According to its website, No. 9 Fishermen's Grotto was the Wharf's first sit-down restaurant when it was founded at its current location in 1935. Now, the restaurant is in the process of being sold, and the buyer is Chris Henry, owner of Tommy's Joynt at Geary and Van Ness and Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito.
Hoodline got word of the change from a liquor license filing, revealing a new name, Herringbone Tavern, for 2847 Taylor St. One of the Grotto's owners, Michael Geraldi, confirmed the sale is underway, though it's not official. Depending on when the new liquor license comes through, the change could happen as early as September 1st, or it could be October or into the fall.
The restaurant's owners "are getting older; most are in their 60s or 70s, [and] they want to relax," Geraldi told us. He said about six people, including some of his cousins, are owners.
Despite the Herringbone Tavern moniker on the liquor license, Geraldi says that Henry might keep the Fishermen's Grotto name; they also discussed keeping the same staff. They met a few weeks ago to discuss details, and plan to meet again in a couple of weeks to talk about the name, menu and more.
"We’re planning on sitting down and talking about everything," Geraldi said. "Nothing's confirmed yet." (We left several messages for Henry this week, but he didn't respond by deadline.)
Fishermen's Grotto has a rich history; its website says that founder Mike Geraldi "built the first seafood restaurant at stall Number 9 on the Wharf, and he named it Fishermen's Grotto in honor of the fishermen themselves. He wanted a trademark symbolic of the fishermen, and so The Little Fisherman was created: weather-beaten, dour, and bringing a smile to all who see it. This restaurant was the beginning of Fisherman's Wharf as it is known today."
The seafood restaurant, which boasts views of the city and the Wharf from its dining room and the Bay from its patio, had a golden moment in 2013 as the winner of the Judges' Award in the Wharf Fest chowder contest. However, its Yelp reviews have suffered of late.
Update, 6/23: Chris Henry called this morning to say when Fishermen's Grotto changes hands, he'll keep the name and iconic sign, and will give current staff a chance to stay. The only reason he used the name "Herringbone Cafe" was as a placeholder while going through the legalities of the sale and liquor license changes.
Henry was applauded when he purchased Tommy's Joynt for staying true to the spirit of the place, and has the same intentions here, he told us. He recalls going there as a kid and seeing the fish tank and the vintage bar upstairs,
"We’re going to freshen thing up, but keep the historic San Francisco vibe to the place," Henry said. "It’s an amazing location, and [I'm] really thrilled about it." He added, "I'm really about sustainability and sourcing from local purveyors, and we have our own fishing boat. For me, it's about fresh and seasonal and sustainability.... We do need to update it and bring it into today’s expectations of today’s diners. We’ll tweak the menu."
Despite some updates, he's keeping the vintage bar upstairs and the overall feel, he said, noting, "We’re excited to be part of the rich history of the Grotto and Fisherman's Wharf."