Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

From Prohibition-era laundry to Kamala Harris hangout, SF recognizes this historic bar

Tony Nik’s Cafe | Julie Zigoris/The Standard

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the business at 1534 Stockton St. met the call for alcohol—by transforming Madame Nicco’s Laundry Service into Tony Niko’s Cafe, one of the first bars to obtain a liquor license in North Beach. Now known as Tony Nik’s, the Small Business Commission awarded the beloved bar legacy status Monday. 

San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood has its fair share of boozy businesses, including fellow legacy bars, recently reopened historic venues and entirely new projects and restaurants, but there’s something truly special about the history and heritage of Tony Nik’s. 

In 1933, owners Angelina and Antonio “Tony” Nicco traded out the French Madame for the owner’s nickname with the business’ transformation from dry cleaner to bar, including the word café since, at the time, it was required to serve food with alcohol. 

The bar’s name became shortened to Tony Nik’s upon Nicco’s retirement in 1951, after he sold the business to longtime friend and bartender Charles “Butch” Lavagnino. In the most beautiful—and cyclical—of ownership transfers, Lavagnino sold the bar to Antonio Nicco’s grandson, Mark Nicco, who grew up coming to the bar after church every Sunday to hang out with his grandpa. 

Tony Nik’s Cafe in North Beach | Julie Zigoris/The Standard

Nicco, a good friend of Kamala Harris—who herself was a frequent bar patron—preserved the unusual checkerboard wall, the mural by local artist Nadine Torrance and that famed neon sign, all original to the bar. 

When the new Nicco was ready to retire, he wanted to make sure the bar remained in the proverbial family, with steady hands that would care for the bar’s legacy and maintain its spirit. 

He found that person in Sebastian Scala, a longtime patron of Tony Nik’s who also served as its manager for 16 years. Nicco had done what his grandfather did—found a trusted friend of the bar that was as close to family as you could get. 

Scala has been operating the establishment since March 2022 and plans to keep all the things alive that make the bar so beloved: the community, the conviviality, the name and the neon sign. 

He also has added his own touches—including a full menu of classic cocktails that feel like they grew up with the place.

Julie Zigoris can be reached at