starfish have been inset as well—there is some ocean-inspired carpet that has been installed in the back section of the dining room. There’s also quite the carpet on the staircase, with an octopus on it!
There are banquettes and blue booths along the wall (that are slightly elevated), plus some round tables down the center too. The white tablecloths have been swapped out to reveal the wood tabletops, although there are some fabric runners on the table that tuck into two slots on each end. The black walnut tables were handmade by Eastern European craftsmen Henry has been working with for more than 20 years. There are also some postmodern-inspired chairs, in two retro styles (one is more upholstered), that add to the vintage-yet-modern look.
The menu (here’s an initial peek at the daytime menu) continues to offer the kind of seafood dishes people expect from the Wharf, from chowder to cioppino to crab Louie, but everything has been given a bit of a lighter, fresher presentation. Heidi DiPippo is the corporate culinary director, and Paul Bruno is the executive chef. Sustainability is highlighted, and they have added some fun seafood plateaus from the new raw bar (it’s where the restaurant’s dining room bar used to be—you can still sit there). There is also an herb garden and a beehive on the roof deck garden.
The dining room has a staggering 240 seats. I spoke with GM Lisa Robins (previously at another vintage SF favorite, Alfred’s!), who said it’s quite the marathon each day. She updated the wine list, with wines by the glass that are all from California and from kegs. Both discriminating locals and chard-happy tourists will find plenty to love.
They have reopened the crab stand downstairs, with some total pros running it—you can order cracked crab, seafood cocktail, fish and chips, and some of the Wharf’s best chowder (made fresh two or three times a day). And yes, you can get it in a sourdough bowl. It’s a grab-and-go situation, but there are tables where you can sit (unlike the other stands). The crab stand is open daily from 11am-6pm and it closes a little later Fri-Sat.
The downstairs casual café—which they are calling No. 9—will reopen next (they are targeting March 2018). They are busy preserving the Venetian look of the room, from the jaunty striped poles to the charming booths that were totally falling apart. I’m so glad they are being restored! Some of the amazing blue barstools from upstairs will have a second life at the downstairs bar as well.
Speaking of the bar (the Fireplace Lounge), which was one of the finest retro time capsules in the city, it’s now the Sinatra Bar. The beautiful undulating bar is still there, along with the funky gold medallions on the walls, the diamond-patterned wall paneling, the herringbone ceiling, and more. They even got the fireplace working. A jellyfish tank is coming soon, and you can come by and enjoy some piano playing Sat-Sun afternoons from 1pm-3pm. Tuesday evenings will also be happening.
Behind the stick, you’ll find the talented Ken Furusawa (previously 1300 on Fillmore, Ichi Sushi, Range, Saison, and La Folie), who has gently updated the cocktails but nothing too crazy—classics done right, all of them $13. Frank would approve of the Ol’ Blue Eyes, made with Jack Daniel’s (his favorite) single-barrel whiskey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, bitters, and a brandied cherry.
The iconic vintage signage remains intact—you’ll easily find the restaurant because of it. And you can just guess where I want to throw my next tablehopper vintage dinner!
Another little tidbit: some ABC license-transfer activity reveals Chris Henry is buying Tarantino’s Restaurant as well. I’ll keep you posted on that too—I should have something to share in a few weeks. Open Sun-Thu 11:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm. 2847 Taylor St. at Jefferson, 415-673-7025.
A Wharf classic: crab cioppino. Photo: William Pruyn.