North Beach Flaneur

Walking north on Kearny from downtown, the landscape changes at Sacramento Street: building heights go down, sunlight finds the street, pedestrians are older, and noodle shops replace office towers. Portsmouth Square is the open space in this densely crowded Chinese neighborhood, a living room for multiple generations, but it sits above a parking garage, easy to miss when walking under the pedestrian bridge on Kearny.

After passing the Chinatown Campus of City College and the House of Nanking, North Beach begins at Columbus, with Coppola’s Café Zoetrope, followed by two poles of the bar culture: the Comstock Saloon and Mr. Bing’s, both closed in the morning. Up the street to Jack Kerouac Alley, the corner of Vesuvio and City Lights, and across Columbus: Spec’s and the new Tosca. This was the center of the world when I first lived in North Beach: browsing books, reading in the basement, and drinking Negronis and Americanos before making the almost sobering trek up Vallejo Street to a room in a house long since replaced by pricey condos. Vesuvio was open for the morning drinkers but not for me today. City Lights is still the welcoming, quirky bookstore it’s always been and an hour uncovered two non-traditional histories of Paris (research) and a noir titled Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette, an author new to me.

I took my books to Café Puccini for a coffee among familiar faces to which I couldn’t add names, probably never knew them. The faces were older, of course, softened by age and memory. I tried to place them here, or another café or bar, but no luck. I nodded and moved on.

Molinari’s, the last Italian deli; the unique and indispensable Mario’s; Il Pollaio; Washington Square, the neighborhood lawn; Liguria bakery, sold out as usual by 11; the line at Mama’s, an unexplainable phenomenon that has persisted for decades; the rebuilt Joe DiMaggio playground; Gino & Carlo’s.

Liguria

Mario'sPlaygroundLunch at the new Original US Restaurant. More than an exercise in nostalgia, this is food from the Italian grandmother you always wished you had. All the other old neighborhood restaurants are gone but the family somehow managed to put this back together, covered the walls with photos of the old place and the family who made it special, and brought back a small piece of the neighborhood.

USRan into Supervisor Aaron Peskin and asked him if he was enjoying being back in City Hall. “I’m having fun,” he said with a wicked smile that left no doubt. Aaron loves to stir the pot by extending the progressive agenda as far to the left as possible. He’s good at it, and it’s a useful service to our complacent, liberal city.

People complain about obscene rents, Airbnb, the lack of grocery and hardware stores, shoe repair replaced by yet another restaurant for tourists, and all the usual urban ills, but there’s still a neighborhood here if you’re willing to look for it.

664AWalked past several doors that used to mean home, then back down Columbus to the bus that would take me there.

Saying Good Bye

So I’m launched on a farewell tour, friends and places that I love, doing things that may not happen again, but no guarantees.

Today was lunch with Larry. Now this is undoubtedly not the last time we’ll lunch together because Larry and Mary Ann are partners in the Maury house and we’ll not only eat together in France, but I suspect they’ll show up again in this blog. But Larry and I meet often for lunch and not infrequently in North Beach as we did today and I’ll miss these times.

The lunch menu at Capp’s Corner… today. The food is good and it fits our budget. It also works for Jerry Brown.  Our famously thrifty governor was also lunching at Capp’s today, with friends, without an entourage. The last time we ran into the governor was a few weeks ago at Tommaso’s, San Francisco’s best pizzeria. So I’m thinking the Governor and I share a taste for good Italian food in an unpretentious setting, which may explain why I always find voting for him to be a very satisfying experience.

The first time I met Governor Brown was in 1976. He was in his first term and I was shooting for Time Magazine.

Governor Brown
California Governor Jerry Brown Photo ©1976 Ron Scherl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now he’s back in office, trying to make sense of a political system gone haywire. Good luck Governor, I wish you well.

Enough politics, Larry and I went on to the North Star and Comstock and discussions of Brooklyns, Manhattans and aged Rivesaltes. Diversity is truly a wonderful thing.