Meet San Francisco’s first lady of billiards | Archives


I’m standing in the doorway at Gino & Carlo, chatting with Patricia Giatis, the queen of San Francisco’s billiards scene.

A pretty good crowd had gathered for the bar’s annual pool tournament, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The two tables in the back will be busy for the next three weeks as the top sticks in town converge on North Beach to crown a champion.

And Giatis is a perennial contender. As we chatted, a fellow player was making his way into the place and said, “So, whose butt did you kick tonight?”

Giatis didn’t miss a beat. “I don’t play until tomorrow.”

So it goes for San Francisco’s 8-ball royalty. Giatis has been playing at Gino & Carlo since she was a teenager, rising to the top ranks of San Francisco’s insular and competitive pool community and even flirting with a pro career for a brief period. But the travel and practice didn’t suit her lifestyle.

Instead, her heart and soul carried her back to The City. Which makes sense. She’s as San Francisco as sourdough.

***

Giatis grew up in the Western Addition. Her father was a San Francisco cop and her mother was a pastor. When you talk to someone who grew up here in the 1970s, you can see the twinkle in their eyes. It was a time when kids could be kids, riding buses around town and having a blast.

One of her running partners in those days was Marco Rossi, the son of Gino & Carlo co-owner Donato Rossi. (Marco now runs the place, alongside his cousin Frank Rossi Jr. and Ron Minolli, Jr., all of whom are the sons of the former owners.)

“We used to come here when we were 14 and have just a blast of a time, playing pool and having a good time,” said Giatis. “I actually started playing in the pool tournaments at a young age, when I was 16.”

“I had my sister’s ID,” she said with a giggle.

Now, women playing pool at Gino & Carlo back then wasn’t too common. Young black women playing was unheard of.

“I’ve been coming in since turning 14. And they have always protected me,” said Giatis. “If anyone would say anything bad or anything judgmental or anything regarding my race, Frank Sr. would say, ‘You’re out of here.’ Even if they were Italian, they would make sure that I was protected. And I always had this experience in my life. I’m 61 years old. And it’s like, the best thing ever.”

***

Perhaps that’s what makes San Francisco a great city for shooting pool. For decades, there have been bar and restaurant teams and leagues from different neighborhoods that compete against each other, crossing racial and social lines. The games are usually played on weeknights, when the crowds are thinner and the regulars are still around. El Farolito, in the Mission, had a dominant team in the 1970s and 1980s, Giatis says. Gino & Carlo was no slouch, either. She would know. She’s played on the bar’s “A-team” for years.

When it comes to home turf, the tables are well-kept, with the owners putting down new felt and rails before the tournaments. In the crowded back room of the bar, top players can rent lockers for their pool cues. The winner of the tournament gets free rent for a year.

The field consists of 128 players, and they battle every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night for three weeks until a champion is crowned. If you’re wondering, Hector Ortega is San Francisco’s king. He hasn’t paid rent on his locker for three straight years.

“This is a great place to play, because you have all of the best players in The City,” said Giatis. “When people come to town, the first thing they say is, ‘Where’s the best place to play pool?’ And, of course, I’m gonna say, ‘Gino & Carlo.’ This is the place where you’re going to find the most top-notch pool players.”

And you can’t talk about pool in this town without mentioning Giatis. She’s beat the best San Francisco has to offer, making it to the finals back in 2013, earning her a place on the bar’s vaunted “big board,” where the tournament’s top finishers are lionized.

To watch her play is a study in concentration. She stalks the table with a calculated stare, considering angles, weighing options and moving forward with precision. There’s no chitchat or gamesmanship. Straight business.

Sadly, she won’t make it back up there this year, after suffering a surprising loss to a man she taught to play pool, Mark Rezente.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “She’s my hero.”

Giatis took it in stride, foiled by a scratch on the 8-ball after the cue skidded a bit on slick, new felt.

“It’s fine,” she said, with her signature smile. “League play starts next week!”

Indeed, there’s more to Giatis than winning and losing. She sees her sport as a calling of sorts. A social lubricant that everyone should enjoy.

“Pool is supposed to be fun for everyone,” she said. “Not for one person. Not for just men, but for women, as well. It’s something that should be shared with everyone. After going through COVID, we’re all trying to get back into the world, trying to have fun and some sense of normality again.”

Standing there in the neon lights of Green Street, it sure felt like the previous times. Rack ’em and crack ’em, Queen Patricia.

Editor’s note: The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic, explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.







Meet San Francisco's first lady of billiards

Frank Rossi, Jr., a partner at Gino & Carlo, helps rack balls during the bar’s annual pool tournament. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)








Meet San Francisco's first lady of billiards

Patricia Giatis, right, talks with Mark Rezente after the two faced each other in the annual pool tournament at Gino & Carlo. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)








Meet San Francisco's first lady of billiards

Patricia Giatis joins the names of tournament winners at Gino & Carlo. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)


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