North Beach Journal

People, places and pleasures in the neighborhood


Angela Alioto announced an on-again-off-again bash recently — a press conference to make an announcement about the Piazza St. Francis. You will remember that this is poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s vision for an Italianate pedestrian walkway and public park planned for the short block of Vallejo between Grant and Columbus here in North Beach. I first heard about it eight years ago when it was reported in the North Beach Aquarium — a perceptive neighborhood newspaper I still miss. Alioto was in the picture then as she is now — a mover and shaker and a money person. I wrote about the project in 2008 in the Nob Hill Gazette, and then in 2010 I did a front-page story in Northside San Francisco based on an interview with Ferlinghetti, who was eager to get the project started. During all of this time, Alioto said she could raise the money — or she had the money in the can.

The original date for her press conference (presumably the final go-ahead for the project) was Aug. 3 this year. That morphed into Sept. 3, and now her office advises us that the new date is Oct. 3, and is set for her neighborhood hangout, Caffe Trieste, which anchors one end of the project. The other end is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and its re-creation of the saint’s Porziuncola — the chapel in Assisi where he took refuge in 1226.

I’m hoping if the press conference bash comes off in October that Alioto is prepared to show us the money — and that a cadre of donors will be on hand with their checkbooks. Total cost of the Piazza St. Francis-Poets’ Plaza is said to be about $2 million and change.

How long do we have to wait for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s dream to be realized? I’d like to see this happen in my lifetime — not to mention Ferlinghetti’s. One of his finest poems — I Am Waiting — has a line that reads: “And I am perpetually waiting for a rebirth of wonder.” Let’s hope he doesn’t have to wait much longer. I’ll keep you posted.


Speaking of bashes, a few days ago the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association held one advertised as Behind the Plank: A Bartender’s Tour of North Beach. I’m sorry to say I missed it. But it was for a good reason — I was out on my own bartender’s tour of North Beach. Actually, the powerhouse Telegraph Hill Dwellers frequently go out on a whim rather than on the studied vim and vigor one would expect from this feisty group. Its news release about Behind the Plank was headed “Local Barkeeps to Tell Tales,” and it promised four savvy veterans. And indeed, I’m told that the four there were — Janet Clyde of Vesuvio; Flicka McGurrin of Pier 23; Ward Dunham, once of Enrico’s; and Adam Richey, bar manager for Original Joe’s.

I happen to like bartenders, know many of them, and believe bartending to be a noble calling. They add style and verve to the San Francisco scene. Perhaps I quibble here, but the Telegraph Hill Dwellers would have done better to gather a quorum of our many superstar publicans. Let’s honor more of the honorable. I refer to Michael McCourt and Michael Fraser, both at Original Joe’s; Bob Mulcrevy of the eponymous Mulcrevy’s; Ray Boatright, a Capp’s Corner veteran; Denise Sabella, Washington Square Bar & Grill; Deirdre Black, formerly of O’Reilly’s and now at Sydney Town Tavern; George McCarthy, Capp’s Corner; Seamus Coyle and Frank Rossi, Gino & Carlo; Michael English, Perry’s; Bobby McCambridge, Amante; Bobby Fregoli, old timer from Washington Square Bar & Grill; Romano Marcucci of the sorely-missed La Felce, Richard “Specs” Simmons of Specs’ Twelve Adler Place; and Jonny Raglin of the Comstock Saloon. Just a few who come to mind.


And we haven’t even gotten to the pantheon of great bartenders in the sky like Neil Riofski, Dennis O’Connor, and Cyril Boyce from the heyday of the Washington Square Bar & Grill; Donato Rossi of Gino & Carlo; Sean Mooney of Mooney’s Irish Pub; and Rose “Pistola” Evangelisti of the old Pistola’s Saloon. But I filter these remembrances through a hazy memory. Each bartender — both the quick and the unquick — is worth a fulsome profile. In North Beach if you can’t talk learnedly about a dozen or more bartenders and their dispensaries, you’re considered an arriviste or an outlier of dubious taste not worthy of having a drink with.


Ms. weiss chooses to present her name in lower case. So I’m trying to get my word processing system to do that. She made the lower case decision long ago as a protest against Hitler’s Third Reich. And it should be noted that in the German language all nouns are capitalized. So who is ruth weiss you may ask? She’s a green-haired or magenta-haired Beat poet, depending on her mood or the season. Now 85, weiss has lived in Mendocino for many years. She comes down to North Beach frequently to appear in John Perino’s Focus Gallery on upper Grant.

Along with her parents, weiss fled Nazi Germany in 1933. She began writing poetry at about that time, and as a young adult wound up in San Francisco (who didn’t?) and hung out with the Beats. In December, she’ll give a reading of her poetry at City Lights.


My buddy Bernardo Quintana, man about North Beach, appears in a new short film called Bum Rap: A Noir Fantasy. Bernardo plays the heavy who does in a couple of neighborhood citizens, stuffs them in a clothes dryer, and around and around they go. It’s a helluva plot. Go to YouTube and type in the title.


Recently a movie company swarmed through North Beach shooting Big Eyes, a Tim Burton film starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. It’s the story of kitsch painter Walter Keane who sold those big bug-eyed waifs for big bucks back in the fifties. He hung around Enrico’s, and at one point compared himself to Rembrandt and El Greco. Jon Polito, a favorite of the Coen brothers, plays Enrico Banducci. The plot details the acrimonious divorce of Walter and his wife, Margaret, when both claimed they had created the kiddies’ big-eye concept. They battled it out in court at side-by-side easels. But that’s enough for now. The movie is due for release in August 2014.


At Original Joe’s recently I ran into a friend from my Washington Square Bar & Grill days. “How are you?” I asked him. He responded “Well, when I wake up in the morning I’m just happy I’m on top of the grass.”

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