North Beach Journal

Blues, poetry, Stravinsky and Lloyd, saloon updates, and some neighborhood fish news

Recently, I was sitting at the bar at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe alongside Patrick Douglas, a fixture there. Patrick told me he plays guitar and sings. “What else is new?” I said. “Everybody in North Beach plays guitar and sings.” “But I really do,” he insisted. “Drop into Tosca on Sunday, and I’ll prove it.” And he did.

Philip Hackett, a North Beach regular who calls himself “The King of Poetry,” produces events called The Poet’s Gallery, and so it was I dropped into Tosca and headed for its secretive, fabled, back room where, under former parade marshal Jeanette Etheredge’s tutelage, Sean Penn, Francis Ford Coppola, Warren Hinckle, and Rudolph Nureyev used to hang out and play pool. They were ghosts in the room. The day I was there, the back room was full of poets itching to stand up and recite their work.

My buddy Patrick was the warm-up act. He stood beneath a huge blow-up of Nureyev, played his old Washburn guitar, and sang a couple of songs — an old blues standard, “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” and something he wrote called “Flamescape.” I will try to keep you posted next time Patrick is on Philip Hackett’s Poet’s Gallery bill, and you can check him out. He sounds a bit countryish like Gram Parsons and a bit Dylan-ish.


A young woman from Iceland named Jovita Berlin followed Patrick Douglas. She’s an accomplished poet who read a lengthy poem from her own chapbook. Influenced by the Beats, her work sounded a bit like Dylan’s Desolation Row and Ginsberg’s Howl. Maybe I’ve got Dylan and Ginsberg on my brain right now, because almost everything I hear these days — even TV newscasts — sounds like them.


A while back my son Jeff and I attended a performance of the Alonzo King Lines Ballet. Charles Lloyd, the great jazz master, composed and played the music for the performance. The music and the dancers were magnificent. Later, Jeff and I went backstage to congratulate Lloyd. While waiting for him to appear, one of the young dancers engaged us. He had just come off stage from the performance. When I told him we were friends of the incomparable jazz saxophonist, flautist, and composer, he said, “When I first heard that I was going to dance to the music of Charles Lloyd, I gasped and got tears in my eyes.” What a magnificent compliment for Charles Lloyd — equal in my mind to a young clarinet player learning that he was going to perform Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with Stravinsky conducting.


Longtime North Beach bartender Randy Harris — you will remember him from the Gold Spike and Capp’s Corner — has fetched up at Sweetie’s, 475 Francisco Street. The erudite Randy is there Sundays 3 to 7 p.m., and Mondays 4 to 10:30 p.m. Then there’s George McCarthy. If you haven’t seen him for a while at Original Joe’s, you’ll find him at Original Joe’s of Westlake. Charting the movements of my favorite bartenders is an enjoyable indoor sport. Better than keeping track of professional athletes. Is LeBron still with the Cavaliers?


U.S. Restaurant has added a glorious appetizer to its menu — baccalà alla Genovese (dried, reconstituted cod, potatoes, white beans, parsley, and olive oil). You may recall I am a dried cod devotee, and the U.S. Restaurant has long been featuring one of my favorites, baccalà alla Messinese (dried, reconstituted cod, potatoes, capers, and raisins in a spicy tomato sauce).


My item in last month’s Sketches column on Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill, 318 Columbus Avenue, caused a Vesuvius-like eruption of interest. I got calls from readers wanting to make advance reservations. Louise Taylor, one of the three owners, told me a downtown company wanted to hold its Christmas party there. As I write this, Louise, Betty Pesce, and Hector Chaparro are about to open. What a great addition to the neighborhood.

I was asked by a reader if North Beach could support another fish restaurant — alongside Sotto Mare, the neighborhood’s crown jewel on Green Street. Of course it can! There is plenty of business for everybody — that is, everybody who serves incomparable seafood, fresh, and handled in a simple manner.


And, speaking of Sotto Mare, Richie Azzolino, the proprietor, has added some new items — seafood cannelloni, linguine with seafood meatballs, seafood sausage, and octopus salad. I’ve tried the octopus salad — octopus, red onion slivers, green bell peppers, olive oil. It’s a winner.

I’ll close with that. This column is getting fishy.

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