Word of mouth keeps Gio’s Restaurant a cozy local fixture 

Visiting Gio’s Restaurant is a little like stepping back in time to when the Financial District had a teeming and very liquid lunch scene. At Gio’s, those days still exist — and not just for old-timers. Younger downtown workers are also discovering the value of a traditional cocktail and a solid meal, according to owner and bartender Giovanni Costabile. Tucked away in a quiet alley near the Transamerica building, patrons find Gio’s by word of mouth, and first-time guests thrilled at their discovery often become regulars.

Gio’s Restaurant, 531 Commercial St., San Francisco, (415) 362-0800

How did you get into the business? I opened this place in 1987. Before that, I spent 15 years in international trade. But I had a pedigree in the restaurant business. I opened Jovanelo’s in 1972 and before that I was at Monroe’s on Lombard Street. It was the classiest place on Lombard. I used to be a maitre d’ at a fancy place on Broadway called La Strada before Broadway turned tawdry.

Where did you like to go? Sean Mooney, who had Mooney’s Irish Pub, was the proverbial publican and a friend. That was my hangout, as was the Washbag [Washington Street Bar & Grill], Gino & Carlo [548 Green St.] and La Rocca’s.

When did you come here? I came here in 1957 from Mexico City. My father was Italian and he had friends in North Beach. I was a young man and an art student. The whole idea was very romantic, and I have loved it ever since.

How did you become a bartender? I went to San Francisco State and we made our way through school as bartenders. When I graduated, I was making more money doing that than I was offered as a graphic designer so I kept doing it.

What’s the history of this place? It’s a 1912 building and it has been a bar since before the war. The oldest name I have heard is the Blue Door. During Prohibition, it was not a speakeasy. But they would make wine downstairs and people would taste the wine and take it home in a brown bag. The back bar came from around the Horn and it was at The Palace and was twice as big. The twin of this bar ended up in Petaluma at McNear’s.

What’s the menu like? We serve lunch only. The style is Financial District with an Italian accent. We have salads, classic sandwiches, eight or nine pastas and daily specials. Some specials remain the same, like fish and chips, pot roast and our turkey plate.

What’s the clientele like? We attract people in banking, insurance and transportation and we get a lot of women. The demographics have changed. Fortunately, it’s now a wider range. We have kept the old farts and are attracting the younger crowd that is not afraid of the old vibe. We have a kind of Barbary Coast attitude and more and more [young people] are not intimidated by that.

How do people find you? It’s only word of mouth, which is a two-edge sword. People keep us to themselves, which is good for the ego but bad for business. We are a bit of an anomaly.

Brandy Manhattan

  • 2 oz. brandy
  • ½ oz. Italian vermouth
  • Two dashes of bitters

Combine ingredients over ice and stir. Strain into a martini glass and dress it up with a cherry.

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Erik Cummins

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