Ken Friedman Talks Tosca, Finding the Perfect Bartender


As you’ve most likely heard by now, the powerhouse, New York-based, gastropub team of Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, John Dory Oyster Bar) are taking over the legendary Tosca Café in North Beach, which is likely closing for a remodel later this month. Bloomfield is planning an Italian-focused menu, appropriate to Tosca’s North Beach setting, possibly with some consultation from Ms. Alice Waters herself. Today, Grub Street caught up with Friedman, who was just hopping on a plane at SFO after spending a week here meeting with designers and bar consultants to plan for the upcoming revamp, due to open this summer.

Tell us what you have planned so far for Tosca, and when we can expect to see it close in its current incarnation.
Ken Friedman: Well, as you probably know, we’ll close and start the process as soon as we take possession, which will probably happen by late March. We’re going to do as little as possible to the decor, and the look of it. The kitchen that’s there hasn’t been used since the fifties, so we’re going to have to build an entirely new kitchen. But definitely we want to take what is one of the greatest bars in the country and the most famous bar in San Francisco and just make a few slight improvements.

Such as?
KF: Well, like the red leather banquettes in back aren’t really leather, so we’re going to replace those with real red leather. The iconic coffee machine on the bar doesn’t work that well, so we may fix it or we may have to buy a new one from the same company in the same style.

I’ve been out here for a week and I’ve met with a bunch of designers and we definitely are sensitive to people’s love for this bar, and the regulars who go there. We want to make sure that any designer we hire is going to be respectful to the space and not try to impose their vision on it.

How about the bar? We assume there be a new cocktail program?
KF: Yes, we’re definitely thinking in that direction. I’ve met with a number of bar consultants but the way we usually do things is to hire a great bartender who we really like, someone who’s up and coming on the scene and is one of us, and who can come and design a good cocktail list and stay there to execute it. But, that said, we haven’t made any decisions yet. And we’re going to be on a quest for that perfect bar person to make it happen.

And reservations? Will you be taking them for the dining room?
KF: Well, we’ve been discussing that too, and I don’t think so. If you don’t take reservations, you immediately have a bar scene. This has been a bar without food for fifty years, and it’s going to continue to be primarily a bar that’s going to have a food menu. The Pig is a restaurant that I turned into a bar, and it has a bar’s energy, and that’s the kind of thing we want. You can eat at the bar, and maybe if you live in the neighborhood and you come in all the time, we’ll save a seat for you, which is something we do at The Pig too.

Earlier: Tosca Taken Over By New York Chef April Bloomfield and Spotted Pig/Breslin Group
Controversy Erupts Over Party Flyer Featuring Dead Pig, Photoshopped April Bloomfield Book Cover
Tosca Café Update: Owner Decided to Lower Her Own Rent, Gets Served Eviction Notice

Ken Friedman Talks Tosca, Finding the Perfect Bartender