North Beach Journal

The Tubes, Irene’s musical comedy, saloon art, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti


You may recall that I like to hang out at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe.

If you join me there sometime you may meet a Deadhead, a city supervisor, or the flame-haired vocalist for the San Francisco-based, post-hippie, rock ‘n’ roll band, The Tubes. That would be North Beach resident Re McCloud, a former Playboy and Penthouse model who sang with The Tubes for eight years under the name Re Styles.

“Sing me ‘White Punks on Dope,'” I asked Re. She demurred on singing The Tubes anthem and instead gave me a few bars of “Prime Time”:

Come fly with me

What are you waiting for

Come fly with me

Don’t waste a minute more

The voice is still there, but the glam costumes and the fame are in the past. Now Re is writing her memoir. Should be a good read.


North Beach is the kind of place where people burst into spontaneous song. It happened the other day at Caffe Puccini, where usually Pavarotti or Callas blare from the Puccini-laden jukebox. But while I was enjoying my Spaghetti al Cinghiale — that’s spaghetti with proprietor Graziano Lucchesi’s wild boar sauce — up jumped Irene Jimenez, retired piano teacher, and in good voice, and with perfect pitch began singing:

Pity me, that’s what I say, I am Suzette,

Got a centime or a franc Madame,

Madame, merci beaucoup.

Irene, a Caffe Puccini regular, is a serious composer and lyricist with a couple of musical comedies under her signature red beret. On the song-filled day I speak of, Irene gave me a few choruses from her musical “Café Guerbois.” The action takes place in 1880s Paris, where Suzette, a serving girl in the cafe, dreams of becoming a ballerina. She does, after meeting famed painter (of ballerinas, of course) Edgar Degas.

Irene is looking for an angel to produce her work. If you are an angel, drop into Puccini and ask for her.


As I stroll around North Beach, dropping into restaurants and saloons, I take special note of what’s hanging on the walls — photos, drawings, that sort of thing. It’s saloon art. Here are a few examples — you can drop in and take a look.

In the Original U.S. Restaurant on Columbus, you will find great historic, black-and-white photos of this place, which was established in 1919. There’s one of Rose Cippolina, whose family owned the restaurant in the old days. Rose stands in the kitchen of the original restaurant, with one hand on her hip, looking like a metaphor for the old North Beach. When Rose was around, women cooks in the kitchens of North Beach restaurants were known as “old stoves.”

Right across the street at Caffe Puccini, you will see photos and drawings of Giacomo Puccini, along with framed reproductions of the scores of his music. It’s enough to make you burst into song.


And down the block over on Union, it is worthwhile dropping into the men’s room at Original Joe’s. Sometimes I drop in for the express purpose of viewing the magnificent blowups of Sophia Loren. I recall one of classy Sophia eyeballing Jayne Mansfield’s prominent breasts. The original hung in Chasen’s, a Beverly Hills hot spot for movie stars.

Then there’s Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe, where my friend, Tubes singer Re McCloud, hangs out. Here are groups of informal photos of customers who clutter up the place. There’s a shot of your columnist enjoying an espresso, for example. I heard that the management was considering pasting a sign under it to read “If you see this man hanging about the premises please advise the manager so we can throw him out.”

Up on Green Street, which has no fewer than a dozen saloons and restaurants in one block, Gigi’s Sotto Mare has a lot of dead fish hanging on the walls. Proprietor Richie Azzolino assures me they haven’t been used in the seafood dishes he serves.


And next door on Green Street, at the estimable Gino and Carlo, you’ll find aging photos of aging, or long-gone newspaper columnists.

And now that I’m into this, I remember that the old Washington Square Bar & Grill had a magnificent photo of the sad-eyed, Irish saloonkeeper Sean Mooney — but I suppose all Irish bartenders are sad-eyed.

There was a time when some restaurants hung aging yellowing newspaper clippings by somebody named Bauer. Not so much in North Beach now. But I once saw a photo of the afore-mentioned Bauer in the window of a Columbus Avenue joint that read, “If you see this person here, please advise us. He’s not welcome.” I guess that’s life in the big city when you’re a big-time food critic.


The other day I got thinking about the late and much lamented Capp’s Corner. As many readers will recall, it was my go-to place to hang out. One day I was having lunch there with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The place was crowded. He took a sip of his wine, looked around and said to me, “Somebody ought to write a play about this place.”

I replied, “Why don’t you write one?”

“I wrote a couple of one-act plays a long time ago. They ran one performance and disappeared,” he said. Then he was silent for a moment before he said, “Why don’t you write one?”

“I’ve never written a play,” I said.

“All the more reason you should write this one,” he said.

So I wrote a play called “Capp’s Corner.” It took me a couple of months. Then I sent it to Ferlinghetti and made a lunch date with him.

We sat at the same spot and ordered glasses of red wine. We sipped slowly and after a while ordered our lunch — linguine and clams as I recall. We enjoyed a leisurely meal and talked about this and that — neighborhood gossip, that sort of thing.

Finally, I asked, “Well, Lawrence, did you read my play?”

Ferlinghetti took a final sip of his wine, looked at me, and said, “Bad Beckett.”

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