Mudcat Café message #2329814 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #11959   Message #2329814
Posted By: Amos
30-Apr-08 - 11:26 AM
Thread Name: Great Coffee Houses
Subject: RE: Great Coffee Houses
Another piece of the puizzle of "losing" North beach:

"I would go up to North Beach to the bars that had been famous hang-outs for the Beats: often Vesuvio, a perfect bar for tourists, and the Coffee Gallery, which at that time catered to the young folk-music crowd and to young wannabe Beatniks who might play chess at the table in the front window, and who mostly worked in the aerospace industry like myself during the week.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the two blocks of Grant Avenue from Vallejo Street to Union Street would be completely filled with people. The crowd would yield only slowly and reluctantly for the occasional car that tried to come through, persistently honking its horn. Lots of Gray Line tour busses came and didn't mind the fact that progress up these two blocks took forever. We ``beatniks'' were what the tourists had come to see, and the slower the bus went, the better look they got. Meanwhile, we made faces at the spectators and beat on the sides of the bus with our hands, confirming the belief of the tourists that we were very dangerous beatniks. It was a great show. I hope that Gray Line charged a whole lot for it.

Around the corner from the Coffee Gallery, on Green Street, was a much more raucous bar: the Anxious Asp (the city wouldn't allow the owner to use the name she really wanted). The Asp attracted three different groups: the owner was fairly clearly a lesbian, and most of the waitresses also seemed to be, and there were a fair number of lesbian customers. And then there were the kids who would come in to listen to the rock and roll on the jukebox at the Asp when they got tired of the folk music at the Coffee Gallery. And finally there were the Blacks, who were mostly a pretty tough bunch.

There was one homely looking girl in the crowds on Grant Avenue and in the Anxious Asp that I especially noticed. She used to sing blues sometimes at the Coffee Gallery, especially on Sunday evenings when they had the ``hootenany'' (i.e. open mike), and she had a very loud voice that I liked a whole lot. But despite her singing ability, she didn't seem to be able to find acceptance at all. I would look at her and think, ``There's someone who's even more lost in this scene than I am.''

I never knew her name at that time, but a few years later, when I would frequently see her face in newspapers and magazines, I found out that it was Janis Joplin.

(For some different observations on the North Beach bar and café scene, check out this article by P. Segal.)

A block down from Vallejo towards Chinatown, Grant Avenue crosses Broadway, where the topless craze was born during this time. At first, there were not only topless bars but topless restaurants. For a while, there was even a topless shoeshine girl on Kearny Street. The whole thing fascinated me. I don't think I'd ever seen any naked breasts at first hand except for my wife's. (Well, no, on second thought there had been a few occasions. But very few.) But I never went in any of the topless clubs because I assumed that they'd be much too expensive for me.

Also on Broadway was Mike's Pool Hall, which was probably the most interesting place to hang out at in North Beach. Somehow tourists never seemed to discover it, and mostly the people there were pretty authentic. ``Authentic what?'' is another question, which I never completely knew the answer to, but they were certainly authentic somethings. Authentic bartenders, authentic bums, authentic wannabe writers. And since Mike's was more a restaurant than a bar, it was able to stay open all night, although they stopped serving liquor at 2 AM, and so in the early hours of the morning authentic strippers and authentic whores would stop in to rest after work and get a bowl of the wonderful soup served at Mike's. I was seldom there that late, though.

After a while, I started to understand that if I wanted to become part of the North Beach scene, I needed to be there during the week. In some sense, almost everyone in the North Beach bars on the weekends was a tourist, even if they didn't safeguard themselves from the crowd by huddling inside a Gray Line bus. They may have lived in the Bay Area, or lived in San Francisco, but the weekend people weren't a real part of North Beach. And in any case, I was quite aware that for the most part the Beats had left North Beach several years ago."    (From here).

Here's a Timeline of the Decade someone has been putting together, so those who were there can stop trying to remember... ;>)