North Beach Journal

Sex, bars, bartenders, bakeries, cops, and restaurants

This month, a little of this and a little of that goes a long way. So please stick with me.


Lest you think the above subhead is an oxymoron, let me tell you about Jesse Kornbluth’s new novel, Married Sex. My friend Jesse is the creator and proprietor of a must-visit website called Head Butler. Jesse curates a series of recommendations for books, music, and such, and is a reliable guide to life as I like to live it. Now here comes Jesse’s novel, and I guarantee it’s a page-turner. It’s sophisticated, urbane (a Manhattan chowder), sexy, shocking, slick, and comic, with dialogue that sizzles and snaps the reader along in what turns out to be an intelligent story.


My favorite North Beach saloon, Gino & Carlo on Green Street, attracts a seasoned crowd. And I am seasoned enough to enjoy it. At Gino & Carlo, we try to keep the conversation on a high plane. The other day one guy sitting at the bar over a Campari and soda (with a brandy float) got to talking about food trends and said he was “embracing kale.” Several agreed with him, but I was not one. Thankfully, G&C is a kale-free zone.

Then a saloonista, who was talking about her S.F. Giants, said there was a very good saloon in New York that catered to displaced Giants fans. “Where is it?” someone asked. “I dunno,” she replied, “New York City.” “Well that narrows it down,” said the guy with the Campari and soda.


As we all know by now, Michael McCourt, the iconic Irish bartender, died on Sept. 5. His last posting behind the plank was at Original Joe’s in North Beach. He is greatly missed. Today, in an age when everything is artful and contrived, McCourt was the real thing. He avoided anything that was reconstructed or reimagined. He liked real food and real drinks. The McCourt dictum regarding bartending was “Keep it simple.”


Brian Levesque, a young North Beach bartender at Park Tavern on Stockton Street, is producing a film documentary on iconic bartenders. His father was a bartender in Providence, R.I. for more than 35 years. So Brian comes from good stock. He interviewed his father for the documentary. “My old man knew ’em all — politicians, mafia dons, hookers, and con artists,” he told me. Brian says he plans to interview other iconic bartenders across the country. Here in San Francisco, he had discussed his documentary with Michael McCourt but by that time, it was too late to set a date for a formal interview. Brian’s plan is to interview Bobby McCambridge (Amante), Michael Fogarty (Balboa Cafe), and Michael Fraser (Original Joe’s). So if you are an iconic bartender who has known politicians, mafia dons, hookers, and con artists, you might want to look up Brian. You can find him either behind the plank at Park Tavern or on a stool at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe, where he likes to hang out.

North Beach Bakery

By now, I assume most of you know that the Italian-French Baking Company at the corner of Grant and Union has closed. There’s a sign on the door: “Closed for Remodeling. A New and Exciting Bakery Concept Coming Soon.” I don’t know what a new bakery concept is. I would settle for just a good bakery. The bread became tasteless just about the time the new ownership took over a couple of years ago.


As I write this, things are still buzzing along for a possible reopening of Capp’s Corner. Regardless of whether it reopens, my cap is off to Jeff Brown, Wilson Ton, and Nick Aleves for trying. Cops from Central Station loved to eat there.


And speaking of cops, the police officers I saw eating at Capp’s Corner really had good dining chops. I have a lot of respect for cops. Yes, I know, there are both good and bad ones. But then there are good and bad soldiers, politicians, business tycoons, sports figures, TV pundits, and just plain folks. It will take some convictions to weed out the bad cops. But the sooner we get over this cop-hating business, the happier I will be.


The groundbreaking for Piazza St. Francis, The Poets Plaza, was Friday, Oct. 2. It’s about time.


Well, I had it right — and I had it wrong. U.S. Restaurant is reopening in the former Colosseo space, 414 Columbus Avenue. But it’s not opening in October. The new date set is Nov. 1. And Gaspare Giudice, proprietor, has some new — and very solid — backers. One is Alberto Cipollina who ran the place as the son-in-law of the original owners, Luigi and Maria Borzoni, when U.S. Restaurant was at the intersection of Columbus Avenue, Grant Avenue, and Stockton Street. The other is Mario Alioto, marketing guru for the Giants. The original U.S. Restaurant opened in the 1920s; and U.S. does not stand for United States. It stands for Unione Sportiva, the Italian name for the Italian-American Athletic club over on Stockton Street. Several years ago, Alberto closed the U.S. Restaurant at its original location and reopened it with his wife, Ann, right down the street at 515 Columbus Avenue. He later sold it to Gaspare Giudice and some partners. When massive leaks in the building and general landlord problems forced Gaspare to close down, he began looking for a new location. Now he has it. And all systems are go for the Unione Sportiva Restaurant.


If you haven’t already checked out my book, Sketches from a North Beach Journal, you can do so at Live Worms, the art gallery at 1345 Grant Avenue in North Beach on Monday, Oct. 12 at 6:30 pm. I will be there reading from the book and signing copies.

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