Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Most Definitive Article You've Ever Read About The Old San Francisco; Memories Oh Memories (With Apologies to Herb Caen)


 SUNDAY NIGHT was big in my house growing up; as a kid in Oakland I used to hang around Chinatown and eat at the old Silver Dragon on Webster with my high-school buddies from Skyline. The big deal in the 70's was how to get inside the Silver Dragon--usually it required at least a 10-dollar tip and even that didn't guarantee admission past the long line.

We had alternatives --my family liked the Grotto in Jack London Square. Again, Sunday night. Packed, a sea of humanity; Italians, Jews, Irish, Mexican, Black, White, it really didn't matter because the Grotto had the best salmon and fillet of sole--you want spaghetti and meatballs? Step right up. Where's the bread? It's coming, no need to ask.

My deal as I got older was heading over to North Beach in the late 70's. That was the last time it was fully Italian and Molinari's ruled the landscape. Vintage old Gino &Carlo was a scene, nightly, out of a Hollywood movie. My first trip there was around 1982. I was 20. The first time I ever met Herb Caen was inside the joint. Classic look, classic place. Herb was holding court with Willie Brown and Wilkes Bashford--I think they were having nightcaps --whatever they were having seemed unique and important. How so? Because later on, Joe Alioto walked in and they all went to the back and closed the door. Another classic scene. I have no idea what they talked about but all I do know is that a very attractive woman server went to the room with lots of good red wine and explicit orders from Alfred the bartender. I was curious as all get-go, especially when the cops came in; later on I learned Gino & Carlo was the SFPD hidden oasis. Still is today too although like most of the city its lost a lot of its soul. I miss the vibe. I miss Alfred too with his wise-ass look and gestalt--one time I walked into the bar with a cigar. It was late at night and I was trying to act like a big shot and impress a girl. You could smoke in SF then but I was reluctant to light up my big stogie so I asked Alfred if I could have permission: "Can I smoke a cigar?" He responded, "I don't care if you smoke crack!" Ah, classic Sunday night response from the classic bartender.

North Beach, circa 1984. The Condor. Carol Doda. Café Sport where a bowl of pasta and sand dabs was about 20 bucks. The streets were clean and you could even park! MUNI was on time and there seemed to be lots of spirit--NO cranes too--bonus time. Stop the presses! Van Ness was still Auto Row and the big pick-up place was Lord Jim's. The Punch Line on Battery was the comedy destination --it was there regularly where the likes of Bobby Slayton, Bob Sarlatte, Steve Pearl and Alex Bennett used to hang out. Every now and then Robin Williams would sneak in late and go up onstage and do a rousing 30-minute set. Complete bedlam. If Robin didn't show up there was Dana Carvey. Dana wasn't as huge a star back then; neither too, Roseanne Barr; as a judge of the SF Stand-Up Comedy Competition, I met Barr there. I had no idea she would eventually end up on the Tonight Show a year later. Dammit, I could have been her Tom Arnold but we didn't mix; she wasn't my type. Thanks for caring.

Back to North Beach and beyond. I liked to walk around and scope the scene and what a scene it was. Fat Tony. Charming numbers runner, Davey Rosenberg, marching outside Washington Square doing favors for Sam Conti. 415 Good Fellas in action. Nobody got hurt for the most part. The food was good. The cops were cool. The girls looked spectacular. A little rancor every now and then. Especially good old Con Murphy. Reminded me of a cross between Charlie Gain and Al Nelder. Characters. All of them. They used to drink at Geno & Carlo and later on have dinner at House of Prime Rib. That's the usual run even today. Sunday night at the House. They used to line up at 3--the place didn't even open up until 4PM. Cocktails! First one who wins liars dice gets a dirty martini on me! Hide the salad and get the King cut going. "Where's my Yorkshire pudding, Alice?" "And can I have extra creamed spinach!" Mission accomplished.

SUNDAY night in the city. Young and handsome, even I had my moments. I used to know this blond named Esther --she worked at Macys part time, was a student at USF and was one hot broad! She was into the theatre and loved all music and play. Met her one night at the lobby bar inside the Fairmont Hotel. I was working at K-101 back then (doing sports and news/entertainment) and got to interview the likes of Joel Grey and BB King. Esther was impressed. We had center seats and coveted dinner service for the Grey cabaret in the divine Venetian Room. What a room. Herb Caen's favorite spot. Thanks Carol Vernier for taking care of yours truly with a big assist to Rick Swig, whose family owned the hotel back then. Still can't fathom the Fairmont as second banana in today's hotel wars. Just go inside the lobby and tell me you don't see magic.

I'm not a native San Franciscan but I have an appreciation of the city, maybe not so much the people because the people have changed; times have changed (naturally) and not all change is bad it's just that the city, in my opinion, has lost its soul. The city of  neighborhoods; its people, its characters, its artists have all but disappeared and that's just plain sad. I feel for the generation before me who were able to walk the streets and engage in real conversation. Today, the advent of cell-phones and social media has vaporized the radical concept of good old-fashioned conversation. You can't call anyone, it's against the law. To hell with discourse and the spoken word; you now must tweet and facebook it. Could you imagine Sinatra up on stage singing My Way and some tech schmuck playing with his smart phone? Get the goons, Frank is pissed! And truth be told, I'd pitch in five bucks for the execution.

Those were the days my friends ...Sunday Night. What theatre. What magic. What drama. Bill Graham. What tragedy. George Moscone. Joe Alioto. Leo Ryan. Harvey Milk. 1978. Richard Hongisto. Quentin Kopp. Diane Feinstein. Willie McCovey. John Rothmann. Dave's delicatessen. 1977. Star Wars. The Coronet at Geary and Arguello. Long lines. KGO Radio. Jim Dunbar. Owen Spann. Monte Stickles. Van Amburg. KGO-TV 277 Golden Gate Ave studios with Peter Giddings, John O'Reilly, Jerry Jensen. Jim Lange. Mayor Art Finley. Ronn Owens and Jan Black. Jerry Doyle. Peter Cleaveland "On the streets". The Studio Café across the street on GG Ave. KRON and PIX on Van Ness. Wayne Walker. "Mac". Hunan. Alfred's. Paoli's (If you didn't leave with a woman you didn't like women) Jim Eason. Ray Taliaferro. Ira Blue. Sonny Buxton. John L. Wasserman. Huey Lewis. John Fogerty. Saul Zaentz. Gerald Nachman. Stanton Delaplane. Charles McCabe. Art Hoppe. Art Rosenbaum. Wells Twombly. Ira Miller. Art Spander. Milt Kahn. Evan White. Jim Paymar. Cheryl Jennings. Art Cribbs. Carolyn Tyler. Valerie Coleman. Angela Alioto. The original Original Joes in the Tenderloin. Ben Williams. Joe Starkey. Bill King. Franklin Mieuli. Dick Vertlieb. Human tragedy. The Zebra Murders. Patty Hearst. Tania. SLA. Cinque. Donald Defreeze. Nancy Ling Perry. Mel's Drive In. Bill and Emily Harris. Dan White. Twinkie defense. Harry Denton. James J. Murphy. Tales of the City. Jim Jones. People's Temple. Willie Brown. Harvey Rose. Michael Zwerling. "NewsScene". Mike Hegadus. I'm Johnnnnn MACCCCFlanaghan, KYA! Dr. Don Rose. KFRC. Bill Lee. Dave, your duke, Sholin. Marvelous Mark McKay. Claude Mann. Marcia Brandwynne. George Reading. Belva Davis. Ed Baxter. Bob Melrose. Al Hart. Stan Bunger. Bob Jimenez. Rita Channon. Pete Wilson KRON/KGO. Joe Kapp. Tadich Grill. Spengers. Alioto's. Tommy's Joynt. Kwik Way/Oakland. Biff's. The International Hotel. The Hookers Ball. The Days on the Green. Tower of Power. Eddie Money. The Pointer Sisters. Carlos Santana. Blue jackets. The Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Fenton's. Doggie Diner. Quinn's Lighthouse. Jenner by the Sea. Santa Cruz. Beach boardwalk. Corn dogs. Saltwater taffy. It's it's. Al Attles. Rick Barry. Charles Johnson. Phil Smith. Charlie Williams. KSFO. Lon Simmons. Al Michaels. Don Klein. Monte Moore. Charley and Humphrey. Walt Harris. Bob Wilkens. Joe Angel. John The Count Montefusco. Chuck Muncie. Joe Roth. Memorial Stadium. Jim Plunkett. Gene Washington. Kezar Stadium. The Oakland Civic Auditorium. Keystone Corner. Todd Barkin. Top Dog on Durant in Berkeley. Keystone Berkeley. Neldam's Bakery. Candlestick Park. The Oakland Coliseum. The Oakland Arena. The Cow Palace. Gensler Lee Diamonds: the store with the heart! Top of the Hill, Daly City! Eddie Alexander: Good luck everybody! Gregg Jordan. Russ Coughlin. Bill Fiset. Gary Fiset. Golden Gate Productions. FM Productions. The Fillmore. Winterland. Joel Selvin. Dick Bright. Alex Bennett. Gil Haar. Mike Pechner. Harry Geiss. The US Festivals. Steve Wozniak. Roy Steele. Kenny Stabler. Art Thoms. Billy Kilmer. Nate Thurmond. Glenn Dickey. KDIA. KFOG. KSAN. KPFA. Dario's Pizza. Mel Belli. 700 Montgomery Street. K101. Playland at the beach. Snow cones. Kasper's hotdogs. Boz Scaggs. The Balboa Café. Perry's on Union Street. Tower Records. The Marina Safeway. Victoria Station (and tell 'em Johnny Cash sent you!)

I'm tired.
Inevitably, I left someone or something out. Apologies.

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54 comments:

  1. Fenton's is still as strong as ever, Rich. Their milkshakes are #2 in the nation, only behind Philadelphia's Franklin Fountain. Classic pictures still adorn the insides. Today's Oakland leaders still adore the place, Mayor included.

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    1. Fenton's is wonderful. I go there all too often, especially while the wife was pregnant.

      I'll be addressing this blog post on the air tomorrow.

      It's nice when you leave a place, come back, and see that nothing has changed, i.e., this blog.

      Unfortunately for those of you posting here, that's not the real world. Things change, for better or worse. Quit complaining about it, and live.

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  2. Do Los Banos next

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  3. In general I'm unimpressed with your work (especially the begged stuff), but this was well done. I'll hit paypal

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  4. Great recall and wonderful memories Rich. You are truly a bay area guy who appreciates what we've had over these many years. Hope you're doing well and enjoying a nice weekend!

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  5. Wow... A Cafe Sport reference!

    THE BEST pesto known to man... I can still taste it with a side of rude service. That place was truly a San Francisco original treat!!

    Nice write up, Rich.

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    1. The best pesto known to a man who hasn't lived in Boston, NY or Italy.

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    2. Why would the Italian immigrants in Boston or NY or their descendant's pesto be somehow better than the ones who came over to The City? Did they forget how to make it when they spent the extra couple months to get to a place with a closer climate and landscape to back home?

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  6. Ah the 70s, when the city was real and the women had bush. Good times!

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    1. You had to bring that last part up, huh?
      :-/

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    2. Bush is good grasshoppa

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  7. I think you may have missed The Brown Twins. Lovely ladies, and much missed.
    And thanks for the Studio Cafe reference - I used to eat there all the time.

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    Replies
    1. Isn't one of them still alive?

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    2. @4:53 - The second twin passed on a few months ago.

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  8. If you are Bay Area born and have lived here all of your life - and are of a certain age, there isn't a name or place mentioned in this article that you would not know -- great recap of the City that was.

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  9. Back when men were men, and sheep were nervous!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Papa & Lund.

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    2. You are thinking about Texas.

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  10. Rich, I'm a little younger than you but what a trip down memory lane. San Fran (Manhattan) & Oaktown (Brooklyn) seemed so magical to me back then, even with all the warts. That's part of what gave this area character. Archive this article. This was great work. A tip of the fedora to you. If I ever see you at Tommy's Joint, I'll remind you and buy the first round. Salud.

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  11. We all appreciate the past but Rich Lieberman fetishizes it. Enough already with these romanticized exaggerations about the glories of yesteryear.

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    1. Go play with yourself

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  12. Fun read, and a great recollection of a golden age!

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  13. Beautiful Blog Post today for All of Us, Like You who Distinctly Remember San Francisco & Oakland of the late 1970's until the mid 1980's. Rich you are Spot-on in writing about how today's Social Media & Cellphones have Virtually Eliminated the Art of Casual Street Conversations with New People as Everyone Walking has their Heads Down Tweeting or Texting or their Ear Buds on Blabbing away. Keep Up the Great Work Rich!!

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  14. Fabulous! Have you EVER written a better column?

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  15. It kept knawing at my craw. I couldn’t stop it. All day long I was thinking about Esther. That dame has a way of getting into my head. I had to do something. And now. I spotted a phone booth on the corner and pulled over. “Operator? Get me Benson 2-3119”. I dropped a dime and waited. “Hi, Toots. It’s Rich. What say we go down by the docks tonight? I know a nice little jazz club…. What? You have a date?.... Who with?..... Mickey Spillane!? Why that two-bit little punk pulp banger. What’s he got on me?”

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    1. Is it just me...Or does anyone else find themselves doing this....Watching an old TV Series from the 1970's, Rockford Files, McMillian & Wife, or The Streets of SF, and the victim is in a jam, and the suspect is closing in...

      And you find yourself shouting inside your brain.... "USE YOUR CELL PHONE!" LOL....

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    2. @ 3:47... Nice. Very very nice!

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  16. Catching Karl Malden and Michael Douglas filming an episode of the Streets of San Francisco, a Quinn Martin Production.

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  17. Sure, the City lost it's soul but what's worse is that it SOLD it. The real SF is dead, buried and never coming back. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Damn, I miss it. Miss it so much.

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    1. The mexification of California tends to do that

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    2. @7:46 must be a transplant from the Deep South. You're standing on sacred Mexican ground Puto.

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    3. anon at 7:46pm...we're just taking it back, one block at time. Have a nice day!! :)

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    4. @10:15 and 1:28...family was here long before yours hopped the border. Taking it back one block at a time...And turning it into a shithole like Mexico...one block at a time.

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    5. @10:15 it was bought and paid for learn your history dumbass

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  18. Rich: As Tony the Tiger would say.......GGGGGRRRRRRREEEEEEAAAAATTTTTT!

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  19. Prefer reading about this than that POS Karel

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  20. Best piece you've ever written. Here's cheers to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. May we live to appreciate history yet look forward to the future. Ahh... life.

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  21. You left out Bobcat Goldthwait's late night show on KGO-TV. I don't even remember what the show was - maybe he was hosting horror movies, but I do remember that he was very funny.

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    1. San Francisco Hot Rock, when he called himself Robert -- "Hey everybody, it's music time" (clips here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6UIC9S5K0s)

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  22. Not to forget Candy Matson, YUkon 2-5829! Natalie Masters

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  23. There are still great local comics hanging out at the Punchline on Battery. Go on Sunday nights; cheap to get in and it's a grab-bag of up-and-comers. Steven Pearl is still around and still doing the same shtick from the 80's but usually at the Throckmorton up in the North Bay if that's what you're looking for.

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  24. You left out Playland, Skateland ,Doggie Dinners, and Winterland.�� S.F Native

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    1. No, he included three of the four:

      > Doggie Diner ... Winterland ... Playland at the beach.

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  25. Every young or newbie SFer should be required to read this and look up all the references and learn!
    And don't forget Earthquake Magoon's, Turk Murphy, Lu Waters, Mannings cafeterias, Eureka Valley (before it was known as the Castro), "all the way up Market!", all-around choc shakes at Zims, the bill board- Hills Bros coffee, Folgers, Hams beer, movies at the Alhambra and Royal on Polk, Mayes Oyster House, and don't forget KGO's Rex Murphy who stopped me outside near the library not far from the Golden Gate Av studios and asked me if the economy had affected my Christmas '82. I spoke into his tape recorder, "Yeah, all I got was socks and underwear!" Ed Baxter got a kick out of that on the 4pm news!

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  26. You left our City Lights bookstore. I guess you don't think it was part of this particular scene, but it's definitely part of North Beach.

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    1. I use to hang out in North Beach quite a bit, especially from the mid eighties and to the early nineties. I would go there at times alone, other times with friends or a date, I was a women in my forties. I (or we) would start out in the financial district, and then later go to North Beach. If I was alone I would go to the City Lights and loved it. A few weeks ago when I had friends visiting from Denmark (my native country) I took my friends to North Beach, and before we had dinner, we went to City Lights, they were very impressed.
      Other places my friend or dates would frequent in North Beach: Silouettes (great juke box music to dance to) Savoy Tivoli, Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store. Other favorite places not in North Beach: "The Cadillac Bar and Grill, Lily's, Fog City Diner, The Royal Exchange. By the way back then I was a woman in my early forties (mid eighties). It was a wonderful time, just lots of fun. I was pleased when I went to North Beach with my friend a few weeks ago, to find some places are still there (Vesuvio, City Lights, Mario, Savoy Tivoli) and the place still has a lot of energy.

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  27. Rich - wasn't there the BATHS out at the Cliff House also?

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  28. Actually,everything new is better. I only miss being young. I dont miss payphones,writing mail,truly junky cars,most American but Fiat and Opel and Renault made pure crap. I dont miss the lack of all we enjoy now. I only miss dating 24 year old blondes and of course nobody did anything but admire that.
    Yeah,we lack name scribes now..its been diluted. Who knows? we might be at the start of a Renaissance we don't yet realize.
    Younger,thinner and the teeth on combs broke combing my luxurious mane. I miss that.

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  29. I've only been in Frisco for two years...so naturally this means nothing to me.
    But nice writing, though!

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    1. After 2 years you should know not to call San Francisco "Frisco" that I believe is from the fifties and forties. I moved here from the East Coast in the mid seventies and NO ONE ever said Frisco. Get with it dude.

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  30. @7:35 a.m. Nice to see the reference to Rex Murphy. He was the all-night news guy when I worked at KFRC (circa 1972). A genuinely nice guy in a time and at a place where they were few and far between.

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    1. That certainly came across on the radio, and in person that day. Distinct voice too.

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  31. Mission & Geneva drive-in, Castle Lanes, Shaw's, Wolfman Jack, Shrimp and Sour dough french Beard on Sunday mornings at Aquatic Park with Bongo players and kids flying kites. Sigman Strern Grove concerts Sunday afternoons. The saltwater pools at the Zoo. 57 Chevys, Impalas racing on Brotherhood or El Camino..........

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  32. Did you ever hang out with Al Davis at Mitch & Jim's Sir-Loin on Grand Avenue? Or grab a great sandwich at The Munch Box across the street?

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