Broadway, North Beach, Pt 2

We’re back on Broadway, in San Francisco’s North Beach, as former saloon keeper, and author of “Broadway North Beach- the Golden Years”, Dick Boyd introduces us to his nightclub, Pierre’s. He’ll share a few behind-the-scenes stories about changes in The City’s adult-entertainment area. We’ll meet his first waitress (and hooker’s right’s advocate, Margo St. James).  And we’ll hear about a band of women who’s popularity had nothing to do with their musical talents.  

Broadway/ North Beach, San Francisco Pt1

Broadway, in San Francisco’s North Beach, was the epicenter of spicy adult entertainment back in the early 60’s. The Condor Club, at the corner of Columbus and Broadway, was the birthplace of Topless, and soon after the entire street followed suit. Join me as I walk with former saloon keeper, and author of “Broadway North Beach- the Golden Years”, Dick Boyd, as he tells us about the characters and clubs that made this street famous.

(NOTE: Sorry about the resolution. I video’d this episode before working with quality equipment. Hopefully, you enjoy the content.)

The Saloon

On this episode, we visit what is, arguably, the oldest drinking establishment still in existence in San Francisco- The Saloon. Built in 1861, this is one of the few survivors of the ’06 Quake and Fire. In North Beach, there are lots of options when you want entertainment, but none can compare to the special cocktail of booze, Blues and true San Francisco characters like The Saloon offers.  

The Saloon, 1232 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

Hours: 12p-1:30a 415 989-7666

Molloy’s Tavern, Colma

Join us on a trip to that faraway land known as Colma, as we visit a landmark for thirsty travelers, drinkers and mourners since the 1880s, Molloy’s Tavern. Nestled among the cemeteries in The City of the Dead, we’ll learn about its past, meet the family, and attend an annual celebration with a historical drinking society (or is it a drinking historical society? YOU make the call!)

Molloy’s Tavern, 1655 Mission Rd, Colma, CA

 Hours:  9:30am to 2 am   (650) 270-4853

The Seamy Saint of North Beach

by the late, great Warren Hinckle (first published in the S.F. Chronicle on November 12, 1977)

NOTE: This article is hung on the wall of my favorite (and in my humble opinion, the best) drinking establishment in San Francisco, Gino & Carlo on Green St. Having had the honor of tending bar (morning shift, 6am, Tuesdays) for some of my favorite people in the World (the Rossi Family), I was saddened to find that this funny, touching, epic tale of boozy camaraderie is nowhere to be found on-line. So I transcribed and here it is, in all it’s glory. God bless Warren Hinckle, and Johnny Pignatelli.

(photo courtesy of SF Chronicle-scanned)

They got to church early, like bandits casing the joint. The fuzzy rose of sin blushed in the veins of their cheeks. Outside, fall leaves blew over the early rising winos hanging in Washington Square Park. The priest began mass and nobody knew what to do. A babushkaed Italian lady who goes to church 365 days a year, turned around and showed them how to kneel. 

It was the biggest gathering of degenerates under one roof since the days when the people who wrote the Bible sat down to describe Sodom and Gomorrah. It took place Tuesday morning in SS. Peter and Paul Church. 

The extraordinary occasion was the High Requiem Mass, sung in Italian, for the late Giovanni Pignatelli, elder statesman and senior drinker of Green Street. If he were to be canonized, and there was talk of that in North Beach Tuesday morning, he would be the patron saint of alcoholics.

For the last 15 years Giovanni Pignatelli had drank a quart of scotch a day, sometimes a quart and a half, 2 quarts on holidays when there was something to celebrate. This is by the sworn estimate of the bartenders who served him the stuff. When he died, at 75 on Halloween night at Ft. Miley Veterans Hospital, he had just about everything wrong with him except for his liver, which was adjudged to be that of a 23-year-old. The doctors had sore necks from shaking their heads in puzzlement.

Once Johnny – as he was called- was hit by a Yellow Cab, an occasion of much pain and great fortune to him. There was a trial by jury to award Johnnie Pignatelli damages for his pain and suffering. The lawyer for the defense asked bartender Frank Rossi how much the victim drank. 

“He has a few drinks in the morning,” Frank said.

In the morning? The lawyer wanted to know how many. “Oh, maybe seven or eight coffee brandys,” Frank said. The lawyer stepped back like Frank had handed him a wet glass to dry. Seven or eight? In the morning? 

“He doesn’t drink much before lunch,” Frank said.

The jury looked at Johnny Pignatelli, who was sitting with a smile on his face looking as healthy and fresh as a clean scrub carrot. The jury almost applauded. 

The people who knelt so awkwardly and unexpectedly at mass Tuesday morning to pray for the repose of his soul were his friends. Most of them had not been in church since they had been baptized, and some of them had never been baptized. They were fishermen, scavengers, longshoremen, lawyers, writers, insurance executives, bartenders and bartendresses, saloon people of every stripe and plume. His wife and his stepson did not show up at Giovanni Pignatelli’s funeral. The people buried him were the people who drank with him.

Johnnie did most of his drinking at Gino and Carlo, on Green Street. Gino and Carlo is a giant egg crate of a bar that resembles a bomb shelter after the bomb has dropped. Those who have reason to know say it is the hardest drinking saloon in San Francisco. People who take the waters there are not so much customers as citizens of a strange land. Johnny Pignatelli was Gino and Carlo’s senior citizen. 

There are some people that did not like Johnny Pignatelli, among them, apparently, his immediate relations. His friends, however, loved him very much. Johnnie loved jest… He was irrascible. He was disputatious. He was flirtatious and unreasonable. He had a joyfully dirty mind. When introduced to young lady I would shake her breast before he shook her hand. When he danced he threw away his cane. 

He loved to play and we hated to lose. Johnnie was shaking for drinks with his best friend, Donato Rossi. Johnnie lost. That was outraged that the dice would do that to him. He congratulated Donato with a clenched fist. “You were borna’ crooked, you gona’ die-ah crooked, you are so crooked you even sleep crooked!” No one could ever slander Johnny Pignatelli by calling him a good loser. 

Bob Kauffman, the poet, a fellow citizen of Gino and Carlo, was asked over a Coke if he thought certain magnificent defects of Johnnie’s character should be corrected. “Why turn a perfectly good frog into a prince?” Kauffman replied. 

When he was in a good mood, which was often, Johnny Pignatelli sang. He sang with the grace of a baby whale and the strut of a tuba player pumping away and a Sunday parade in Ohio. He would leap on the bar, a spry 70-year-old, and leave an imaginary band of drinkers in his favorite song. It is unfair to ask people to guess what that might be. It was “Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder…”

He also sang opera, excellently, which he learned, somehow, when making his living with a net, the way Peter did, working out of the Italian Riviera at Fisherman’s Wharf. He sang at the old Bocce Ball on Broadway, before the Bocce Ball went the way of all North Beach flesh, along the forked path to trendiness or oblivion.

It is no doubt no accident that Johnny Pignatelli, a real man of the old North Beach, left the stage the same month that Little Joe’s, the finest flood counter in America, succumbed to popularity and expanded into a ridiculous Baby Joe’s with tables, next-door, and City Lights continued its downhill plunge into merchandising that began when the management shafted Shig Murao by expanding, also, next-door into a magazine rack satellite. North Beach is becoming the Emporium with beards.

Johnny’s singing made his fortune. In the matter of Pignatelli vs. Yellow Cab, the victim took the stand. He was asked his name. He stood up, eyes as bright as an Everyready ad, his crew cut white hair flat top level and trim, and sang to the jury “My name is Giovanni Pignatelli. I love to be an American. I love to sing. I will sing to you Pagliacci.” That jury of his peers gave him a hundred grand. They were not out as long as it takes a racetrack tote board to add up. When the Scrooges at Yellow said they would appeal, Johnnie settled for a fast 75. He put it in the savings and loan a few doors down from Gino and Carlo and spent all the money buying drinks for his friends. It took him six years to use it up. When Johnny Pignatelli was rich, everybody was rich.

At Frank Rossi’s home on telegraph Hill, the former Kathleen Garafalo was serving dinner one night, Johnny Pignatelli was the guest. The two sets of Rossi twins were seen but not heard the way the nuns tell you to be in Catholic schools. When Mrs. Rossi, who is the former Miss Garafalo, cleaned up the table, Johnnie Pignatelli had left a 20 under each kid’s plates.

For the funeral mass there had been many frantic preparations. First the body had to be extracted from the cliff-hanging grasp of the Veterans Hospital bureaucracy. “What do you mean his friends want to bury him? We can’t just release a body to friends!” The bureaucrats of this government and of this city of ours make dying even more of the pain in the ass than it is.

Then there was a matter of the music. Bobby Short, a friend, suggested a trumpeter should play Johnny Pignatelli’s favorite song, which is not exactly in the handbook of Gregorian Chants. Mrs. Rossi dealt with the church. While kind, the church maintained a confusion bordering on suspicion about the arrangements. “Aren’t there relatives here? Yes. Are they coming? No.” Consanguinity is to Rome as baseball is to America; expected. Meanwhile, Shirley Bossier, a waitress, another of Johnny’s hundred friends, was desperately trying to land a trumpet player. The Musicians Union couldn’t guarantee anything on such notice. They suggested the band barracks at the Presidio. Shirley called the number and asked “Do you have a trumpet player who knows ‘Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder’? and can he do it at 9:30 the next morning at SS. Peter and Paul?”

At 9 that morning, in the rectory of SS. Peter and Paul, Staff Sergeant Henry Buzby Jr. was there, tall, black, in full uniform, trumpet under his arm. He discussed the morning’s unusual musical score with Lola Simi, the organist. SS. Peter and Paul has not had a moment like this since a frustrated contractor who lost a bid hired goons to try to blow the church up back in the twenties or so. All was, finally, settled. The usual amenities were offered, and turned down. Sergeant Buzby said he had never seen a man’s friends doing what  Johnny Pignatelli’s friends were doing for him: he would not play for pay.

The High Requiem Mass ended. The pallbearers began the long march down the aisle with the casket dripping with the morning’s holy water. Wearing the standard white gloves of the Green Street Mortuary, their faces as stone as Mt. Rushmore, were Donato and Frank Rossi, formerly  of Genoa, then of Gino and Carlo, and their partner Aldino Cuneo, also of Genoa, and Dino Petrucci, like Johnnie from Marche, the day bartender at Columbus Café, where Johnny also drank, and Sylvio Conciatore, the dean of North Beach Italian chefs, who had cooked Johnnie a thousand noonday meals in Gino and Carlo’s back kitchen, and show me a bunch, but this Chuckie that people honk at, another citizen of Johnnie’ where Johnny also drank, and Jim Bunch, the disc jockey that people honk at, another citizen of Johnnie’s land.

As the casket moved down the aisle at the speed of an Alaskan snail the trumpet strain in largessimo time, of “Off We Go…” filled the huge church. Grown drunks cried in their sobriety and tears the size of martini onions rolled down the cheeks of Johnny Pignatelli’s friends. “That wasn’t a funeral – it was church insurance,” one mourner later said.

In Colma, at the Italian Cemetery, in the honest light of early winter, his friends said good-by to Johnny Pignatelli. “Are you only a friend, too?” Father Costanza of SS. Peter and Paul, who still had a weather eye out for a relative, asked Joe Barbirri, a retired scavenger. 

In the end all Johnnie Pignatelli had were friends. We should all be so lucky. 

Green Street, looking toward Russian Hill

Vesuvio Cafe

San Francisco has been home to some of the greatest saloons in the world. Most are but a memory, but a few classics remain. Arguably, the most beautiful survivor would be Vesuvio Cafe on Columbus between North Beach and Chinatown.  Owner Janet Clyde was gracious enough to give us an inside look at this iconic establishment.


Vesuvio Cafe, 255 Columbus Ave. (near Broadway), San Francisco, CA 94133

Hours:  8am to 2 am   (415) 362-3370

24 of the Most Deliciously Iconic Foods in San Francisco…(Part 2)

…or, Why I Have Gained 35 Pounds Since Returning to The City.   12 more excuses for weight gain and food-inspired happiness from the City By the Bay.

Pepperoni Pizza at Tommaso’s
1042 Kearny near Broadway, North Beach
Amidst all of the change and turmoil in The City these days, it’s so refreshing when an older eating establishment survives and thrives. That’s what’s happening at the small Italian restaurant on Kearny Street called Tomasso’s. Opened in the 1930’s as Lupo’s, the Crotti Family has owned the place since 1973 (they bought it from cook/owner Tommy Chin, hence the name Tommaso’s- an Italian version of his name!) They still make pizza the way it was made in the 30’s- in a wood-fired brick oven. This place is so special to my family that my Canadian daughter-in-law chose it for her post wedding banquet. They do pizza perfectly, the crust slightly charred from the oven, toppings are so delicious! My wife adores the fresh spinach and garlic. But my favorite is the pepperoni (I know, not a very creative choice. But at Tommaso’s, the slices of pepperoni slightly curl up during the bake, making each bite that includes these little oily spicy delights at treat. There’s reason that I use the stupid-looking photo of me devouring a Tommaso’s slice as the header photo on the AAHour Facebook page. I love Tommaso’s! Thanks Augie and Carmen!
DC eating Tomassos_Fotor

Dungeness Crab Feed at Italian American Social Club (or Charity Functions all over the Bay Area)
25 Russia Avenue at Mission, Excelsior District
New England has it’s clambakes. Minnesotans have their fish fries. Louisiana has their crawfish boils. But when it’s Dungeness crab season in Northern California, it’s Crab Feed Time! High schools and charitable organizations put out the call to all hungry crab lovers to come and feast on all-you-can-eat cracked crab. Oh sure, they all try to get you full on Sourdough bread and salad and pasta. But any crab feeder worth their claw cracker knows you don’t fill up on the prelims when the main course is on it’s way. One of my favorite crab feeds in my old neighborhood, the Excelsior District, at the venerable Italian-American Social Club. Family and old friends plop down at communal tables as the bring out bowl after bowl of marinated cracked crab. Feast ’til you can’t look at another crab leg. IASC you there! (bad pun) Then get primed for the next feed at the church in the next neighborhood.
Crab Feed

Sandwiches with Garlic Sauce and Hot Pepper Sauce on a Dutch Crunch Roll from Little Lucca
724 El Camino Real, South San Francisco
Yes, we’ve left San Francisco proper again. But, hey, I need to branch out to the other 6 Bay Area counties occasionally (where I have some favorite bars and restaurants). And a ride down El Camino Real to South City is well worth it when you’re heading for the “Little Sandwich Shack That Could” (my new Children’s book BTW)- I’m talking about Little Lucca. How can you find this tiny deli? Look for the lines that run out the door to the sidewalk.  Everyone is waiting to place an order for the best sandwich around. Step aside, Ike’s. Little Lucca has been feeding folk since 1980. every kind of lunchmeat and cheese, ready to be piled on Sourdough hard or soft rolls, or a slightly-sweet, local creation called a Dutch Crunch roll. And the topper? Have them slather on some of their delectable garlic sauce and hot pepper sauce. Huge sandwiches, they don’t skimp on the fillings! You’ll have enough for two lunches (well, I personally don’t usually have leftovers, but you will.) Endure the wait, it’s worth it!
Little Lucca dutch crunch sandwich

Oysters on the Half Shell at Le Central
453 Bush Street near Grant Avenue, Downtown/Financial District
We all know about San Francisco’s old Italian neighborhood, North Beach. And of course, the historic Chinese neighborhood, Chinatown. And contrary to newbie thinking,  The Mission was actually an Irish-German ‘hood, which evolved into our Mexican/Central American community. (Seriously, do some research about your new digs. Jeez.) Anyways, did you know there was actually a French quarter in The City? There sure was, in the area surrounding Notre Dame des Victores Catholic Church, on Bush and Pine Streets, above Kearny, (some are actually calling little Belden Lane the “French Quarter” these days). And that’s where you’ll find my favorite bistro, Le Central. They serve French classics, including a duck confit, sausage, white bean cassoulet that was started when they opened. They proudly update their sign that claims the cassoulet has been cooking for over 14 thousand days. One of my favorite thing at Le Central is the raw oyster plate at Happy Hour. Fresh oysters on the half shell for a low price. And the pomme frites! Mon dieu! Dip them in the garlic aioli mayonnaise.  Which is how the French eat fries (as we all learned in “Pulp Fiction”. No Le Big Mac here, though.)
Le Central Oysters

Ravioli from Lucca Ravioli
1100 Valencia Street at 22nd, Mission District
Since I was a kid growing up in The Mission, and we lived at 20th and Lexington, I remember Mom taking us to the Italian Delicatessen with the red, green and white striped awning at 22nd and Valencia to get fresh ravioli. Talk about a place that has withstood the tests of time, Lucca still makes fresh ravs, and tortellini and other pastas. You can watch the daily process through the window on the Valencia sidewalk. Sold in flat boxes,  the traditional meat filling brings back memories of bowls of ravioli topped with my Mother’s excellent Bolognese sauce. (Lucca makes sauce as well, and 4 other types of ravioli- cheese, spinach, pumpkin, and a special holiday rav with meat, spinach and turkey). I love the staff there, some of which have been at Lucca for decades. They’re all cool, funny and helpful! Old school, in the best of ways.
Lucca Ravioli

San Francisco-Style Potato Salad (Herman’s)
Various locations, kind of…
Herman’s Delicatessen, on Geary between 5th and 6th Avenues, was the Pride of the Richmond. The owner, Herman Voss, made a German-style potato salad that is revered to this day. Potatoes cut thin, not diced, with a creamy, sweet but not too sweet mayo/white vinegar base, shreds of carrot and that’s about it. Simple, but unique, the Herman’s potato salad (or San Francisco-style, as it is know today) was deemed the world’s best. No celery, no mustard, no pickle relish, no onion. Nothing else, but deliciousness. A company called Luciers made it for a while, as well as Bob Ostrow (“the maestro, the delicatessen man!” as my wife likes to sing their jingle). You can find a pretty tasty knock-off of it at Lucky Stores.
Hermans Potato Salad_Fotor_Fotor

Meatball Sandwich on Focaccia at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
566 Columbus Avenue at Union Street, North Beach
How do you improve on the stupendous delectable focaccia from Liguria Bakery? Well, you don’t. BUT you can use that impeccable pizza bread to make an outstanding sandwich, and that’s what the folks at Marios’ Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe have done! Back in the day, Mario’s was the neighborhood cigar stand, where little old Italian retirees would sit outside and smoke their Toscanello “guinea stinkers” cigars in the afternoon.  The original owner’s son has made the old tobacco shop into a cafe, and they make the most delicious oven-baked sandwich, with slices of Liguria pizza focaccia as the bread, stuffed with meatballs, Swiss Cheese and grilled onions. Grab a cold Peroni and mangiare! I will take the old Mounds candy bar motto and attribute it to Mario’s sandwich: Indescribably delicious.
Meatball sandwich

Shrimp Chow Mein and Diana’s Meat Pie at Henry’s Hunan
924 Sansome between Broadway and Vallejo, Lower Telegraph Hill
San Francisco is at no shortage when it comes to choices for Chinese cuisine. From authentic Hong Kong-style fare to Americanized Cantonese-inspired “sweet and sour” offerings, we have it all at within our grasp. Henry Chung and his family have been serving Hunan style dishes for over 40 years. When I was working at CBS Radio on Battery, I would often stop at Henry’s Hunan on Sansom to grab some dinner for the family. Henry’s shrimp chow mein, with soft noodles, large shrimp and fresh vegetables, is as good as it gets. And his wife, Diana, has created one of the oddest, and most delicious, mashups ever- a Asian-influenced meat pie, a flaky deep-fried flour cake filled with savory ground beef. So weird, and so good!
Chow Mein henrys Hunan
meat pie henrys_Fotor

Tortellini Carbonara at Sodini’s Green Valley
 510 Green Street near Grant Avenue, North Beach
When we were kids growing up in San Francisco, my parents would occasionally take the family to dinner in North Beach. We went to family style Italian dinner houses like The Montclair, 622 Green, Capp’s Corner, Gold Spike and Sam Remo. As well as Caesar’s nearer to the Wharf. Most are gone, but one remains, thanks to the efforts of the Sodini Brothers, Peter and Mark: Green Valley Restaurant on Green near Grant. This was always a favorite, a place where you sat at communal tables and feasted on plates of hearty, home-cooked Italian classics. My dad likes to say “The service was so good that, sometimes, they pre-buttered your bread.” (No waste of table bread at the old GV!) No pre-buttering these days, Green Valley is loud and fantastic, with local angels like Linda and Rachel waiting your tables. Mark Sodini is the perfect host. And the food is delicious and plentiful. And the Tortellini Carbonara, with it’s rich, mushroom and pancetta cream sauce, is beyond compare. You’ll love Sodini’s, even if you do have to butter your own bread.
Sodini tortellini

Cappuccino at Caffe Trieste (with a Macaroon)
601 Vallejo Street at Grant Avenue, North Beach
It would be hard to argue that Caffe Trieste is the most representative, iconic establishment in North Beach. (OK, maybe Vesuvio on Columbus, but who wants to argue?) Anyways, this Italian coffee house has been a hip hangout way before the current wave of Hipsters invaded our city. Opened in 1956 by Giovanni Giotta, coffee lovers can thank him- he brought Espresso and Cappuccino from his home in Trieste to the West Coast. Each cup is still made the way it was made back then. Caffe Trieste was a hit with the Beat Movement writers like Jack kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Francis Ford Coppola wrote most of the screenplay for “The Godfather” here. Stop in, order the perfect Cappuccino, accompanied by one of the delicious pastries available (the macaroon- damn!) Sit back, enjoy the Jazz and Opera music coming from the jukebox, and soak in some of The City’s living history.
Cappucino Trieste

Irish Coffee at The Gold Dust Lounge
165 Jefferson Street near Taylor, Fishermans Wharf
Legend has it that the Irish Coffee was brought from a Shannon Airport bar to America by a newspaper columnist back in the 50’s. Some argue that the claims are malarkey, saying the drink has been poured in San Francisco since the Gold Rush days. No matter what the true story is, the Irish Coffee is here to stay,  a staple in pubs and taverns around The City. And my personal favorite version of this delicious drink can be found at the Gold Dust Lounge. The Bovis Family moved to the current Fisherman’s Wharf location after being unfairly evicted from their Union Square location of over a half century. They have recreated the same beloved vibe that that reigned over Powell Street imbibers since 1966.  The great prices came with them over the hill, and you can’t find a more reasonably-priced cocktail in town. Open at 9am, you can get the perfect Irish Coffee made with Jamison’s Irish Whiskey for only 5 dollars! Unbeatable. And absolutely delicious!

Various locations
If you’re reading from somewhere outside of the San Francisco Bay Area you may be asking yourself “A what’s what?”  An It’s-It, a triple threat dessert with delicious ice-cream pressed between two oatmeal cookies and covered in chocolate.  It was invented by George Whitney, the man who brought us the long-gone Ocean Beach amusement park Playland at the Beach. They had a stand that frowned the Great Highway, right next to the equally as iconic Hot House Tamale Stand. Thankfully, since Playland closed in 1972, the It’s-It is still around. Why do I love them? They had me at ice cream, cookies and chocolate.
Its Its_Fotor

24 of the Most Deliciously Iconic Foods in San Francisco…

…or, Why I Have Gained 35 Pounds Since Returning to The City. Part 1.
Everyone has their food touchstones from growing up wherever they grew up. It might be something as simple as Hostess Sno-Balls that mom put in their lunch or a chocolatey Yoo-Hoo that they spent allowance on at the corner store. A friend from New York waxes eloquent about bagels, and makes the argument that “no where on earth can you find a bagel the likes of a New York City bagel.” Texans brag about their barbecue. You should hear the arguments over their German-influenced sausage. I mean, Elgin vs. Lockhart? It’s a war, y’all! It seems everyone gets downright defensive over their hometown pizza.  And growing up in San Francisco, there are foods that bring back memories (and add the pounds, when I don’t check myself, which, if you know me, I most don’t.). Here are a few of the iconic foods that beckoned me home, to savor the flavor, and to pack on the LBS.

Focaccia from Liguria Bakery
1700 Stockton St. at Filbert, North Beach
If you’ve ever seen a long line of people standing outside this little bakery at holiday time, know that they’re waiting for the best focaccia ever made. Liguria Bakery is one of the oldest businesses in North Beach. The Soracco Family has been making basically one item for generations (yes, the ladies that help you- Mary and Josephine- are part of the family.) They have several versions- plain, garlic, rosemary, raisin, all of them delicious. But the best? Go in, ask them to cut up a pizza. They’ll put the oily, tomato-y, onion-y, caramelized-edged slices of heaven on a sheet of waxed paper, and into a paper bag for you. I defy you to get home without having a piece or two.
Liguria foccacia

Pan Sautéed Sand Dabs from Tadich Grill
240 California St between Front and Battery, Financial District
The sign on the window says that Tadich Grill is the “The Original Cold Day Restaurant”. Not exactly sure what that means, but despite the weather, any day is a good day to eat at this San Francisco classic if you’re in search of tasty seafood selections. My favorite is a not-as-well-known tiny little flatfish called a sand dab. Silly name, delectable dish. Mildly flavored, accented with simple seasonings (salt, pepper, dust of flour) sautéed and served up fresh. You can have your tilapia and ahi. Sand dabs at Tadich? Perfection!  even on a hot day.
Tadich Sand Dabs

Cheeseburger on French from Original Joe’s
601 Union Street at Stockton, North Beach
We constantly get bombarded with “Best Burger” lists.  But the one constant omission is my favorite- a perfectly char-broiled ground chuck burger laced with diced onions, topped with swiss cheese or provolone, on a Sourdough roll grilled in garlic butter. Let me quote George “Mr. Sulu” Takai- “Oh my!”  You don’t need extras or condiments, it’s just that good! Whether were at Original Joe’s- North Beach or San Jose, Marin Joe’s, the old Joe’s of Westlake or even Val’s in Daly City- a Joe’s cheeseburger makes the top of my “Best Burger” list everytime!
Joes cheeseburger on french

Italian Dry Salami from Molinari
373 Columbus Avenue at Vallejo, North Beach
Fun Fact: Most people outside of San Francisco and the Bay Area have little idea about the delicious cured meat known as Italian Dry Salami. Try ordering a salami sandwich elsewhere and you’ll get Genoa-style (larger grind and fattier),  Cotto (softer, less cured), Kosher (very Baloney-esque in my opinion), even “salami” that is more like Summer Sausage (think Hillshire Farms). OUR Italian Dry Salami is best represented by Molinari. Custom spiced pork, jammed into natural casings, is then dry cured for around 4 weeks. A white mold forms on the casing during this process. (Each salami gets hairier than Tom Selleck’s chest! You don’t want to see them during this phase.) I know that sounds nasty, but that mold what makes our salami the tastiest! Spicy, salty, amazing. We have sent Molinari salami to friends around the country, and they beg for more. Uniquely delicious.
Molinari Salami

Joe’s Special from Marin Joe’s
1585 Casa Buena Dr, Corte Madera
A simple dish that is simply mouthwateringly tasty, legend (arguably) has it that the Joe’s Special was invented at the long-gone New’s Joe’s on Columbus when hungry Prohibition-era Jazzmen wanted a filling dish after jamming at Barbary Coast nightclubs.  Ground chuck, onion, spinach and eggs in a taste-tempting scramble of delight! Whether late-night or for breakfast, a Joe’s Special works any time of day. Marin Joe’s, on the frontage road next to the 101 in Corte Madera, has been serving a perfect version of this dish since the 50’s. A Joe’s Special gives the word “special” a savory meaning.
Joes Special_Fotor

Dungeness Crab Sandwich from Nick’s Rockaway
100 Rockaway Beach Avenue at Highway 1, Pacifica
I know this one is out of The City, but it’s definitely worth the drive down Highway 1 to Pacifica for the best Dungeness crab sandwich served anywhere. Period. Sliced, butter-grilled sourdough (again!) piled with a heaping helping of lump Dungeness crab meat, just moistened with mayo. The sandwich is not cheap, but it’s absolutely worth the price. Have you ever ordered a crab sandwich and been disappointed with how little crab is in it? I assure you, Nick’s does not skimp. You will not be disappointed.
Nicks Crab Sandwich

Sourdough Bread from Boudin Bakery 
399 10th Avenue at Geary, Inner Richmond
Sourdough French bread is as San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars and Liberal politics. French bakers brought their techniques here during the Gold Rush and the best versions of these deliciosly sour loaves have been made here ever since. Remember Parisian? Larrabaru? Toscana? Venetian? All gone. Thankfully, the earliest Sourdough bakery is still alive and thrives. Boudin started in the original settlement and moved to it’s current location in the Richmond after the 1906 Quake and Fire, and the “mother dough” starter went with them. No respectable restaurant in The City does not start your meal off without a basket of fresh, delicious Sourdough. The best thing to ever come out of France (Catherine Deneuve excepted.) Viva le pain de Boudin!
Boudin sourdough

Carnitas Super Burrito from Gordo’s Taqueria
2252 Clement Street at 24th Avenue, Outer Richmond (and other locations) 
There is no style of burrito better than the Over-Stuffed Tortilla Bomb of Goodness invented in our own Mission District. A multi-pound meal in itself, a Super Burrito is a large tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese, salsa, rice, beans, and more. Ay Dios mio! People spend hours arguing the merits of Mission burritos on a daily basis. La Taqueria (delicious) vs. El Farolito (equally as delicious). La Cumbre (delicious) at 16th and Valencia claims to have invented it in 1969. An odd claim, since I remember my first Super Burrito at El Faro at 20th and Folsom before then. But who gives a s**t? I’m just glad it was invented. And (here comes my shocking choice) the best version of a Carnitas Super Burrito is not found in the Mission. Head West to the Richmond and make a stop on Clement to get the primo SB at Gordo. Their carnitas is the most delectable. Their pico de gallo and hot green salsa- untouchable. Sure, you can scour the Mission and find delicious SB everywhere. Or venture out West and get the mostest deliciousest of all! [and 3, 2, 1…commence cursing me]
Gordo super carnitas

Hangtown Fry from John’s Grill
63 Ellis Street at Powell, Downtown/Union Square
Do you know about the Hangtown Fry? This is a dish with a bit of mythic history behind it, one story claiming that it was created during the Gold Rush at a hotel restaurant in Placerville (a.k.a Hangtown) when a prospector hit the Mother Lode and, big shotting it, demanded the most expensive dish that the kitchen could make. So the chef combined eggs (a prized perishable), bacon (from the East Coast) and oysters (transported, on ice, from the Bay). Tadich has had an excellent version on it’s menu for over a century and a half. But I like the one served at John’s Grill (made famous in “The Maltese Falcon”). A scrumptious omelette with fried oysters and bacon.  Nothing like a classic dish prepared in a classic style at a classic San Francisco institution. If it was good enough for Sam Spade, it’s good enough for me.
hangtown fry johns grill

Al Pastor Tacos from El Tonayense
Trucks along Harrison Street, Mission District
As far as taco fillings are concerned, I’m not especially picky. Carnitas, Carne Asada, chicken, Baja-style fish, all good in my book. Okay, I’m not a big fan of sesos (brains), tripas (intestines) or buche (fried pork stomach). Hey, I’m not Andrew Zimmern, so Bizarre Foods aren’t always my thing!  But my favorite taco filling of all is Al Pastor.   Marinated pork, roasted on a spit, then carved so that each morsel has spice and caramelization, is the tastiest of the tasty! The best version I ever had is at a small taco shack in Tijuana, just over the border, near the cab stands. Small, quickly fried corn tortillas filled with Al Pastor and a great guacamole. Simple, and crazy good! And the next best thing when I’m not in Mexico are the Al Pastor tacos on the El Tonayense trucks that can be found on Harrison Street in The Mission. There’s one near Best Buy, more scattered towards Bernal Heights. Get 2, or 3, or more. So very good!
El Ton al apstor tacos

Lazy Man’s Cioppino from Scoma’s
Al Scoma Way, off Jefferson Street, Fisherman’s Wharf
Whenever we went to Fisherman’s Wharf, my parents would walk us down the pier at Jefferson and Taylor, past the fishing boats, and take us to dinner at “the local’s favorite”, Scoma’s. The Scoma Family has been hosting San Franciscans and visitors to The City since the 60’s. And with the extensive list of seafood dishes on their menu, another San Francisco classic stands out: Cioppino. Created by the Italian fishermen from North Beach, Cioppino is a spicy, tomato and wine based fish stew, filled with shrimp, clams, Dungeness crab legs, scallops, and cod. And for messy bastahds like me, Scoma’s is a “lazy man’s” version, everything is pre-cracked or shelled.  A big bowl of cioppino, a glass of vino and some Sourdough- my mouth is watering as I type.
Scomas Cioppino

Prime Rib at the House of Prime Rib
1906 Van Ness between Washington and Jackson, Russian Hill
Meat Eaters, rejoice! This beautiful, club atmosphered temple of beef has been dispensing delicious cuts of hand-carved prime rib roast since 1949. They have a (not extensive) menu (it has a few other offerings), but the reason to come here is on the name above the door. Prime rib. The carver wheels a large silver-domed cart to your table (what I call “The Rolling Casket of Beef), opens the top, unveiling roast beefs and asking what cut you prefer.  Here is the most amazing aspect of a prime rib dinner at HoPR: they will serve you seconds if you ask them!  What?! It’s true. If you want another cut of beef once you’ve finished your first serving, they’ll gladly carve it for you.  Prime rib done in prime fashion. If you haven’t been there (or you’re leaning towards a Vegan diet) don’t miss it!
House of Prime Rib_Fotor

 To be continued…another Baker’s Dozen next week.

12 Favorite San Francisco Bars That Are Long Gone (and the Good News)

Old Bar Poster

San Francisco is a town that was built on bars. Saloons popped up almost as soon as settlers arrived, and a few of the originals (very few) have actually survived the constant change of our ever-changing city. The Saloon, The Old Ship Saloon, The Little Shamrock, Elixir, Vesuvio Cafe, Molloy’s in Colma and a few others are still standing (in one form or another), serving libations to lucky, thirsty patrons.

The poster above is proudly hung on the wall at Ray’s Hearth in the Richmond, and if you take a close look (click on the image to make it larger), you will notice how few of these drinking establishments are still in existence. Here is a (very personal) list of some of my favorite bars that ain’t around no more.

The Gold Dust Lounge
formerly at 247 Powell Street, near Geary, Union Square

This downtown classic was as much a Union Square mainstay as the cable cars that ran outside on Powell Street. Locals and tourists alike loved the friendly, funky vibe in the Gold Dust. The best prices on Irish Coffees, Margaritas and Champagne anywhere! Open at 6 am, it was a hangout for working class and business types. And they offered live music 7 nights a week. Over the years, visitors like Tony Bennett, Janis Joplin (owner Jimmy Bovis almost didn’t serve her!) and legendary columnist Herb Caen (who had his own stool) dropped in to join the fun. Powell Street hasn’t been the same since they were forced to shut the doors after nearly 47 years in existence. Change, for change’s sake.

The good news? For the original Powell Street location- none. They were contentiously, famously displaced for a chain women’s retail store. But, the Bovis Family has set up at a new location on Fisherman’s Wharf at 165 Jefferson Street. Same good drinks, live music, and a beautiful ambiance that mirrors the original.

Plaka Taverna
formerly at 1024 Kearny, near Broadway, North Beach

There was the Greek Taverna on Columbus, and then there was Plaka. The joint was loud and boisterous, the air filled with the sounds of classic Greek bouzouki music. As teens, we went to Plaka, with the owner’s daughter, Georgette. Sure, we were underage, but it was a different day, and Hey Natives! When did YOU first drink at a bar back in the day? Uh-huh. Anyways…we’d get a bit of liquid courage working, in the form of glasses of Ouzo, and we’d join the dancers circling the floor, having no idea what in the hell we were doing. But you jumped in the line, held hands and tried to follow the lead of the guy with the handkerchief in the traditional Kalamatiano dance. Then it was time for the amazing feats of wonder as a man lifted a fully-loaded table with his teeth and danced around the floor! And a few times, with a woman on the table!! Insanity! How did you show appreciation? By winging plates on the floor, or breaking full stacks of dishes, of course! The photo below is the late John “Papou” Stewart (Studianis), my daughter’s Grandfather-in-Law, in action! Plaka Taverna owner Gus Derdevanis held court over the wildest nightclub in North Beach.  Nothing like it this side of Athens.

The good news? None. The location is just another available office space. And there are no old-style, plate breaking Greek spots in the Bay Area (that I know of), much less in North Beach.


Jay’N Bee Club
2736- 20th Street at York, Mission District

The Jay’N Bee was a noisy neighborhood bar, and one of our regular lunch stops when I was a young moving man working for Bekins Van & Storage, out of the warehouse only a few blocks away at 20th and Alabama. The place was packed with lots of SFPD, with workers from the Mission District factories, and yes, with furniture movers, all sitting inside or on the patio, grubbing on the great Merchant’s Lunch. For a reasonable price, you got a multi-course Family-Style spread that included a complimentary bottle of vino- red or white- served in a Calistoga bottle! And yes, besides the wine, they poured a nice stiff drink at the bar.

The good news? After sitting vacant for years, new management reopened the joint and, by all accounts, seems to have captured some of the down-to-earth spirit of the original Jay’N Bee. Reasonable drinks, good pizza, patio open, nice down-to-earth vibe. No place to park your truck, though. Not at lunchtime.  But they aren’t open until 4 pm, so it’s a moot point.

JaynBee sign neon

formerly 5160 Mission Street, near Geneva, Outer Mission/Crocker Amazon

I grew up in the Excelsior District. My brothers and sister and I went to grammar school with all of the Balma kids at the now-defunct Corpus Christi Grammar School. Their dad, Gene Balma, ran the only bar I remember seeing my mother frequent regularly. Was Mom fond of the booze? Quite the contrary. Mrs. Cruz was as close to being a teetotaler as you would ever meet. But she went to Gene’s almost every week. For one reason: Gene made The. Best. Roast. Beef. Sandwich. Ever.  Seriously. We would park in the lot behind the Bank of America, use the back entrance of the bar, and Mom would have us sit patiently, among the incredible collection of figural liquor bottles that Gene had displayed, while he would cut fresh Sourdough hard rolls, dip them in his secret ingredient au jus, and pile on the thinly-shaved beef. Wrapped in wax paper, we almost couldn’t wait to get them home! Miss you, Mr. Balma! And those sandwiches…

The good news? None. It’s currently the office for a Pentecostal church.


Skip’s Tavern
formerly 453 Cortland Avenue, Bernal Heights

Bernal Heights was my hood for a short time, and as anyone familiar with the neighborhood knows, Cortland Avenue is the heart of Bernal. There were two bars up on the Hill: Wild Side West, an LGBT-friendly hangout on the South side of the street (still there and a great bar!), and Skip’s Tavern, on the other side. A Niner bar. A Giants bar. A working class bar. Period. To describe Skip’s as “untrendy” would be an understatement. But it was a cool live music venue. Bands played original Jazz, Rock and Blues sets 7 nights a week. I loved walking over from our house on the East slope, sitting at the big horseshoe-shaped bar, sucking down a cold one or three, and listening to the night’s jam session. Unfortunately, some ASCAP lawyers sued the owner, Bill, for copyright infringement, and he pulled the plug. “Too much trouble.” A another unique dive bar bit the dust.

The good news? Skip’s has been resurrected as The Lucky Horseshoe, and they have live music, so that’s a good thing.


The Peer Inn
formerly at Pier 33, The Embarcadero

When I worked at KMEL in the late ’80’s, early 90’s, the morning show would gather to do our next-day show preparation at one place: a waterfront bar near the station called The Peer Inn. The Papadakis Family- George, Annie and son Gus- hosted you for a really nice lunch, liquid and otherwise. The Greek chef would occasionally yell “Skata!” at you through the open pass-through from the kitchen. Eddie and Babe, two Teamster forklift operators that worked on Pier 33, would come in for a bracer or three. Annie would eventually put out sweaty slices of salami and cheese as appetizers (yes, we’d eat them all), and bartenders Siobhan and Ava would pour nice stiff Embarcadero-worthy drinks. The bar dice would come out and it was noisy, dice cup slamming hours of Liars Dice, playing for dollars and rounds of drinks and bragging rites. And, sure, we even got a little show prep done.

The good news? Not sure. Butterfly, a Polynesian/Asian/Fusion restaurant is there. An interesting menu.  I haven’t tried it yet. And i’m pretty sure that the Teamsters from Pier 33 don’t have lunch there.

Peer Inn

formerly at 64 Townsend Street at Colin P. Kelly (a WW2 hero), in what is now known as South Beach

Before there was an AT&T Park, and before there was the growth of high-rise high-rent apartments and the tony restaurants and drinking establishments that have popped up in the area, the Southeast end of the city was deeming with warehouses and trucks and industry that fed off the bustling port. San Francisco was the Maritime City and South Beach was filled with bars that cared to working-class longshoremen, Merchant Marines, stevedores and Teamsters that worked the ships and warehouses. I was a lumper (read: hired work horse) for a restaurant supply company and my driver (who was intimately familiar with every bar from North Beach to Dogpatch) introduced me to Bouncers. The walls were covered in souvenirs from all corners of the globe. Behind the bar was a framed poster of Daisy Duck, posed in a classic saloon-style reclining nude pose. I had an Oly for my coffee break, and ate some of the best salmon jerky made by a sailor who was three- no, check that- easily five sheets to the wind. Unforgettable.

The good news? None. More empty office space that a greedy property owner is ready to cash in on. Daisy would be ashamed.

Dailsy Duck nude

Hoffman’s Grill
formerly at 619 Market Street at 2nd, Downtown/Financial District

This was one of the many great hofbraus in The City (of which only two- Lefty O’Doul’s and Tommy’s Joynt remain). But Hoffman’s Grill was much more. The look of the place was Old San Francisco, with it’s tiled floors, brass lamps, stained glass, and an Old-World vibe that is hard to fake. The owner, who sometimes worked the bar, was from Bavaria, and it was a kick chatting with him and listening to the German accent. One visit, he brought out the best bar snack ever: oysters on a half shell! (Not sure if that was a regular thing, but it was memorable) Hoffman’s served good cold draft beer in those big round bottomed chalice-shaped glasses (like the giant neon one on top of the Hamm’s Brewery). And tiny bottles of the German digestif Underbred hung from the back bar, ready to settle your upset stomach. This brick-front classic was destroyed in the 1906 quake, rebuilt, and sadly, was closed in the mid-80’s to allow an office building to be built around it. The building exterior has landmark status, but that doesn’t bring back the turn-of-the-century feel inside a once-great saloon.

The good news? It depends. The brick facade is still there. It’s an outlet of San Francisco’s oldest bakery (and their cafe), Boudin. So, if you like a decent clam chowder in a really tasty Sourdough bowl, this is your spot.

Hoffman's Grill

Earthquake McGoon’s
formerly 630 Clay Street near Kearny, Financial District

Turk Murphy. Do you know the name? Well, music fans, Turk was the Greatest San Francisco Jazz Trombonist of All Time. Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t know of a lot of other trombonists besides Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and New Orleans’s own Trombone Shorty, and I’ve never seen any of them. But back in the day, we had the giddy honor of watching, and listening to, and dancing to the great Turk Murphy and his Jazz Band at his club on Clay Street, Earthquake McGoon’s.  It was such an outstanding nightclub, with was seating upstairs along a rail that overlooked the dance floor. Turk’s band rollicking with the loud, happy sound of Dixieland Jazz up on the stage. Dancing, boozing, happiness. And as a bonus, downstairs was the Magic Cellar, where pro magicians dazzled you. I’m not a big “Magic” fan, and saw one of the best mind-reading tricks ever. Pisses me off, it was so good. Earthquake McGoon’s eventually moved to Pier 39 but that didn’t have the syncopation of the dancehall on Clay Street with the magic cellar.

The good news? None. Ironically, it’s a dialysis clinic.


Lost Weekend
formerly 1940 Taraval Street between 29th and 30th Avenues, The Sunset

There will always be a place in my heart for the Sunset District, the place where some of my favorite people were raised (my wife being one of them). And it’s also the former home to one of the most laugh-provoking pubs that I ever spent a dollar in: a place called The Lost Weekend. When you walked in the door, past that glass brick front, the first thing you noticed was what, at first glance, seemed to be a piano. Okay, it’s a piano bar, right? Wrong. That’s an ORGAN, and Lost Weekend was the best Organ Bar I’ve ever seen. The organist could play everything, with a playlist that was heavily laden with Standards, but he would not let a then-current Rock song stop his flow. And there was one particular Regular, an older lady, who probably had Opera training in her past, that would hit notes that shook the glassware. Lost Weekend offered good booze, live music like no other, a hang with the fine Sunset Natives, and the funniest night out ever. I miss hearing “White Room” on a Wurlitzer. But, maybe that’s just me.

The good news? It is currently the Parkside Tavern, a nice, friendly local’s hangout with good food and live music (but no organ sing-a-long. And that’s okay.)


formerly at 504 Broadway at Kearny, North Beach

Enrico Banducci was the father of the hippest trip in all of The City: the coffee house and bar that had his name above the sidewalk seating on Broadway, Enrico’s. He was like a Beatnik Cher. One name was enough to ID the beret-wearing barman. He founded another San Francisco legend, the hungry i on Jackson (where Enrico brought in up-and-coming talent like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce), and then decided to open The City’s first ever sidewalk cafe. A place so cool it was featured in one scene of, arguably, the coolest San Francisco movie ever, with the coolest star: “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen. We used to snag a table, and try to look cool. and spend an evening watching the parade pass by. The parade ain’t what it used to be.

The good news? None. Like Steve McQueen, only cool memories remain. It’s a sad empty hulk, a ghost of it’s hip heyday.


formerly at 71 Third Street at Market, South of the Slot (SoMa, for the uninitiated) 

Third Street was always Skid Row when I was growing up. But closer to Market were a couple of classic San Francisco saloons, hangouts for Newspaper men (specifically Examiner staff, due to the proximity of the Hearst Building, up on the corner. The Chronicle crew went the M & M Tavern on 5th and Howard- a whole ‘other story) One was Jerry & Johnny’s. The other? Breen’s, which had the most beautiful back bar. Big long bar, maybe the longest I’ve ever seen. The photo below doesn’t do it justice. Breen’s was also a decent Hofbrau. The bartenders and waiters wore white coats and ties. And they served Anchor Beer on tap, which was kind of a rarity, at least at bars I usually visited, which leaned towards Bud and Lucky Lager. But that bar. When Breen’s closed I believe that Henry Africa (Remember him? Of Fern Bar fame?) bought it. But I’m not sure where it eventually landed. Ripping that bar out is like ripping someone’s heart out. Another classic, replaced by….
The good news? None. It’s unrecognizable and the original building is gone, replaced by a monolithic extension of UC Berkeley.