San Francisco’s North Beach bar, Tony Nik’s, sold to a former bartender


The most discreet bar in San Francisco is located in North Beach. If it weren’t for a dilapidated sign with broken neon letters hanging above a green door with a cloudy circular window similar to a submarine, this storied watering hole could easily go unnoticed.

He’s also a strange man, blending into the background where the bright lights and bustling outdoor dining areas of adjacent restaurants, such as Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Red Window across the street, call inviting. potential customers.

The vintage Tony Niks sign in San Francisco, Calif., on July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar in the heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

But Tony Nik’s, at 1534 Stockton St., has been serving drinks in North Beach since 1933 and it still has that family vibe that keeps regulars and connoisseurs coming back for more. First owned by an Italian immigrant and his wife, two generations later it was operated by his grandson who wanted to carry on the family legacy.

When owner Mark Nicco and his husband Dan Kent decided it was time to sell the bar, Nicco knew he wanted someone who would keep his family’s legacy alive, especially in a neighborhood that continues to to rejuvenate, resulting in more disco-type bars and loud live music venues.

Nicco knew there was only one person to turn to – a 16-year-old former boss and later employee – Sebastian Scala.

Former owners Dan Kent (left) and Mark Nicco (right) recently sold Tony Nik's bar to longtime client Sebastian Scala (centre).

Former owners Dan Kent (left) and Mark Nicco (right) recently sold Tony Nik’s bar to longtime client Sebastian Scala (centre).

Nico Madrigal-Yankowski/SFGATE

“North Beach’s reputation for bars is a certain way,” Nicco told SFGATE. “I think we are overturning that reputation. Once people discover us, they see how different we are.

In the 1920s, Antonio “Tony” Nicco and his wife Angelina originally opened Madame Nicco’s French Laundry, a dry cleaning business in the heart of San Francisco’s Italian Quarter. When the Prohibition era ended in 1933, Antonio immediately opened Tony Nicco’s Café, a bar that served food.

After remodeling the cafe’s interior in 1949, many of those changes are still in pristine condition today, including a rear mural by local artist named Nadine Torrance, and another wall filled with checkerboard wood tiles. unique.

When Antonio and his wife decided to sell the place, they turned to longtime friend and local bartender Charles “Butch” Lavigno, who changed the name to Tony Nik’s and operated the bar for almost 50 years. year. He sold the place to Mark Nicco, grandson of Antonio Nicco, in 2000, who has run the establishment for 21 years.

Sebastian Scala, mixes a drink behind the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California, July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar in the heart of North Beach .  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Sebastian Scala, mixes a drink behind the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California, July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar in the heart of North Beach . He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Regulars Danielle Westphal (left) and Mark Mounder share a conversation at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Sebastian Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar from in the heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Regulars Danielle Westphal (left) and Mark Mounder share a conversation at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Sebastian Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar from in the heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
The back seating area features a vintage mural at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
The back seating area features a vintage mural at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Bartender Ian Whittaker prepares cocktails behind the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Bartender Ian Whittaker prepares cocktails behind the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE


(Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)

Today, Mark Nicco, who grew up in the Marina neighborhood and visited his grandfather at the bar every Sunday after church, has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps. Nicco turned to a friend, someone who knows and understands the essence of Tony Nik’s, to keep the place alive.

“[Scala] was a bartender then manager, [he’s] responsible, professional, he is an extension of us,” Nicco said of his friend and new bar owner. “He invested his blood, his sweat, his tears and his love in this place. There really was no other choice. »

San Diego-born Sebastian Scala moved to San Francisco in 1993. After briefly living in the Sunset District, he moved to North Beach in 1994. At the time, he ran the Italian Athletic Club at 1630 Stockton, just down the street from Tony Nik’s.

After long, exhausting days at work, desperate for a drink, Scala often walked around Tony Nik’s block to ease his stress. One day, after going there several times, he stood up in a chair and shouted, “This is my new favorite bar in the world!”

“It was the energy, the intimacy. It was just a nice place to get together,” Scala recalled of that moment. “I just fell in love with the place.”

Scala even remembers the first time he met Nicco, on a rainy day in January 2004, and asked if he could grab a few bar shifts if needed.

Bartender Ian Whittaker talks to customers at the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar in heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Bartender Ian Whittaker talks to customers at the bar counter at Tony Niks in San Francisco, California July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, a former bar in heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“I started doing one Saturday a month,” Scala said. “But I loved it and kept wanting to do more. There was an immediate oneness I felt with Mark.


Slowly over time, Scala rose through the ranks to become a full-time bartender and eventually general manager, which was his position before becoming an owner. Scala has called it his second home for the past 16 years and said he is looking forward to maintaining Tony Nik’s success.

Before the pandemic, the bar was primarily known as a beer bar that featured your regular rotation of branded beers: Bud Light, Stella Artois, Budweiser. Today, however, Tony Nik’s has reinvented itself as a cocktail bar focused on classics like martinis, Manhattans and boulevardiers. It was a “tectonic” shift, as Scala described it. In fact, just recently it was named one of the best cocktail bars in San Francisco by Eater SF.

Patrons enter Tony Niks in San Francisco, California, July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Patrons enter Tony Niks in San Francisco, California, July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in the heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

This move to a cocktail bar makes sense, if you’ve ever been to Tony Nik’s. The intimate little bar looks about the size of a Muni train when you walk in. Immediately to the left, a large table sits next to a wall of glass “bricks” that look like huge icicles stacked on top of each other and curve into a small wedge. On the right is the wall with checkerboard wooden tiles that have been around since 1949. As your eyes descend the long J-shaped bar, a huge mural in shades of maroon, maroon and dark green takes up all the back wall.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the ghosts of Humphrey Bogart as legendary fictional San Francisco private eye Sam Spade, sipping a Manhattan all alone at the end of the bar, a felt hat covering his eyes as he contemplates the nature of the mystery of the Maltese Falcon.

The bar will remain essentially the same and will welcome everyone, whether it’s Sammy Hagar exiting through the back door, or Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder snuggling up next to each other on the bar stools, as shown. Nico said. The family aspect goes through the taps, the wiring and the patronage of Tony Nik’s. A long history of regulars still frequent the bar, but newcomers are still welcome. Often newcomers become regulars because of the magic within the walls – once you’ve had a taste of Tony Nik’s you keep coming back.

Sebastian Scala, poses for a photo outside Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in heart of North Beach.  He is committed to preserving his legacy.
Sebastian Scala, poses for a photo outside Tony Niks in San Francisco, California on July 7, 2022. Scala, a longtime patron and manager, is the new owner of Tony Niks, an old-fashioned bar in heart of North Beach. He is committed to preserving his legacy.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“It’s a legacy place and I don’t want to change that,” Scala said. “I might change it to ‘Sebastian’ tomorrow, but there’s history here. There’s relationships here. I want to honor [Nicco’s] the family legacy. But it’s mine now and maybe one day my daughter or my son will take the reins and it will be part of our legacy.

Tony Nik’s, 1534 Stockton St., San Francisco. Open Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.


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