It isn’t the end of days but, as the bard Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) wrote, The Times They Are a-Changin. I’ve published one piece about the coronavirus and have begun another but I can’t seem to keep up with the a-changin’ times. What was relevant two weeks ago is ancient history. Hell what was up to date an hour ago is just dust.
I’m taking a break from the family jigsaw puzzle and I’m not down to counting sheets of toilet paper – not yet anyway. I’ve stepped away from watching my retirement money take “the highway to hell” as the bards Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott wrote (Do AC-DC count as bards?). The song promises that satan will be “payin my dues” but I’m not counting on old Beelzebub to carry my freight. I hear tell that he’s something of a loan shark; charges steep interest rates but all of that smacks of religion and I’ve no truck with such legends.
It’s going to be a while I think before any of us can take a trip to San Francisco so instead of binge watching every single season of Friends let’s take a random tour of The City through images both previously published and new. Let’s start with my absolute favorite San Francisco district – North Beach.
North Beach is San Francisco’s Little Italy and, being of Italian descent, it’s only natural that this little enclave is a favorite. It’s where I go when I want an Italian food fix; good pecorino, creamy mozzarella (not those rubber supermarket balls), authentic sausage and salami, a cappuccino and cannoli, or a Peroni beer at a sidewalk table. But dearest to my heart its a place where I can mingle with the old Italian guys, watch them gesture and listen to them speak the native tongue.
Molinari Delicatessen has been a go to place for Italian specialties since 1896. Those of my generation (the ones now under covid constraint) remember going into a deli and being kissed by the unmistakable aroma of a genuine Italian delicatessen.
In the 1950’s North Beach was the epicenter of the Beat movement and a hangout for the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. City Lights Bookstore founded by Ferlinghetti and college professor Peter D. Martin is not just a venerable independent bookseller, it has been, as Evan Karp wrote in his article in The Guardian, a powerful influence not only on American poetry – with the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1955 – but also on the American consciousness, being the nation’s most daring publisher of independent literature and an epicentre for progressive thought.
If you’re looking for a place to hang out when you crack open your new progressive book you can step across Jack Kerouac Alley and have an adult beverage at Vesuvio, a historic tavern founded in 1948 by Henri Lenoir. The barstool that you’re sitting on might have accommodated some very famous asses (uhh, butts); Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Paul Kantner, and Francis Ford Coppola being among the famous asses (uhh, butts).
Above and below, formal street art at Kerouac Alley
Vesuvio is a fun, funky bar. Three floors of kitsch, friendly service and classic North Beach ambience.
Mangia e buon appetito are vital elements of the Italian lexicon. Good food, good cheer, family and communion are in the Italian DNA. North Beach is the soul of mangia e compania.
I’m going to miss North Beach during this corona confinement. My thoughts are with those many small businesses that keep San Francisco’s Italian heritage alive.
10 thoughts on “My San Francisco – A Covid Free Photo Tour, North Beach Edition”
Your pictures are wonderful as always. I’ve been to San Francisco many times but never made it to North Beach. Next time! After things settle down.
Thank you for visiting Susanne. While North Beach is a relatively small neighborhood it borders Coit Tower (you can walk from North Beach albeit there are some challenging stairs to get there).
Go to Tony’s PIzza if you visit – the best!
Chinatown is on the southern border of North Beach and just across Broadway is the Hing Lung Company. Every time I’m in North Beach I stop at Hing Lung to buy a duck and a couple pounds of BBQ pork.
Thanks for the info.. I didn’t realize it was so close to the other neighborhoods I’ve visited. Can’t wait to try Tony’s Pizza, but I guess I will have to!! 🙂 Pinning this for later.
Love your photos. They’re a delightful, visual relief from everything else. I visited North Beach a couple years ago and thought that this is a cool neighborhood , I wish I knew more about it. Next time I will revisit with your blog notes!
Thank you for visiting Sandy. Next time you visit be sure to go to Vesuvio and a must visit is Tony’s Pizza. It is the best.
Vesuvio is one of my all-time favorite bars, a gorgeous gem steeped in style and character and history. It’s partly where I learned how to enjoy a tall one amid knockout ambiance. I used to go to City Lights, pick out a book (I distinctly recall buying a volume about the films of Luis Bunuel and Kafka’s complete short stories — I was in college), go to the bar and read and tipple. Paradise.
My favorite neighborhood. If I were ever to move back to The City I would get myself a North Beach flat…unfortunately I’m not a pro basketball player, nor to I own an oil well.
On a related NB note, are you aware that Beach Blanket Babylon just recently held its last show?
I agree. North Beach reigns supreme, Broadway and all. I did hear that BBB was wrapping it up. A (goofy) institution that the late, great Herb Caen sure loved to mention. I’m pretty sure I saw the show when I was 10 or so. SO quintessentially San Francisco.
I completely forgot to lament the passing of CLOWN ALLEY, home of great greasy burgers, and to mention rough and tumble old sailor’s bar Specs’, where we underaged college kids used to guzzle pitcher after pitcher without being carded. (Bonus nostalgia: When I had rock bands in high school, we would play at Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway, a classic dive.) Long live North Beach!
I remember Clown Alley well. A friend of mine and I used to partake, and yes we inhaled, and then go to Clown Alley and have those giant sized burgers (we used to call them “manhole covers.) washed down with Oly beer.
I went there many times to have an evening meal before going to a little dive bar in Chinatown on Ross Alley called the Rickshaw where a girlfriend of mine was working. I’d close the place down and then the two of us would go to Zims for a 3 AM breakfast. God the things we did when we were young.