It's a pleasure to be guilty

I collect guilty pleasures like some people collect antiques or fine art. One of my so-called guilty pleasures – such a puritanical notion – is occasionally watching reruns of The Streets of San Francisco on Channel 20 at 10 o’clock in the morning. I try to tell myself that this delinquency is part of my research. I am told there is even a party every weekday at The Cinch Saloon on Polk Street – one of the few gay bars left in the region – where the patrons suddenly grow quiet and focus their attention to the TV screens for that hour. You have to marvel at seeing San Francisco look so sparkling clean with lots of available parking spaces.

I tend to watch The Streets at home. The other day I saw a scene shot in the Marina – the producers were very fond of filming the show in the Marina – where Karl Malden and Michael Douglas walked past the long-vanished Johnny Porter’s 007½ Bar on Lombard at Scott. That brings back some memories. As does P. Skye Pizza on Union, where you could get a huge square of pepperoni pizza for a buck. I will not mention O Sole Mio on Chestnut – I’d be bordering on being sentimental. But I sure miss Pete Pallari and his great Italian restaurant. I could run barefoot through Pete’s marinara sauce.

I once capriciously said to a SFPD sergeant, “Let’s face it. The Marina has never been the same since the demise of Johnny Porter’s 007½ club.”

“Oh,” said the curmudgeonly cop, “I used to bust Johnny all the time for running a gambling operation out of the bar.”

There was plenty of gambling going on back in the 1970s. Now, it seems there is only speculation. Maury, the late, wisecracking proprietor of Jack’s newsstand on Chestnut Street, showed me the dozen or so defunct, illegal phone lines he kept upstairs to help run his bookie operation. Maury had a vast repertory of Jewish jokes, bless his heart. He was compelled to tell me a joke every time I sauntered into the shop.

“I’ll bet you haven’t heard this one,” Maury would say. Of course I usually had, but I pretended that I hadn’t. Old jokes are never tedious – just like old memories. We can recycle them at will if we have to. They carry some endurance. Or is it that they simply give us some sort of pleasure? No matter.

By the way, Johnny Porter had to change the original name of his tavern back in the 1960s when the lawyers for the James Bond pictures threatened him with copyright infringement. I had no idea that Her Majesty’s Secret Service had such a long reach.

Back in the 1970s, I’d pop into Johnny Porter’s when I needed a club soda after running from Crissy Field to Fort Point and back again. (I was a runner, believe it or not, when jogging was all the rage.) I was invariably greeted with disgust by the grizzled, chain-smoking, early morning bar hounds. I can’t blame them for snarling at me, clear-eyed and sinewy in my trendy Izod jogging togs, complete with the snooty crocodile emblem.

Now I wonder, “Who was that skinny lad from my personal ancient history?” I’ll never know. He laughed and ran away from me a long time ago.

Ah, but all things get away from us, no matter how hard we’d like to cling to them. When Herb Caen asked me, back in 1996, to show him the Marina – not really his favorite neighborhood – we had a walk up and down Chestnut Street. Many people stopped him along the sidewalk to shake his hand. He was genuinely moved. That was the day he told me he was dying of cancer. We do make an impression on people, even if we don’t consider it at the time. When I walked him to his Jaguar, “the White Rat,” I had a feeling that a change was underway in this neighborhood, and all over, too. Herb took the parking ticket off the windshield as a souvenir, laughing it off. It reminds me of the story Herb recounted about John and Yoko having lunch with him at Enrico’s. John peeled off five-dollar bills to panhandlers on Broadway.

“That’s a little extravagant, no?” Caen asked him.
“It’s just rich tax, that’s all,” John said, chuckling.
The Days of Wines and Roses have laughed and run away. At least we had some laughs. Thanks, Maury.
Wine and roses are an exquisite guilty pleasure, as is entertaining these recycled Marina memories. To hell with the guilt.

Bruce Bellingham also writes for Northside San Francisco. Offer some guilty pleasures to him at