North Beach Journal

Bartenders, a photographer, an author, a rabbi, and Sicilian sausage

Some of my sketches columns almost write themselves, like this one. All I need to do is walk around the old neighborhood and keep my eyes open. Recently, I did some walking around and this is what I came up with.


Sign in a window of a once-proud and famous North Beach bar and grill: “Monday — $15 all you can drink.” If Ed Moose were around today, he’d be fuming.


A while back, Bobby McCambridge, one of our city’s most venerated bartenders, passed away suddenly, and we all turned out for him. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a city where bartenders are venerated like rock stars?

There was a memorial service for Bobby at the Green Street Mortuary in North Beach followed by a wake at Pete’s on Green Street, where Bobby was most recently employed. Pete Mrabe — the Pete — laid out a spread, and poured generous, on-the-house drinks for all.

At the wake, the first person I ran into was Sweetie’s bartender Randy Harris.

“Everybody who is anybody is here,” I said to Randy.

“And even some who aren’t,” he replied.

Just about everyone in San Francisco’s elite bartender fraternity was there including Matt McCambridge, Bobby’s son, who tends bar at Original Joe’s of Westlake.


But because even bartenders like to see their names in the paper, let me proceed with an elite list of who was there for Bobby:

Teague Kernan and Nils Martinsen from Tupelo; Gerry Calgaro from the Italian Athletic Club; Deirdre Black from BarNua; Michael English from Perry’s; Mike Fogarty from the Balboa and son Chris Fogarty; Rose Lynch from the late Capp’s Corner; Conor Howard from Belle Cora; Orla Nyland, Marco and Frankie Rossi, Frank Colla, Ron Minolli, and Danny Snell from Gino and Carlo; Chris Tocchini, Johnny Jones, Adam Richey, Jan Docchio, Kristen Corwyn, and Michael Fraser from Original Joe’s; Bobby Mulhern from the St. Francis Yacht Club; Mark Schachern from the Irish Times; and Howie Mayser from Rose Pistola.

It was a gathering of San Francisco’s saloon cognoscente.


There was recently a splendid exhibition at the Leica Gallery of the work of San Francisco photographer Fred Lyon, whose black and white photos of our city in an earlier time have become classics. His giant gelatin silver prints are in demand by collectors and selling for big bucks. I dropped into the reception to help celebrate Fred’s 92nd birthday. ABC-TV and the Chronicle’s Miss Bigelow were on hand to make sure the event got proper attention, and it was all over Facebook. Architect Sandy Walker was there and so was James Melling, the Gentleman Trencherman of North Beach.


I got lucky and scored an invitation to the Annual Columbus Day luncheon of the Irish-Israeli-Italian Society. Every politician in the city was there and so was everyone who wanted to be a politician. The Fire Department provided a color guard. We recited the pledge of allegiance and sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” No one took the knee. Honorees this year were Jack Anderson, president of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California; Jeffrey Columbini, a captain in the San Francisco Fire Department; and my buddy John Briscoe, poet, author, guitarist, and lawyer. Best line of the day was by Rabbi Moishe Levin, who during his invocation asked the question, “Do you know why there are so few Jewish kids in street gangs?” Answer: “Because it’s difficult to wear a yarmulke backward.”


I had lunch recently at Sam’s Grill with pop music critic and author Joel Selvin. His new book, Altamont, provides the inside story on the Rolling Stones and the ill-fated, Dec. 6, 1969 concert that ended the phony Summer of Love idea. Joel told me filmmaker George Lucas was dispatched to Altamont to shoot for the now-famed documentary Gimme Shelter. But only one artful pan shot by Lucas made the film. He was at the Altamont concert shooting for the Maysles brothers, who had a contract to shoot the film that would later be called Gimme Shelter. Lucas had been working on his first feature length film at Francis Ford Coppola’s North Beach studio, Zoetrope, in the Sentinel Building. Lucas and another cinematographer were up on a hill far from the action taking place on and around the stage. Joel’s book says Lucas, with an experimental camera, shot “… a spacey, ethereal pan across the crowd exiting over the hill, the moon in the background.”

The Altamont murder scene was shot by Baird Bryant, a Southern California filmmaker employed by the Maysles brothers who earlier in the day had accidentally ingested LSD. But he was clear-eyed when moving about on stage. He zoomed in and got the historic footage of a Hell’s Angel stabbing Meredith Hunter.

If you haven’t already read Joel’s book, it provides a good reminder of how close civilization is to savagery.


Food guru Narsai David has been under the weather. So his son, Daniel David, head of Grizzly Peak Press, which publishes my books, took Narsai a couple of Sicilian sausages made by Ron Spinali at Little City Market in North Beach. Narsai just ordered five pounds of sausage from Ron. Good news! That means Narsai is feeling better. Sicilian sausage is the chicken soup of North Beach.

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