"Holy cow!" the man said. He'd just walked into the new back room of Pettirosso on Capitol Hill. It was obviously the first time he'd been in since the place reopened, and he marveled for good reason. Where before, if memory serves, a small hallway with some tables crammed in ended unceremoniously at a table topped with a tub full of dirty dishes, there is now a perfectly lovely dining room. It's low-ceilinged and cozy, pretty without looking like it's trying too hard—a true triumph in this era of overdesigned restaurants-as-"concepts." Highlights of the simple decor: a big old metal freight elevator door (original); a huge mirror; light fixtures protected by cages, originally intended for gymnasium use; and a set of carved double doors rumored to have come from one of Victor Rosellini's legendary restaurants. Three framed photographs from the city archives show that Pettirosso's building used to be an auto parts store called Nagle's, that the building on the corner now selling schmancy home accoutrements used to sell Aladdin Trailer Homes, and that the site of the Wildrose used to offer haircuts for 25 cents.
The guy who exclaimed "Holy cow!" appeared to be coming in for dinner with his mother, which is the kind of ordinary, sweet thing you'll see at Pettirosso every time you're there. Another night, a woman on a date unselfconsciously wore a halo of big red hearts made out of felt tied around her head with a ribbon. At holiday time, if you got the table in one corner, you had an old-timey radiator warming your back and, in front of you, the sight and smell of a big, noble, twinkling Christmas tree. The bar is also an extra pleasant place to be, with decent wine at low prices and some of the thoughtful cocktails costing only $7—which makes you feel like Pettirosso really wants you to enjoy the neighborhood, more so than putting another dollar or two in their pockets.