North Beach Journal

Capp’s Corner rebirth, a penny dreadful, book launch, Rube’s Lab, praise for reporters, and neighborhood gossip

Today your personal philosopher (nose always pointed into the wind) will amaze and titillate you with news, notes, gossip, and wild rumors about the North Beach scene. But first, here is some solid news about my book. Yes, I have written a book and I hope you will find favor with it.


Sketches from a North Beach Journal, published by Grizzly Peak Press of Berkeley, comes out September 23. Original Joe’s, the North Beach powerhouse restaurant and bar, will host a book launch party for me that evening. Please watch for details in the September issue of the Marina Times.


There is talk in North Beach of a possible re-opening of Capp’s Corner — my former home away from home that closed a couple of months ago with landlord problems. Word is out that three former stalwarts who made the Powell and Green streets saloon-restaurant tick — night bartender Jeff Brown, and stellar servers Wilson Ton and Nick Aleves — are negotiating with the landlords. That would be a miraculous re-conception and good news for me. And good news for other Capp’s Corner devotees like Governor Jerry Brown, attorney Bill Hutton, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and bon vivants Bob Mulcrevy, Jerry Gibbons, Vince Neeson, Gerry Calgaro and Jim Deignam. If Capp’s Corner re-opens, we will have one hell of a party there.


As I have repeatedly pointed out, there are a couple of dozen pizza joints in North Beach, and most are quite good. Here’s a new one I want to tell you about. It’s called Il Casaro (“the cheesemaker” in Italian) and it’s excellent. Better than highly touted neighbors. At Il Casaro, 398 Columbus Avenue, there’s not only the exemplary pizza, all made with Caputo flour from Naples, but a good selection of antipasti, salumi, and pasta. There’s also a good selection of Italian wines — all of which are available by the glass if you feel abstemious.


Recently I came across a book on Amazon that cost a penny. How could I resist? Total with shipping was $4.35. If you are about my age, you may remember what we used to call “penny dreadfuls” — cheap, sensational, Victorian storybooks. This penny dreadful is Straight to the Heart: Political Cantos, by Angela Alioto. Cheap and sensational, but it’s really not so dreadful. With typical Angela gusto she tears into the San Francisco political system of which she was once a part — as a supervisor and mayoral candidate. She likens politics in our city to Dante’s vision of hell. Though the book was published in 1997, that sounds just like today. Try it, it’s worth every penny.


Trattoria Volare Caffe, 561 Columbus Avenue, is closed and the space gutted. We hear it’s destined to become an Irish pub.

And, oddly, the rumor mill has it that long-closed O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, 622 Green Street, across from the Green Street Mortuary, will re-open — but not as an Irish pub. Sometimes, the restaurant gods work in mysterious ways.


Reporter Steve Ruben-stein is back at the San Francisco Chronicle, and we should all rejoice. If you are Rubenstein-deprived, here is what you need to know. “Rube” — as we all called him — was a reporter on the Chronicle way back, when being a reporter was fun and games. Now, I’m of the opinion that reporters live in a world of virtual reality like the Kardashians. A few months ago, apparently tiring of retirement, Rube decided to get a re-tread and go back to the good old Chron. All of which gives me a jumping-off point to relate the story about Rube’s yellow Labrador retriever Tioga, who died a few months ago of old age.

Rube sat down at his computer and wrote an obit about Tioga that appeared in the Chronicle, May 10, 2015. One of the best obits I ever read. Last sentence was “She never got the important stuff wrong.” What a great way to be remembered.


The story above on reporter Steve Rubenstein and his yellow Lab gives you an indication of my love for newspapers and the people who write for them. And readers may recall that last month I wrote a few graphs about my buddy Carl Nolte, the Chronicle’s Native Son columnist. He’s the best in the business. Carl saw the stuff I wrote about him and responded with thanks, then pointed out that most of the reporters I single out for praise are not with us anymore. He went on to comment about the craft of newspapering:

“I think a newspaper is a living thing: the paper is blank every morning, and it hasta be run by living folks. I nominate some really good reporters for your consideration: Peter Fimrite (Ron Fimrite’s son, which shows genes do count), Kevin Fagan, Henry K. Lee, a demon on the cop beat, Jaxon Vanderbeken, Steve Rubenstein (Kevin Wallace was his mentor), Sam Whiting, a master of elegant prose, J. K. Dineen, a fine city reporter, Heather Knight, who likes to write pointed stories from City Hall, etc.”

Carl mentioned others too — all tops, real reporters who do a fine job — and then he closed with this: “So we’re lucky we still have some really good folks. There will never be another Herb Caen or Stan Delaplane, but you gotta live in the world we live in. Besides, if Caen were writing today he’d be 99 years old…he‘d probably want more days off.”

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