In this month’s column, I’m serving up a little of this and a little of that, plus a few loose ends.
THE DARWIN AWARDS
These days North Beach is full of Segways — you know, those gyroscopically controlled people movers with the big wheels. Packs of tourists are touring North Beach on Segways, moving along the streets smartly, never pausing to check out the old neighborhood up close and personal. Wouldn’t they be better off afoot?
And that reminds me of a true story — an example of the so-called Darwin Awards that are said to “commemorate those who improve the gene pool by removing themselves from it.” A few years ago, the owner of the Segway outfit was Segwaying along a trail on his English estate when he accidentally plunged over a cliff and was killed. Any questions?
FREE ICE CREAM
A friend I hold in high regard and whose judgment I value, suggested I reassess my position on Aaron Peskin, who is running for District 3 supervisor against incumbent Julie Christensen. So a while back, I sat down over an espresso at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe with the hard-charging candidate. We talked about this and that — mostly about the old North Beach neighborhood. Peskin, who has a reputation of being prickly, can also be charming. The day I talked to him he charmed me. Peskin is campaigning on the platform “Vote for me to achieve an affordable city.” When I said, “Everybody wants an affordable city. What makes you different?” He replied, “Everybody wants free ice cream.” I took that to mean that his ice cream was better than the ice cream of incumbent Christensen. When I asked Peskin if he wanted to be mayor of San Francisco, he said, “I want to be a good supervisor.” May the best free ice cream maker win.
Recently I was thinking about my old friend Ed Moose, the North Beach saloonkeeper at the old Washington Square Bar & Grill and later Moose’s. Ed died in 2010. I still miss him. Thinking about Ed got me musing on another larger-than-life character, Toots Shor.
Many years ago, I worked for Collier’s Magazine in New York City. My first day on the job, a young guy in the office took me to lunch at The Palm on Second Avenue. He called it Ganzi’s because that was the name of the family that owned it — still owns it, I believe. I met one of the Ganzis and soon I was a regular. I had juice in a famous New York steakhouse that didn’t take reservations.
Then the same co-worker — he had once worked as a busboy for the 21 Club and had juice everywhere — took me to Toots Shor’s right down 51st Street from the Collier’s offices. That famous saloon had a large oval bar opposite the front door. I stood at the bar with my buddy and ordered a martini straight up. A few shoulder-lengths along the bar stood crooner Perry Como talking to the TV guy Dave Garroway. I looked across the bar oval and saw Jackie Gleason (martini straight up) talking to a large man with black, close-cropped hair. It was Toots himself, the one-time bouncer, lavish spender, and big bettor on major league sporting events. I soon met Toots and he became a friend — more juice for me, and I could run a tab at his fancy saloon and get billed later. And speaking of juice, a good hangover cure at Toots Shor’s was a sauerkraut juice cocktail — vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and sauerkraut juice.
Collier’s went belly-up. No more job. I wanted to stay in New York but had an offer to be a Hollywood press agent. My office would be in a Hansel and Gretel, storybook building complex on Sunset Boulevard called Crossroads of the World. How could I resist working in a place called Crossroads of the World? So I headed west.
Toots Shor was very nice about the 500 bucks I owed him on my tab. “Pay me whatever you can whenever you can, Kid.” He called everybody Kid. When I settled down in Hollywood, I sent Toots a check for $10 or $20 almost every month. He bet on me and I came through. I still miss him.
U.S. RESTAURANT REOPENS
By the time you read this, Gaspare Giudice may have reopened U.S. Restaurant, that storied North Beach landmark that was located at 515 Columbus Avenue. It closed a few months ago with landlord issues. Word is that Gaspare is reopening on the site of Colosseo Ristorante, at 414 Columbus. U.S. Restaurant regulars are rejoicing. Chef Ben Ruiz will be back in the kitchen tossing around those red hot sauté pans, and my favorite North Beach server, Renee Sammon, will be out front flashing her gorgeous smile.
One thing that always put me off about Colosseo was the pompous, ridiculous murals of Roman gladiators on its interior walls, perhaps created by a drunken Hollywood set decorator. I have a suggestion for Gaspare: Commission North Beach painter Marcia Clay to create murals of contemporary life in the old neighborhood. You may have seen Marcia’s paintings of Washington Square Park with old Italians lounging on park benches and Chinese grandmothers doing tai chi. They are brilliant depictions of a vanishing era.
MY BOOK PARTY
Well, my Marina Times publisher, the gracious and enlightened Earl Adkins, continues to indulge me by letting me write about my new book, Sketches from a North Beach Journal, so here’s an update. Original Joe’s, the stellar North Beach watering hole and restaurant, is hosting a book launch party for me this month. I would like to have you drop around for it — Wednesday, Sept. 23, 5 to 7 p.m. See you there.