A two day pit stop en route to Sonoma but ne’mind, we’re in San Francisco, where I used to hang out in the late seventies and early eighties, with my hippie musician friends, all Grateful Dead and Grace Slick like, young and lamenting the fact that I had missed out on the best of times: Kerouac in the fifties, Garcia, etc., etc. in the sixties. I was a decade or two late! So here I am now with my grown daughter, post graduation mother-daughter trip, eyes drooping from jet lag, sitting in the speakeasy atmosphere of the Alembic on Haight Street and thinking, um, wow!
We walked only a few blocks from our bohemian digs at the Red Victorian, where we just dumped our luggage, and Daughter Yelped “Restaurants on Haight,” (like she is prone to do) so we are here, with a luscious spread of small plates before us: street corn with mole, pork bao with black garlic aioli and such a beautifully constructed, lemony cucumber salad, I want to take a picture, really I do. But I do not. Dark. Tired. Excited. Peering through the narrow dining room past happy diners and cocktail imbibers to the outside where I see a lit sign across the street: Wine, Cheese, Spirits.
So after dinner we buy a bottle of Joel Gott Zin (this is a wine trip, after all) and head back to the Red Vic to enjoy some sleepy red wine time in their communal space of books, artwork, comfy couches, an orange cat and a man from Istanbul who graces us with good conversation.
Saturday dawns with gorgeous pastels and city clamor and we’re up (eventually) for a long walk. During coffee in the communal space I peruse brochures and find one for The Magic Bus Sightseeing Tour. And no, I don’t think they’re kidding.
Daughter has been here recently with a friend and knows the city so I follow her lead, only demanding––more than once–– that we visit Specs, the beatnik bar I had been to in 1981. I know it’s still there. Saw it on Yelp.
In 1981 I was in North Beach, all whiny and stuff: “Where are all the Kerouac, Ginsberg, poetry and jazz clubs? How did I miss all of it?” And I was directed by some punk guy in a club to the Adler Museum Café, or Specs, in an alley behind Columbus, near Carol Doda’s tits. My friend and I found it and went every night, bemused by the horn-rimmed bartender, the odd Alaskan art, the strip club upstairs, where business men would disappear into after a surreptitious visit to the restroom. I was in a beatnik bar!
After hiking through the city for a few hours, the top of every hill reminiscent of the car scene in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, we are thirsty and this bar emerges in front of us.
Of course we go in. Perfection. Good conversation with a retired teacher. Seven dollars for a draft beer? Well, I retract perfection.
We cruise the Castro and the Mission, finding ourselves at the bar at Lolo, over beer and guacamole, waiting for two of Daughter’s New Orleans Mardi Gras refugee friends, Shawn and Chris, who are taking us out. The guac needs garlic, the décor is refreshingly cheeky. The beers are not seven dollars at Lolo.
Our Magic Bus is a black Mercedes and we’re winged through the foggy outskirts of the city, south along the coast to the Moss Beach Distillery, a restaurant on a bluff above crashing Pacific and emanating a garlicky, clammy aroma, I have to eat. That. Clams.
The menu is seafood everything, we order those clams, which taste as good as they smell and share several dozen Canadian oysters, which have good flavor buuuut…I’m partial to Apalachicola or Texas oysters in the winter.
There’s a long ghost story on one side of the menu, I read it and take away one thing: the ghost is a chick who has been reported to hurl a kick at guys in the men’s room when they bend over. I tell the boys to watch out.
Conversation is sparkling, these friends of my daughter closer to my age than hers; two gen X guys sandwiched between a boomer and a millennial.
Back in the city our Magic Mercedes delivers us (via multiple I-Phone mapping and Spotify streamed music) to North Beach and I am happy. I see Columbus Ave, Carol Doda’s tits are gone but the strip joint is still there. I see The Beat Museum. (I want to go in!) I see City Lights Bookstore (I want to go in!) We walk into the alley, which is not as skank as in 1981. There’s a cluster of people blocking the door of Specs and my heart drops, what is this? They move from the open door to let us in. A Tour Group? Magic Beatnik Walking Tour of North Beach?
Aside from the cleaned up and now crowded alley, and an inviting open door with windows, and a non-spec-wearing bartender-ess who seems to have trouble remembering more than one drink order at a time, Specs is The Same. Dimly lit, mixed crowd (old, very old, hipster and Us), retro rock and folk streaming in the background, cozy clusters of tables and wood banquets, drinks in little tiny glasses, all manor of crap to look at on the walls –– this is where three generations of folks go to talk politics. Which is what we do, the Beat ghosts inspire us to do so.
At least they’re not kicking us in the restroom.
Tomorrow: leave the city, onward to Sonoma.