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Earlier this week, Sixers rookie guard Tyrese Maxey announced on Instagram he’d found the best pizza in Philly, shouting out the slices at Giovani’s Bar & Grill.
On Monday at the Center City shop, which is tucked into a narrow storefront near 16th and Chestnut, he ordered the pepperoni and sausage slice. Owner Renee Atias said the rising NBA star has come through a few times.
“It was super nice, super cool of him to do that, and we appreciate it,” Atias said about the accolade. “People have come in and been like, ‘Oh, Tyrese Maxey was here.’”
When he comes in, she said, patrons recognize him, but usually keep their cool.
“He’s very nice, very kind, down to earth,” Atias added. “I was like, ‘I know who you are … We’re big fans of yours, and you had a great season.’”
Giovani’s, which has been on the same block for more than 20 years, was started by Atias’ father, Arie Atiya. Renee now runs it with her husband Haim and brothers Simon and Ami Atiya.
In 2014, they moved to a slightly-larger current location at 1533 Chestnut St., and added a full bar with liquor license in the back.
Up front is the pizzeria, with fresh-made pies available whole or by the slice, in a variety of flavors from standard pepperoni to buffalo chicken. There’s also the standard wide array of hoagies and wraps, plus a lot of Mediterranean and vegetarian options, like falafels and Beyond Burgers.
Regular Giovani’s patron Darryl Taylor of North Philadelphia was disappointed he missed Maxey: “It’s one of the days I’m not here, of course.”
Taylor said he initially preferred Sixers player Shake Milton, but during this past season, the rookie won his favor.
“For him to be so young, he’s really ambitious,” Taylor said of Maxey, who is 20 years old and was selected as the Sixers’ 21st pick in the 2020 NBA draft. “He works hard and his confidence on the court is felt. He had a couple 30-point games last season, he makes big plays. I appreciate him as a player.”
Giovani’s is a hotspot for all Philly games, no matter the sport. Taylor has come to the bar to watch the Super Bowl and UFC fights, as well as the Sixers’ playoff stint.
“It was a little irate in here,” he said. “It was good nonetheless. We all had a common ground on our disappointment with the Sixers.”
Rachel Perez, a bartender at Giovani’s, said the experience of watching the Sixers playoff games at the bar with patrons was still fun, despite the team’s early exit.
“When they were in the playoffs,” Perez said, “it was packed whether it was a Monday, whether it was a Saturday. It was mobbed, and people were having a blast.”
Over her five and a half years at Giovani’s, she’s noticed a diverse customer base — lawyers come in on their lunch break, construction workers grab a drink after work, and Temple students hang out on the weekends. (And maybe an NBA player pops in every once in awhile, too.)
“I think what makes this bar so different and so special is that it feels so local and everybody knows everybody in here, everybody knows each other’s names,” Perez said. “To have that kind of vibe smack dab in Center City is what makes this place so great.”
Taylor, who has been coming to the bar for about 5 years, said he agrees, and Giovani’s is like home to him.
“It’s a comfort zone for me,” he said. “The atmosphere is dope, the bartenders, the food, the pizza. It’s a diamond in the rough, and I appreciate that.”