Friday, October 28, 2011

Your Bay Area Dive Bar Jukebox Song of the Week:

Rodger Collins was born in Texas circa 1940, but his family was among the massive migration of Southern African-Americans who came to the Bay Area in the 40's in search of industrial jobs created by the war.  For a long time his 1967, "She's Looking Good", was his considered his biggest hit, having been covered by Wilson Pickett and David Lee Roth.  But this 1970 song, "Foxy Girls in Oakland", has become a cult hit over the decades and you haven't lived in Oakland until you've seen a dance floor explode when the instantly recognizable opening guitar lick come through the speaker.  I still remember the first time I heard it at the Ruby Room on 14th St. in 2001, it was like the moment in a beer commercial that the bottle is opened, spraying suds and instant fun all over the crowd, making everybody carefree and attractive.

After playing shows with Elvis Presley and Ike & Tina Turner, Collins went on tour with Joe Tex and with him converted to Islam, changing his name to Hajj Sabrie.  He quit the music business, aside from a small handful of shows under is old name, started a family and opened an shop called Trustworthy Appliance Repair in Oakland.  As far as I know, he's still there.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"A saloon, of course, for the transaction of men"- Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon, Oakland

Heinold's on opening day, June 1st, 1883.

     In Jack London’s 1913 novel, John Barleycorn, the title character purchases a boat from the oysterman, French Frank, in a place that is referenced often in London’s literature and played an important role in his life: “We met by appointment early Monday morning, to complete the deal, in Johnny Heinold’s ‘Last Chance’- a saloon, of course, for the transaction of men.”1  This was event taken directly from London’s life when he bought a small sloop, which he named the Razzle Dazzle, at fifteen years old to sail along the coast of the bay and collect oysters (not always legally).2
Johnny Heinold and his dictionary
    Heinold’s First And Last Chance Saloon, still standing today where Webster Street meets the Oakland harbor, has often been referred to as Jack London’s Rendezvous for good reason.  The author and the bar have fates that indelibly linked.  London was born in San Francisco the same year, 1876, that a young man named John (often “Johnny”) Heinold arrived there from Philadelphia.  Heinold worked along the waterfront for a couple years until he moved to Oakland and opened a bar on San Pablo Avenue.  This was apparently too far inland for the seafaring type so he paid $100 for a tiny bunk house that was built from the hull of an old whaling ship and was only spitting distance from the Oakland estuary.3  In 1884 the J.M. Heinold’s Saloon opened for business, but a nickname was quickly attached that stuck.  For sailors shipping out on a long voyage or returning from one, this bar made a convenient stop to get a quick buzz before going on.  Similarly, the commuter ferry that ran between Oakland and Alameda was near by and Alameda was a dry city for a long time, so Heinold’s had many customers that would make a morning and evening stop in for a drink to either prepare themselves for or shake off the day.  Hence, the bar was your “first and last chance” to get a drink in Oakland.4
Young Jack London and his dictionary
    Jack London had also moved across the bay, living in Alameda and then Oakland, spending most of his days collecting driftwood and bits of metal of the beaches for his family.  In 1888, Heinold noticed the boy sitting out on the cold docks teaching himself to read with a pocket dictionary.  The bar owner invited the boy inside to sit by the pot-bellied stove and gave him proper dictionary to study.  On that same day, Robert Lewis Stevenson happened to be at the bar, his ship Casco moored in the harbor preparing for his last voyage to Samoa, and he bought the young London a sarsaparilla.  Over the years, London and Heinold became close friends; the older man further aided the younger’s education by lending him money to go to high school and college.  Many of London‘s novels were partially written, as he poured over his notes made traveling and working around North America, at the same table he first sat at in the corner of the bar.5

    When you walk into Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon today, you’ll walk passed the outdoor mall shops that always struggle to stay open in Jack London Square; you’ll walk passed the umbrella covered café tables in front of the bar that are filled with Oakland’s growing middle class of hipster mommies (have you not heard?  Oakland is the new Brooklyn [at least that’s what we Oaklanders tell the people who think of our city as the prettiest place in America catch a bullet or get tear gassed]); and then you’ll almost trip as you step into the bar’s famously sunken floor.  The pilings under the saloon collapsed in the 1906 San Francisco and every attempt to shore the bar up eventually failed with the floor sinking back down.6  The result is about a three foot droop in not just the floor, but the actual bar sits at about a 20 degree angle, so don’t let go of your beer.
    It was no surprise that the bartenders were too busy to talk to me on a Friday afternoon and after sitting at the bar for awhile I could see how their patience probably wears a bit thin.  Every jerk who orders a drink has a inane question, or worse, a quip they hope will make the grizzled old bartenders smile (very few are successful).  I had a couple exchanges with the bartenders that were brief, but interesting when put into the context of my research.  I’ll get to those in a bit, but for now I’ll just say they were as impressed with my aspiring historian credentials as they were with the guy in the Ron Paul shirt who asked to have the music turned down outside so he could play his guitar to the crowd (which is to say, not at all).  So I drank a couple of the beers on tap from the Linden Street Brewery only eight blocks away (delivered by bike and so hoppy that it tastes like drinking a joint) and talking to another patron about country music, the lunacy of libertarians and how both our grandparents who came to California in the Dust Bowl migration. 

    I began my research on the First and Last Chance at the CSU East Bay library and was surprised that there were two books were written about the bar on the library shelves.  The first was a skinny memoir love-letter to/history of the bar by a man named Otha Donner Wearin.  The second was an even shorter book, authored by George Heinold, the son of Johnny and successor of the bar when his dad died in 1933.  This book was in the Special Collections room.  I had never considered myself special enough for the Special Collections room and I think I harbored some deep fear of accidentally tearing a page or sweating onto a rare book that ignites from my body heat, burning down a whole wing of the library and destroying all recorded history.  We’ll call this insecurity the Alexandria Complex.
    Of course, it was remarkably less dramatic when I got to the Special Collections and the librarian found the book for me and set it out with a set of white cloth gloves to protect it from my devastating bodily oils.  The book was almost a pamphlet from 1936, but was filled with plainly written, great stories of Johnny Heinold and the saloon.  I snapped a picture of each page with my iPhone.
Poem dedicated to John Heinold upon his death in 1933
     Much of the historical information used in the Wearin’s book was directly quoted from Heinold the younger’s book.  Aside from London and Stevenson the bar also hosted many other literati, including Ambrose Bierce, Rex Miller and Joaquin Miller (the “Poet of the Sierras” who would often get lost in Oakland and end up at the bar, saying it was due to “being out of my latitude”).  Two term and longest sitting Oakland Mayor, John L. Davie was a friend to the Last Chance.   In the 1890’s the populist mayor supported London and the other salty patrons sneaking out of the bar at night to tear down the fences the railroad company put up so as slow progress until Davie could complete the wharf he was building.  Once the wharf was done it ran a ferry to San Francisco for only a nickel and this forced the railroad to keep their rates low as well7 (don’t ask me how exactly this makes sense, I’m chalking this story up to the bizarre web of corporate interests, local government corruption and class conflict that was turn-of-the-century politics).  Wearin expands on Mayor Davie’s relationship with the bar, mentioning the mayor once took President William Howard Taft to the Last Chance for “refreshment and a moment of relaxation”8 (insert your own fat Taft joke here).  In 1893, a passenger train crashed through an open drawbridge nearby killing many people and dropping injured survivors into cold bay waters.  As the wounded people were pulled out of the estuary, Johnny Heinold closed the bar to his packed-holiday crowd and converted it into an ad hoc hospital.9
    It was the heroism of George Heinold that put me a little bit of hot water with one of the bartenders last Friday.  Both books mention George’s winning of French Croix de Guerre during World War One for single-handly capturing twelve German soldiers and a lieutenant.  This fact is also typed on a piece of laminated paper attached to a display case in the Last Chance, but inside the case are a score of captured Nazi pins.  I asked the bartender about this and he said something to the effect of, “George Heinold was a war hero.”
    “In World War One,” I said.
    He paused a moment, eyed me suspiciously and said, “Right.”
    “All those pins are from World War Two,” I told him, doing my best not to sound like a smart-alec.   Never the less, I was given a long, cold stare that men give other men half their age that says, “You don’t know what your talking about, kid, so stop talking.”  But he came out from behind the bar, walked over to the case, looked it over, read the laminated paper and gave me another long, cold stare.  “See, the swastikas?” I asked timidly.  “Those eagles are Third Reich.  I was just curious who captured them.  If it was patrons who fought in World War Two, or something.”
    “Who are you again?” the bartender asked.
    “A history major at Cal-State East Bay.”
    “I got work to do,” he said and was done talking to me for the night.
    I mention this story, not to show off my smarty-pants, I felt quite the asshole sitting back down at the bar wearing those pants.  I tell this because it was a reminder in how people’s history is not just something that exists in books for me soak up and sprout off later.  History is something that exists in the minds and memories of people who lived through it or were told by somebody else first hand who lived through it.  I don’t know how long the bartender has worked at Last Chance, but he was certainly old enough to have known George Heinold, who died in 1970.10  At the least, he had been given the history of the bar from people who had been around it for a very long time.  He accepted what he knew and clearly took a certain about a pride in the history of the Last Chance, the whole bar is practically a museum dedicated to its proud history .  Granted, he was a grump about it, but who was I to come along during a busy shift and start poking holes in how they venerate their past?

    George’s war record was also involved in another lesson I learned in memory and history on this outing.  In his book, George remembers his dad as telling customers that he strictly respected the 18th Amendment prohibiting of intoxicating liquors in 1919 because, “If my boy can fight for the constitution [sic], I guess I can uphold it,” when they came in with “a hint they’d like a little of ‘the old stuff’."11  Wearin quotes John Heinold as saying, “If the Heavenly Father did not want the human race to have alcohol, for one reason or another, He would never would have allowed fruits and grains to ferment.”  And he suggests that Heinold may have looked the other way when customers used a flask to Irish up their coffee and sarsaparillas.12  Finally, the bartender (the other one who I didn’t piss off) told me when I asked about Prohibition that there were a couple liquor bottles kept around for the trust-worthy friends.  “I’m sure Johnny knew everything that went on in his bar, but he never poured,” he said.  This man obviously was not working for the bar in the 1920’s, but I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his tale.  It is probable that all three of these varying degrees of respect for the law are true.  When I use my imagination to connect these stories I can see people’s motivations and attitudes, fleshing them out as real people and I have a more realized picture of what this bar, and surely many bars like it, was like during Prohibition.
    In the both the bars I’ve highlighted so far we’ve seen much of their fame being tied to the American authors who spent a good portions of their lives drinking themselves to death there.  Both London and Kerouac are venerated at these establishments with a notable absences in mentioning their flaws and complexities.  Jack London was very prolific and unarguably one of the most gifted writers our country has produced.  His novels so transported his readers to the vast and adventurous world that he was considered a hero and set the template for the rugged, manly American writer for Hemingway, Kerouac, Sebastian Junger to pick up.  The fact that I was assigned White Fang to read in the 5th  grade and recently has Valley of the Moon assigned in an upper division university class speaks volumes to his broad appeal and depth.  The man was also a complete racist, misogynist, xenophobic and, as usual, a uncontrollable drunk.  Some people might also speak against his socialism and subsequent disillusionment with socialism, but I am not one of those people. 
    I’m not saying we should always focus on the faults of all our historical celebrities, but we should use them to help us remember they were actual people who had lives that did not revolve around the tiny bits of trivia that we carry around with us.  When reading Valley of the Moon I was struck that in the middle of a tender discussion between loving husband and wife the husband suddenly drops, “…I ain’t going to be too proud to borrow it off ‘m, if he is a Chink.  He’s a white one…”13, but it was one of those moments that made me remember all racists are not all bad all the time.  It must be considered how many white Californian men  in 1910 weren’t Nativist and vaguely sexist?  So should the First and Last Chance have a caption below the author’s picture that read, “Jack London: Great American Novelist and Casual Racist”?  No.  Should there be plaque next to his table that reads, “At this spot Jack London taught himself to read, wrote Sea Wolf and puked up on himself on more than one occasion”?  That would be awesome, but no.  The truth is I don’t know what I want to say on this subject yet, but I see patterns emerging and sense something on the horizon.  In the coarse of researching and writing this blog I hope to learn a little bit more about the way we venerate people and places, then in the end, be able to tell you something profound about it.  Hopefully it will both deep and clever, earning my own plague that reads: “Mike Burton: Minor Historian and Kind of a Jerk.”

1 Jack London, John Barleycorn (New York: The Century Co., 1913), 70. 
2 Otha Donnee Wearin, Heinold’s First and Last Chance (Hastings, IA: Wearin, 1974), 31.
3 George Heinold, John Heinold and His First and Last Chance (Oakland: International Press: 1936), 9-10.
4 Wearin, First and Last Chance, 25-27.
5 Wearin, First and Last Chance, 28-34.
6 First and Last Chance website, History page, accessed  October 10, 2011,
7 Heinold, John Heinold, 13-15.
8 Wearin, First and Last Chance, 3.
9 Heinold, John Heinold,  14.
10 Wearin, First and Last Chance, 21.
11 Heinold, John Heinold,  15.
12 Wearin, First and Last Chance, 19.
13 Jack London, The Valley of the Moon ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) 406.

1 J.M. Heinold's Saloon, taken from First and Last Chance Website.
2 Johnny Heinold, taken from First and Last Chance Website.
3 Jack London, taken from MF Kron Louisiana Melancholic blog at
4 photo taken by author from George Heinold's John Heinold and His First and Last Chance.
5 First and Last Chance at an unidentified point I'm going to guess near the 40's, taken from First and Last Chance Website.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Your Bay Area Dive Bar Jukebox Song of the Week:

In the late 80's and early 90's the Bay Area had a garage rock 'n' roll scene that was the envy of the leather jacket and tight jeans wearing world.  The Mummies, Supercharger, The Trashwomen, The Rip-offs, Phantom Surfers and many more bands took fast, catchy 1960's teen rock and stripped it down even further, playing with ridiculous amounts of reverb, recording on the most low-fi equipment possible and made raw, lewd and explosive music that forever sounded as if it was playing out of a blown speaker.  In other words, they made rock 'n' roll fun again.  The Mummies were famous for breaking their equipment on a regular basis, not for show as The Who or Nirvana were known for, but they just played so damn hard that keys were always flying off organs, amps blew out, or a guitar might have to be used to fight off a drunken fan wielding a broken bottle.  Here are two live performance of the Mummies doing the 1964 Pleasure Seekers song, "What A Way To Die" (I believe this was for a local public access show) and their own instrumental, "The Fly":

Friday, October 21, 2011

Back-washing: Some more on Merchant's Saloon

Since my first visit to Merchant's they have replaced the old wood bar with an ugly slab of aluminum, but the gutter that was once used for the convenient disposal of micturated libations remains.  I thought you, dear readers, should at least have a look at the historical artifact from a time when men were men and public indecency, along with pungent odors, were just part of the saloon experience.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Your Bay Area Dive Bar Jukebox Song of the Week:

I could find very little information on Latin Funk trumpeter, Ray Camacho.  His band was revolving line-up, starting out in the Central Valley and ending up in San Francisco, playing shows with Santana, Tower of Power, and The Carpenters.  Apparently, he once played a show under fire at a USO show in Vietnam, but at least one person remembers this 1970 (perhaps '71) song, "Se Si Puede", being a staple at Chicano anti-war marches in Los Angeles. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Don't Envy Beatniks... Be One!" -Vesuvio and Specs, San Francisco

    I stand on Columbus Avenue, with something a little more than a buzz, watching the light fade from the sky behind the Transamerica Pyramid and the green, flatiron shaped Sentinel Building, listening to the wild-eyed and incessantly talking painter, Momo (who keeps taking off his shirt to put on a Cosby sweater, only to take it off a minute later and put his shirt back on, as he tells me about how he was arrested in front of his daughter’s house recently because they thought he was homeless and he couldn’t remember his daughter’s name). A transvestite tour guide approaches giving her speech into a microphone even though her group consists only of a distinctly Mid-Western looking couple.  Momo obviously considers himself a North Beach landmark and interjects himself into the tour.  The guide knows him, acknowledges who he is, but then tries, in vain, to get through the rest of her prepared lines over Momo’s chatter.  I think to myself, “Yeah, North Beach’s still got it.”
    The A. Cavilli Bookstore. Taken from American Italian 
Historical Association Western Regional Chapter website

The A. Cavalli Bookstore at 255 Columbus Ave opened in 1913 as North Beach’s leading Italian book and newspaper seller.  The building was designed by Italo Zanolini who was also responsible for North Beach’s other Italian Renascence Revival jewels, Casa Fugazi (now home of the notorious Beach Blanket Babylon) and the Venetian Gothic Bank (currently housing E’ Tutto Qua Café [who served tiger prawns to my wife about the same size as our house phone]).1  In 1948, the French artist Henri Lenoir took over the bottom floor of the Cavalli Building and opened the soon to be famous Vesuvio Café as a place to drink with his bohemian friends.2   It would be a result of fate, not foresight, that five years later Lawrence Ferlinghetti would open his City Lights Bookstore just across the alleyway from Vesuvio, creating a symbiotic relationship between the bookstore’s emerging generation of writers and poets and the bar that saw to the powerful thirsts that comes with the territory of American writers.  The Vesuvio website claims that it was on November 17, 1955 that Neil Cassady first brought Jack Kerouac to the bar on their way the legendary Six Gallery Reading where Allen Ginsberg first preformed “Howl”3 (though I assume this is a typo because everybody else places the reading on October 74).  And so began the Beat legacy of Vesuvio, with many a reading at City Lights to be missed because of an author’s unwillingness to leave their barstool.  Apparently, Kerouac couldn’t even by pried away to meet one of his heroes, Henry Miller, in Big Sur.  Every hour Kerouac would call Miller from the bar phone to tell him he was leaving the city now, only to sit right back down at the bar, never to leave San Francisco that night.5

Henri Lenoir.  Taken from the San Francisco Public Library Online Archives.

    Word got around that Vesuvio was the cool place to drink and the reputation endured as the 50’s Beats turned into the 60’s hippies and beyond.  Richard Brautigan was a regular, right up until death (though I can‘t verify the validity of it, Brautigan supposedly left my favorite suicide note of all time before he shot himself in 1984, simply saying, “Messy, isn‘t it?”) ; Charles Bukowski is said to have been 86ed for tearing the place up; Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Donavan were also frequent patrons when in town.6 Owner Herni Lenoir himself is credited with the cultural contribution of introducing the black beret to San Francisco, the Beats and eventually the enduring  Beatnik stereotype right down to Ned Flanders’s abusively hip father.7 The bar has changed little over the years aside from the tiled murals on the inside and outside of the bar by artist, Shawn O’Shaughnessy (who largely worked for drinks) and the mysterious scrawl below the stain glass window outside that reads, “We are itching to get away from Portland, Oregon.”  It is purportedly a reference to a turn of the century flea infestation throughout all of Portland that caused many residents to wait out the epidemic in San Francisco (Unfortunately, I was not able to find any information on the infestation in the excessive amount of time I spent through digging online archives for a reference to a Portland flea or lice infestation so we’ll have to take the passed down story’s word for it).8

        The crowd at Vesuvio on this Tuesday afternoon is a fairly typical sampling in my experience as I go in to talk to my long time friend, bartender, and half of the indie-duo David and Joanna, Joanna Lioce.  There is a middle aged African American man, quietly sipping a pint of beer and reading a collection of Camus essays; a tattooed hipster impressing his girlfriend with a list of now defunct bands he’s seen play live; a large group of local elderly foodies sitting in the window comparing nominations for the best sea bass in town; and - “You-hoo!” a shrill voice cuts over the regular chatter.  As everybody looks around for the source of the cartoonish call, another “You-hoo!” emerges from a lady on the second floor.  She is wearing a pink visor and a Penn State sweatshirt, she’s leaning out over the railing, waving one hand to the bartenders and holding a wineglass in the other, tilted just so as to inadvertently spill tiny drops of red wine on the floor twenty feet below.  “Can you turn up, Urethra?” she calls down.
    “Did she say urethra?” Mike the bartender asks Joanna.
    “I think she means Aretha Franklin,” Joanna points to the muted television showing the national anthem of a baseball game.
    “Yeeeaassss,” the women bellows.
    “No.  I can not do that,” Mike simply says to her.  “Did that woman really just you-hoo me?  Who you-hoo’s other people?”  He turns to me, “See, that’s why I can’t help you with any stories about this place.  I try to forget everything.”
    I don’t mean to denigrate tourists by any means.  The more often we are able to be tourists somewhere the luckier we are.  But when you live in a tourist town like San Francisco you begin to notice certain public spaces that try to appeal to anyone, from anywhere, but end up feeling artificial and contrived.  Take the alley that runs between  City Lights and Vesuvio, connecting Columbus Ave and Grant Ave, that until 1988 was known as Adler Place, but carries the guide book accessible moniker Jack Kerouac Alley.9 The now walking-only street is bedazzled in recently laid cobblestone, a three-story Mexican style mural, brightly painted tiles and metal plates with quasi-profound lines from writers who spent time in San Francisco, from Kerouac to Maya Angelou to the Chinese poet, Li Po.  It is a great example of San Francisco’s admirable attempts to highlight its colorful history, but pushes the boundary of good taste with a garish hodgepodge homage to diversity, honoring the memory of everybody and nobody.
    Kerouac is certainly a complicated person to venerate (as all people are).  His books brilliantly capture the romance of “the road” as dark alternative to the American dream, where a person can spend a life between the cracks with freedom and adventure on the other side of every back door.  Also, by nearly every account he was a boorish drunk, a vindictive maudlin and a macho bully.
     It was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who successfully petitioned the city to change the street name in 1988, but it remained, as he described, “a place for fish trucks and garbage.” So it was Ferlinghetti again who then proposed the revamping of the street in 2007 into an urban-use monument to literature.10  I can’t blame the book seller and the city for seeing an opportunity to capitalize on nostalgia for the Beats and/or promote local history and artists.  Looking forward to a career in Public History I need let go of my rolling eyes and sarcastic comments about Mickey Mouse wearing a beret and goatee.  Hell, as a man in his mid-thirties I need to do that.
    On all the nights that I went into Vesuvio only to find it filled to the brim with herds of German tourists in fanny packs, entire sororities of “woo-woo” girls and grizzly barflies that look like they’ve been there since 1948 and have little patience for all the damn woo-wooing after shots of Jagermeister, I went across the street to Specs.  It turns out that I was carrying on a long tradition of getting away from the scene by dodging traffic across Columbus and dipping into the hardly lit and indisputably dive bar, officially named Specs Twelve Adler Museum Café.  According to bartender Tony Lioce, former editor at the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News and on-goingly Joanna’s father, the location at 12 Saroyan Place was “either a biker bar and then a lesbian bar, or a lesbian bar and then a biker bar” before Richard “Specs” Simmons took the location over in 1968.11  Specs instantly served as an alternative scene to Vesuvio for locals as the Beat movement had long since dried up and even its spawned hippie movement was dying out.  As celebrated columnist and Specs regular, Herb Cain, described the bar as a place for bohemians rather than Beatniks and made this distinction, “Bohemians were more political in nature.  Beatniks were about getting stoned getting laid and living in some squalid place together. Although, there were a lot of weekend, middle-class beatniks. You got a lot of kids from the suburbs who would buy a beret and dark glasses and try to act nutty. The old bohemians who lived in the neighborhood would make fun of these weekend hippies.''12 

      Some of items on display at Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe.

   At Specs the poets and painters mingled with strippers (whose backstage of the establishment above was connected to Specs by a stairway), blue collar workers, occasional celebrities and labor activists. “Oh, yeah, Specs is one of the classic real big lefties,” Tony tells me.  “When I got hired here, he didn’t care about graduate of Brown University, editor for the LA Times, awards, nothing to do with that shit.  What mattered was three things:  I was Providence, he was from Boston… I took a piss next to Muddy Waters one time, he found that out somehow, he’s a real music nut… and the thing that cemented it was I was involved in a labor strike in 1973 and got locked up.  Through no fault/credit of my own, I was pushed into a police man, who got pushed into a truck.  I was only in the can for like twenty minutes, but he didn’t care.  Providence, piss next to Muddy Waters, labor strike… This is the best job I’ve ever had.”  According to Tony, Specs came into the money to open the bar by playing a role in the writing of the Kingston Trio hit, “M.T.A.”, a jovial protest song about the Massachusetts Transit Authority, and the original 45 still hangs on the wall behind the bar.13

    Specs fills up as the sun goes down, drowning out any conversation my recorder can hope to pick up, and thanks to the Lioce’s insistence that I never see the bottom of my glass, my memory won’t pick up too many conversations either.  I chat with Romalyn, a pretty young girl sitting on the window sill who was actually married at the bar, and Momo, the bearded painter who keeps trying to tell me about his strange relationship with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but is constantly interrupted by his highly inebriated friend smacking the back of his head with the giant ring on her finger.  I say goodbye, give half my cigarettes to Momo and make the walk back to BART, deciding that I really need to spend more time in North Beach.

1. Robert Celli, “Living History, One Drink at a Time or 60 Years and No End in Sight,” The Semaphore, 186 (2009), accessed on October 8, 2011,
2. Joanna Lioce (Vesuvio bartender) in discussion with author, October 11, 2011.
3.  Vesuvio main page, accessed October 8, 2011,
4.  “Oral history interview with Wally Hedrick, 1974 June 10-24”, Archives of American Art, accessed on October 8, 2011,
5.  Vesuvio main page.
6. Joanna Lioce discussion.
7. Sam Whitting, “Ghosts of Beat Generation Haunt North Beach,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 1995, accessed October 8, 2011,
8. Joanna Lioce discussion.
9. Carl Nolte, “Kerouac Alley has face-lift,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 2007, accessed October 8, 2011,
10.  Carl Nolte, “Kerouac Alley”.
11. Tony Lioce (Vesuvio and Specs bartender) in discussion with author, October 11, 201.
12. Julian Guthrie, “Since 1968, Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe -- Specs to you -- has thrived as a North Beach holy spot”, San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 2004, accessed October 13, 2011,
13. Tony Lioce discussion.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Your Bay Area Dive Bar Jukebox Song of the Week:

Before John and Tom Fogerty, of El Cerrito, founded Creedence Clearwater Revival (you didn't think C.C.R was actually from The South, did you?) they played in the seminal garage rock and local hero band, The Golliwogs.  "Walking on the Water" was on the first C.C.R. album in 1968, but they recorded this more psychedelic and more rocking version in 1966.