North Beach Journal

Overheard and observed in the old neighborhood

Editors’ note: This is Ernie Beyl’s last column, submitted before his passing on April 12, the day following his 90th birthday. Ernie was a treasured contributor to The Marina Times, and he will be sorely missed.


As you know, North Beach — home of the Beats — is my beat. I live here. I prowl the old neighborhood, and hang out in local joints. This gives me an opportunity to engage my neighbors in large and small talk, and to overhear their loopy, sometimes lewd, conversations — some (perhaps) not fit for a family newspaper like this one. But let’s see what I can sneak past the loopy and lewd police.


One pre-lunchtime day I was at the bar at Gino and Carlo. A few stools away were two women, both having their pre-prandial belts at the old saloon. As I listened in, one said, “He took all his stuff and split. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” The other piped up: “Listen girlfriend, pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”

How many readers know that the woman giving the advice was paraphrasing Elizabeth Taylor who always knew how to pull herself together?


Overheard at the bar in the North Beach Restaurant: Two intellectual types (wire-rimmed glasses and natty sweaters) were enjoying their after-dinner grappa. One said to the other, “Michael Bauer gets a bum rap. I think he’s the best restaurant critic in the Bay Area. He’s knowledgeable, not necessarily fair — but who’s fair?”

As to the Chronicle’s Bauer, let’s get off his back. We’re lucky to have him.


“Did you ever see The Big Lebowski?” Great movie in which Jeff Bridges plays Lebowski — also known as the Dude. And therein lies a tale. In a North Beach bar one night I encountered a guy who looked like Jeff Bridges. I mean he really did. I walked up to him and said, “Hey Dude ….” And that’s as far as I got. He turned and shot back, “Yeah, I know, dude. I look like the Dude.”


When I was a San Francisco lad at the tail end of the Depression my family liked to eat at Original Joe’s on Taylor Street in the Tenderloin. My father said we could always expect a good square meal there at a decent price. He favored the cross-rib roast, rare. My mother liked veal scaloppini, and I was a spaghetti and meatballs kind of kid.

These days I’m a regular at Original Joe’s, now in North Beach. I go there for the spaghetti and meatballs. But I also go there is see Sophia. Yes, I mean Sophia Loren, whose photos in negligee are all over the men’s room. I dream of Sophia coming down off the wall and joining me for lunch — a bit like an actor coming off the screen and joining Mia Farrow in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo.

In my bit of magic realism Sophia says, “Give me five minutes to put on something decent and I’ll join you at the bar.”

That would make my day and increase my stature at Original Joe’s.


What’s new in the old neighborhood? Café Roma has finally closed. And have you ever sometimes noticed a new restaurant or bar that’s opened and decided to try it soon, but by the time you get around to it, it’s closed? There was a new Austrian place called The Salzburg on Union Street, but by the time I made up my mind to give it a try, a building fire closed it. There was a coffee and pastry shop called Sylvia’s on Upper Grant Avenue in the old Italian-French Bakery space. Closed! Also on Upper Grant a shop called Terrific Street opened, then closed a month or two later. I could never figure out what it was selling. It had a display of fire extinguishers in the window. I guess it extinguished itself.


And you remember Capp’s Corner. When it closed in 2015, I went into full mourning. Capp’s had been a fixture at the corner of Powell and Green Streets since 1963. It had a lively bar scene and surprisingly good food. George McCarthy and Randy Harris were behind the bar, and a wonderful Chinese waiter named Wilson took care of customers. And the customers were a loyal bunch. Gov. Jerry Brown ate there once a month with his St. Ignatius classmates. One day over lunch Lawrence Ferlinghetti convinced me to write a play called — Capp’s Corner. I did. If you have some bucks you want to spend on the arts, let’s talk.

There was a tenant-landlord squabble that should never have happened. But it did, and Capp’s Corner was shuttered. But, and here’s the news — Capp’s Corner lives again — well, sort of. It opened late last month as The Boardroom. Proprietor Keith Wilson moved The Boardroom from across the street into the larger Capp’s Corner space. Good drinks and saloon fare, burgers, fries, onion rings, pork rinds, nachos, and that kind of stuff. See you there. 

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