North Beach Journal

An idler’s perfect day in the neighborhood

The other day in North Beach, I put my head on shuffle and wandered around aimlessly — a flaneur, if you will. No set destination or mission, nothing on my mind. And I had one of those perfect days — a day when everything seems like magic, a day when everything works. Here’s how it played out.

On that fine morning, I sauntered down Grant Avenue from Telegraph Hill. At the corner of Grant and Gerke Alley, I paused and peered at the apartment where Woody Allen staged the movie Play it Again Sam. I looked up and there looming in the sunlight was Coit Tower. That’s when I knew it was going to be a good day. Blue skies and Coit Tower. I moved on.

My next stop was Golden Boy Pizza on Green Street for a slice topped with tomato and Italian sausage — breakfast. Doesn’t everyone have pizza for breakfast? Walked over to Washington Square and sat on a bench to eat my pizza and watch the old Chinese “aunties” doing their Tai Chi. Synchronized exercise. Synchronized beauty, like a ballet.

Stopped in at Caffe Puccini on Columbus Avenue for a cappuccino and then continued down Columbus and across Broadway to City Lights. Browsed around in the basement and main floor for a bit, then mounted the stairs to the Beat literature and poetry room. Spent an hour trying to fathom some of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Headway: minimal.

Then it was off to Capp’s Corner at the corner of Powell and Green, for a glass of the house red and some first-of-the-day conversation with my fellow saloonists. Topics ranged from Niners to nooners. Scores and scores.

At noon, I began thinking about shoulder of lamb and lima beans. It was Tuesday so I headed over to the U.S. Restaurant on Columbus and sat at the counter. The estimable Renee Sammon knew just what I wanted — Tuesday’s special — roast shoulder of lamb with lima beans, of course.

After lunch, it was time for my ritual call on Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe, Columbus and Union, for an espresso and to exchange small talk with counter-aces Jacob and Alby (see more on Alby below). Miscellaneous music conversation from Israeli pop to garage grunge. Then it was time for Upper Grant Avenue.

At the Focus Gallery, I stopped to talk with proprietor-photographer John Perino and to look at his perceptive black-and-white photos from his travels around the world. Considered buying one. Perhaps one of these days. The Focus Gallery is also full of marvelous junk — collectibles we call them. Ancient Brownie box camera, old posters from long-gone events. Also lots of old books on the Beats and original watercolors, oils, and drawings by local artists.

Then it was down the street to Live Worms to see painter Kevin Brown. I like him. A former airline pilot and now a fine painter. Which brings me to the left brain/right brain business. Kevin illustrates the concept. He flew 747s as a captain. That’s left brain stuff — logical, analytical, good at math. Now he’s a painter. That’s right brain stuff — creative, artistic. Kevin Brown is all of that.

Over to Tommy’s 101 Music to browse for obscure blues records. Found an old CD of The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Snapped it up. Tommy’s has everything from hard-to-find 33⅓ disks to blues harmonicas. And a blues harmonica is a must in this neighborhood.

Now I was starting to think about dinner. Stopped in to Gigi’s Sotte Mare on Green to see what was on the blackboard that I could take home for dinner. Found Branzino sea bass — what the Europeans call Loup de mer. It looked good. Took two thick chunks and checked out.

Up Grant to Little Vine and bought a loaf of Acme Bread sourdough.

Walked back up to Grant Avenue to Telegraph Hill and stopped at the corner of Gerke Alley and stared up at Coit Tower again, now lit by the setting sun.

Reached my apartment, put The London Chuck Berry Sessions on the CD player, listened to “Johnny B. Goode” and the “London Berry Blues.”

Prepped dinner and it was time to pour myself a Vitamin V on the rocks and wait for Joan to arrive so we could talk about what kind of day each of us had. A good day for both of us. Another vodka. Changed from Chuck Berry to Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock — The Great American Songbook — turned volume to low and continued to discuss the day. Nothing new in the neighborhood. Nothing new in the office.

Sat down for dinner: sautéed sea bass, steamed white rose potatoes with butter and chopped fresh dill, tossed romaine lettuce salad with olive oil and wine vinegar, hunks of Acme sourdough, and a glass of the house white.

A perfect day in the neighborhood. Try it sometime.

Albert Adams, whom North Beach denizens will recognize as Alby — manager and counter-ace of Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe at Columbus Avenue and Union Street — is packing it in after almost eight years and moving on to check out new opportunities. “It’s about time to get on with a new chapter in my life,” Alby says. He’s remaining in San Francisco, but taking a few months off to “travel and smell the roses.” I’ll miss Alby, but wish him well.

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Ernest Beyl may be reached at [email protected].