Original Joe’s; New Restaurant – Old Soul

New digs still feels like the original.

 Anyone who opens a new restaurant is usually looking to fill it with it with nice new stuff. But when Original Joe's Restaurant re-opens in San Francisco's North Beach this week, customers will find the owners have gone to great trouble decorate with old things.

"I thought it was really important that our customers who walk in the door the first time on Thursday could touch and feel bits and pieces of our past," said John Duggan, grandson of the restaurant's founder, Tony Rodin.

Customers in the new restaurant will see a lot that looks familiar. The bricks behind the bar of the original Tenderloin location were chipped away and reinstalled as a fireplace in the new restaurant. The original counter stools, where diners once watched cooks charbroiling burgers, now line the new counter. Wooden wall panels salvaged from the old restaurant still smell like the old fireplace and countless martinis.

Even the mermaid murals that once adorned the walls of the old restaurant are part of the new décor - so much that one of the rooms is now called the "mermaid room."

"We wanted to bring as much of the old restaurant as we could to wherever we went," said Elena Duggan.

Original Joe's opened in 1937, the same year as the Golden Gate Bridge. Tony Rodin opened the restaurant on Taylor Street in the Tenderloin, before it became one of the city's seediest zip codes. It was a classic San Francisco joint with funky red booths, and a classic cocktail lounge where Rodin tended bar until his death at 88. Its last renovation was in the '50s.

"You never knew who was going to walk through those doors," said Elena Duggan, "politicians, movie stars, homeless people."

Four years ago, a fire put an end to the restaurant's long run. Rodin's offspring and grandchildren debated whether to reopen in the Tenderloin or move somewhere else. Eventually, the grandkids convinced the parents to move to North Beach.

"We decided to make a move and it was very hard," said Elena Duggan. "It was a big family decision and a big family drama."

The drama is now reserved for the dramatic touches the family included in the new space, which once housed Fior D'Italia Restaurant and most recently, Joe DiMaggio's Chophouse.

You almost expect to see Frank Sinatra lounging in the bar's deep green tufted booths, or Tony Bennett belting out a tune in the "Tony Bennett" room.

"Original Joe's has such a rich history," said architect Anthony Fish, who oversaw the remodel. "We were able to draw from that history and push it along."

The sign from the old restaurant now hangs outside the new place across from Washington Square Park. Customers have been pressing their faces against the windows in anticipation of the reopening. The owners hope the retro-inspired décor will bring back plenty of old faces.

"So when our old customers walk in the door they know that they're home, said Elena Duggan"

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