Among the dozens of Italian restaurants in North Beach, some appeal to tourists on the busy Broadway strip, while others are more easily found by locals and return visitors. Just a block off Broadway, Firenze is one of those places where you will more likely see regulars — at the bar and for dinner — than bright-eyed 20-somethings enjoying their first pizza slice in Baghdad by the Bay. Bartender and host Chris Tocchini fits that milieu well, both as a longtime San Franciscan with a heavy hand and as an irreverent entertainer.
Firenze By Night, 1429 Stockton St., San Francisco, (415) 392-8585
What’s the clientele like? We’ve been open 25 years, so we are getting our second generation of guests. Now you see the kids. One minute he was 18. Now he’s 24 and graduating from college. Now he’s bringing in dates.
Do you get regulars? I have my cast and crew of regulars. So do all the waiters. We subsist off a steady diet clientele of regulars. We also do a good tourist trade and with people who travel to come here.
What’s the age range of guests? It depends on the time of night as we head into the blue hours. Sometimes I’ll stay late if I have a good bar crowd.
What makes Firenze different than all the other Italian places? They haven’t changed a thing. There’s no fusion. It is what it is, like the spinach ricotta ravioli with Bolognese sauce, which is perfect. This is not Italian-American cooking. We don’t have pizza, spaghetti and meatball sandwiches. Not only that, but outside of myself, everyone speaks another language. They are from Italy and they know their Italian wines.
When did you start bartending? One summer, I got a job at Fisherman’s Wharf at the warehouse at Alioto’s. Then I got transferred to one of the crab stands. ... [A friend] asked me if I knew how to bartend and I said, “I know how to drink.” He said, “You’re my bartender.” Then I was walking out of the Marina Deli and I ran into Matt Corvi. He used to own Gravity and the Velvet Lounge. He said, “Do you want to open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?” There, I attracted a funky group of people who were 21 to 24. We would watch cartoons and get drunk. Then I worked weekends at Velvet Lounge. Paolo and Sergio Giusti [the owner of Firenze] were looking for a bartender and I’ve been here for six years.
What do you like about tending bar? It’s fun. I get to force my will and views on people because I have what they want. It’s good honest work and you get to drink and eat for free.
Do you make specialty cocktails? If I have the ingredients, I can make it.
What are the most popular drinks? The biggest sellers are always the “and” drinks. Vodka and tonic. Jack and Coke. Shots and beers. We also do martinis, Negronis and Italian classics.
Why do they call it “by Night”? We don’t do lunch. We only do one lunch a year. It’s on Columbus Day and we get 300 people.
Serve over ice in a rocks glass with an orange slice.