Well, I think it’s about time for me to acknowledge this — I love women. All kinds, especially, strong, gutsy, opinionated women. And North Beach has plenty of them. Here are a few of my favorites, past and present.
My favorite all-time North Beach woman — except, of course, for my wife, Joan — is Boom Boom. Yes, Boom Boom, the most formidable woman in a sea of formidable women. Carol Sharer is her name. Boom Boom is what everyone called her. For years she was hostess at the old Washington Square Bar & Grill. If you weren’t a friend of Boom Boom, forget it. Knowing Boom Boom was better than knowing the autocratic capo, Ed Moose, or his partner, Sam Deitsch.
In the early days of that estimable establishment, I didn’t have any “juice” at what regulars there called The Square. One day, ignoring my insignificance, I bit the bullet and made a telephone reservation for lunch. I arrived promptly at noon with two guests, and stood in line to get in. As I drew near the entrance podium, Boom Boom — that gorgeous blonde gatekeeper whom I had never met — approached with her signature broad smile, embraced me, kissed me on both cheeks and said, “Ernie, how good it is to see you, my dear.” I was in. Suddenly I had juice at The Square. Later Boom Boom was the hostess for Peter Osborne at Mo Mo’s down by the ballpark. She retired and now lives in Los Angeles. I miss her. She was a bright star in North Beach.
And then there’s Saxlady.
Have you seen the funeral marching band in North Beach and wondered about it? The tradition of public mourning for the departed with appropriate musical accompaniment goes back centuries and has been practiced by many cultures. Not only was it prevalent in China but also in England, France, and Italy. A separate strain of funeral band procession can still be found today in New Orleans with colorfully costumed musicians who play slow dirges on the way to the cemetery, and tear it up with “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In,” on the return.
Here we have the Green Street Mortuary Marching Band that strides along briskly in North Beach and Chinatown at the head of Asian funeral corteges. The band plays Christian hymns and sometimes the deceased’s favorite show tunes. The effect is awesome — a dramatic epiphany, evocative of the mysterious passage to the next world. Lisa Pollard, leader of the Green Street Mortuary Marching Band, is a jazz-devoted saxophonist who played on the road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and later led the house band at Finnochio’s on Broadway.
In the neighborhood she’s known as Saxlady, and now she’s celebrating her 20th year as the band’s leader. Lisa and the Green Street Mortuary are keeping a San Francisco tradition alive — a fascinating piece of street theater. Several years ago I wanted to write about the band and called Saxlady. She got me playing the Chinese gong with the band. I still do it now and then.
Deanna Mooney, retired San Francisco nurse, is a true Saloonista. That is, she loves her favorite bars — not cocktail lounges — and uses them as social clubs. And she married a bartender.
How did that happen? Well, here, as they say, is the back story, and we quote Deanna: “It’s a lovely story. Back in 1961, Sean Mooney, the quintessential Irishman, was bartender and co-owner of a wonderful restaurant and bar called Monroe’s out on Lombard. My friend Peter Jennings, the TV news guy, liked to spend a lot of time out here, and hung out at Monroe’s. He told me, ‘Deanna, there’s a wonderful Irishman named Sean Mooney I think you should meet.’ So I put on my best party dress, and out I went to Monroe’s. I sat at the bar, and there was Sean Mooney. He poured me a drink, and then he said, ‘I have a rule that a bartender should never make a pass at a customer, but I’m going to make an exception in your case.’ That was it. I was hooked.”
Sean Mooney died in 1990 after a long career as a dog-track gambler, racehorse owner, dining-car waiter, restaurateur, bartender, and university professor — he taught an extension course at San Francisco State University on how to run a saloon.
OTHER FORMIDABLE WOMEN
There will be more formidable North Beach women in future columns — Sweet Pam, Pam Tent, one of the few women in the gender-bending-hippie-acid-drag-queen group, the Cockettes; Grace Marchant, indefatigable Telegraph Hill gardener; Lona Jupiter, P.R. guru, journalist and artist; Marie Duggan, matriarch of Original Joe’s; and Diane di Prima, renowned beat poet.