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Storied: San Francisco

Nov 14, 2023

In Part 3, we meet Vesuvio bartender Joanna Lioce. Originally from Newport, RI, where her dad was a rock critic, the family moved to LA when he got a job with the Times down there. They landed in Orange County, in fact, a place Joanna left as soon as she could.

In fact, the day after she graduated high school, Joanna went to Europe. While she was away, her dad got a job at the San Jose Mercury News and her mom, a pediatric nurse, worked as a public-health official in Berkeley. Joanna was in Europe shortly before Sept. 11, and though she had planned to stay overseas longer, the event made her wonder … but mom said “don’t come home.”

On a family trip to Ireland when Joanna was 8, she had decided that she wanted to be a bartender. Now it was 2002, and she dropped her bag at a hostel and got a bartending job at O’Shay’s Merchant, a pub across the street from the Brazen Head in Dublin. She stayed in Dublin until Christmas, then returned to SoCal, where she had fronted a Riot Grrrrl band called Julia Warhola. But by now, several band members had started doing heroin, so she quit the band and moved to the Bay Area where her family was.

Joanna first went to school in the Peralta System in the East Bay, then she got into SF State, where she eventually got her degree. She also finished college at Cambridge in England to study Shakespeare. While going to SF State, she moved to the Mission, specifically 18th and Linda near the Women’s Building. She found the place through a Craigslist ad and ending up with six roommates, none of whom she knew previously. Her room set her back only $400, but she wasn’t feeling it.

From the Mission, Joanna moved to Lower Haight. And 13 years ago, she settled in to her place on Nob Hill, where she lives today.

She had a job, hosting then bartending, at Stinking Rose in North Beach. She liked it all right, but when her boss gave credit for a makeover of the bar that she had done to a male co-worker, she knew she had to leave. She gave her two weeks’ notice and went for a drink at Vesuvio. While there, a bartender she had befriended offered her the job. She was 21. It was 2003. She’s been working at Vesuvio ever since.

Photography by Michelle Kilfeather