In a city with lots of firsts, it is still surprising to hear that San Francisco boasts the oldest continually operating Italian restaurant in the United States. That’s a distinction that owners Bob and Jinx Larive don’t take lightly for Fior d’Italia, which was founded in 1886 and is now located in the San Remo Hotel. Chef Gianni Audieri has been turning out two dozen pasta specialties and other traditional Northern California dishes for close to 30 years and the waiters adhere to old-world attire and service. What’s new are the bartenders: brothers Michael and Geo Rivas. Their cocktail program offers modern twists on North Beach classics, as well as unique creations such as the indulgent Tiramisu Martini.
Fior d’Italia: 2237 Mason St., San Francisco, (415) 986-1886
When did you start bartending?
Geo: I’m going on three years. I learned to bartend here. We grew up with the restaurant and I came back to do valet parking. Then I started as a bar back and learned how to do that here.
Michael: I started doing valet parking 10 years ago. When it was slow, I would hop behind the bar. I also worked as a waiter and manager.
What is the clientele like?
Geo: We have a lot of locals now and it becomes a younger crowd when I bartend.
Michael: The customers are more casual and we do have customers who live up [in the hotel]. They are here all the time. European tourists are a less-formal dining crowd and they tend to come in late at night.
Which cocktails are popular here?
Michael: Two of our house cocktails are very popular — the Lupa di Roma and the Trixy. We also make a lot of vodka sodas and gin and tonics.
Geo: We do a lot of regular drinks, too, like dry martinis, Manhattans and Scotch on the rocks. How do you come up with new drinks? Michael: It’s an ongoing challenge. Recently, I made a drink that doesn’t have a name yet. It’s very tropical and we’ve been writing down all the names the customers are coming up with. Eventually we’ll choose one. If it’s something well known, I’ll do variations on the spirits and just practice with them.
Do you get regulars?
Michael: We have a lot of fun with them. They come in almost every night and we can do a lot of jokes with them. It’s a great atmosphere. We’ve all worked together for a long time and it’s like a family.
Geo: We had a tourist couple from Australia who came in and they remembered us and came back.
Do you get any celebrities here?
Michael: We’ve had Carlos Santana and Robin Williams.
Geo: We do get characters in here.
Is this place haunted?
Michael: We had some ghost-hunters who came in when the place was shut down and played a tape recorder. When they played it, a “gentleman” at the bar called the name of our maitre d’ twice.
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Serve with a float of slightly whipped heavy cream and a dash of chocolate powder on top.