North Beach has always had an abundance of fine restaurants, at least as far back as I can remember, and I have a memory that goes back to the time when Fior d’Italia was on Broadway. Then along came New Joe’s, Vanessi’s, Amelio’s, and others right up to Original Joe’s — today’s hot-red Ferrari in the neighborhood.
I also well remember those halcyon days of the old Washington Square Bar & Grill, Ed Moose’s iconic joint at 1707 Powell Street. Moose operated it like a private club. It seemed as though everyone knew each other in those days — cops, labor leaders, reporters, columnists, sports stars, musicians, politicians, socialites, and what we used to call business tycoons.
Then one day in 1990, Moose abandoned what we all called The Square (never the Washbag) and since then, it has had several reincarnations. When Moose and company departed, things got off to a proper continuation when Peter Lomax became the proprietor. Peter Osborne followed him, and the place still catered to a rakish cast of characters. But when Osborne left to found MoMo’s down by the ballpark, things spiraled down like water in your kitchen sink.
THE SQUARE IN A ROUND HOLE
I don’t want to dwell on the has-beens and the misfits that followed. But as an ancient and honorable WSB&G veteran who felt seduced and abandoned when Moose gave it up, I can say that this latest reincarnation — The Square — by Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara, is the only one that has felt right to me. This Square fits into a round happy hole that Ed Moose, spouse Mary Etta Moose, and co-founder Sam Dietsch created. I owe it to myself to give it a chance. And not since McDonald’s opened in Vietnam have I seen more press coverage about a new restaurant opening. Readers will see more about The Square in future columns and perhaps even a full-on restaurant review.
ONLY ONE SPEED
Occasionally, while eavesdropping, you overhear some strange dialogue on San Francisco streets. And rather than call Leah Garchik and have it wind up in her Chronicle column, here’s something I heard the other day in the heart of North Beach. A young woman who escorts tourists around the old neighborhood on sightseeing and food tours was asked by one of her charges: “What’s your favorite restaurant here? Where do you eat in North Beach?” The clueless guide replied: “Oh, I don’t eat here. I get hummus from Trader Joe’s and eat as I walk around. That’s my speed.”
Wrong speed. Wrong guide. But of course, there’s nothing wrong with hummus. I use it all the time to caulk the tile in my bathroom.
Several months ago, Angela Alioto, identified in this column as the Mother Superior of Vallejo Street, called a press conference presumably to announce she had — as promised — come up with “angels” for the funding ($2.5 million) for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Piazza and Poets’ Plaza. Ferlinghetti’s vision calls for a green, pedestrian island in North Beach on Vallejo between Grant and Columbus. That press conference was cancelled, as were several more. And now it is April, the cruelest month, and still no word on the offertory from the good Angela’s congregation. There are those who are wondering if she is waffling.
CHINESE ELDER BAND
If you wander by the New Sun Hong Kong restaurant at the corner of Broadway and Columbus as I do almost daily, you will hear the Chinese Elder Band playing ancient pentatonic Chinese music on traditional instruments — the gu-zheng (a multistringed plucked harp-like instrument), the er-hu (two-stringed Chinese violin), pipa (Chinese lute), and the dizi (a long clarinet-type instrument). Strange perhaps to western ears, but somehow just right for the location on the northern edge of Chinatown.
BIG MONEY IN JAZZ
Mal Sharpe who plays the “bone” and his Dixieland sextet, called Big Money in Jazz, will be swinging at Original Joe’s on weekends beginning this month. First date comes up the afternoon of Sunday, April 6. Some readers may recall that Sharpe and company played nights at Savoy Tivoli on Upper Grant until some neighbors complained. That’s like living on South Rampart Street in New Orleans and saying your sleep is being interrupted by all that “noise.”
‘SUZIE Q’ ON TELEGRAPH HILL
Recalling an April in the 1960s: Back then there was a branch of Synanon — initially a drug rehabilitation organization that morphed into an alternative living community — down on the Embarcadero. One April weekend there was a benefit concert for Synanon, and it took place on a dead-end chunk of Lombard at the bottom of Telegraph Hill. Hippies who wanted a close view and good acoustics hung in trees on the steep face of Telegraph Hill. Too old to be a Hippie, I looked down from the deck of my apartment and heard Creedence Clearwater Revival playing Suzie Q. Those were the days.