Northside SF  

Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham

Perhaps July is the coolest month. Coldest in 40 years, they say. So they say. I felt so bad for the tourists who were freezing while standing in line at Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street, I wanted to go across the street to Walgreens and buy them mittens. Then I saw a man on Polk and Sacto turn in for the night at 8 o’clock, grip his blanket, and try to sleep on the sidewalk. ...

A chilly month indeed. What would Mark Twain say? (You know he supposedly said that famous line about the frigid San Francisco summers.) What would Mark Twain not say? He did say this: “Now I hate to tell a plain truth, but I must – the bulk of San Francisco’s liberality seems sometimes actuated by a love of applause.”...

Plain truth ... that’s gotta sting a little. ...

July was a great month for the warm, specious sensation of Schadenfreude, with all of the public humiliations that celebrities have endured – Mel Gibson’s dark excursions, Lindsay Lohan’s Day of Reckoning, Whitney Houston going unglued, Charlie Sheen’s continuing private chaos – most of us can all feel better about ourselves. We have all these people to sneer at. Where would we be without knowing that people actually attend tractor-pull competitions, people over whom we can really feel superior?

Gee, I can provide my own humiliations. But, I imagine, they are not so interesting. I could always audition for Stumbling with the Stars.

Times have changed. There is no more expectation of privacy. Hardly. I recall when Joe DiMaggio lived in the Marina. His disdain for media attention was palpable. Reporters backed off. They were sorely afraid. If he was recognized while sauntering along Marina Boulevard or even when he was standing in line at the Red Cross shelter at the Marina Middle School in the days following the Loma Prieta earthquake, Joltin’ Joe would wince when someone called out his name. My brother, Jack, and I saw him once and said hello. Jack was a DiMaggio devotee, but we backed off from the bad vibes Joe emitted. No wonder he could intimidate all of Yankee Stadium and those therein. Perhaps Joe recalled how Marilyn Monroe would thrive on the adoration of the world that she encouraged and purr at the sight of the ever-present camera lenses. ... Truth is, Joe DiMaggio was a confidante of Vic Ramus, who owned the Horseshoe Tavern on Chestnut Street in the old days. They were old friends. Stefan Wever owns the saloon now. I saw Joe open up and be chatty with people he trusted when Vic was there. As I mentioned, times have changed.

On the topic of fame, I hear Chris Isaak is a heavy contender for being the next Simon Cowell on American Idol. Chris seems to be awfully nice for the gig, but it would be refreshing to see some civility for a change, particularly from a San Francisco boy. Just as long as Chris keeps singing. Rod McKuen says of American Idol, “The producers have a lot to answer for.” He means there will be a Day of Judgment for the show’s success at marketing cruelty and freak-show antics. But punishment does not seem to be in the offing. On the contrary, the program has become a way of life. ...

Now that the Washington Square Bar & Grill is closed during the daytime hours, where does that leave the North Beach dinosaurs who used to slake their thirst at the bar? Well many are gone, I’m afraid. Where’s Michael McCourt? He’s counseling troubled persons who arrive on the shores shoeless and without portfolio. That’s what I hear. Where are the great characters? I was straightened out on this topic. They are still here. Did you see the ads on the buses? “San Francisco is full of characters.” And I saw, as part of the P.R. campaign, a picture of Shrek. Yes, Shrek. This invention of Hollywood movies is supposed to be a S.F. character. Well, all right, there were days when I woke up looking like Shrek. But never waking up with Shrek, for Gawd’s sakes. The auslanders have taken over San Francisco culture, for sure. ...

One of the best additions to the San Francisco landscape is Richard Rodriguez, who is a terrific writer and former essayist on the former NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Now it’s called the PBS NewsHour. “Jim Lehrer fired me,” Richard explained to me when I ran into him on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, his neighborhood. “Jim doesn’t want essays on the air any more. After his friend Roger Rosenblatt left, Jim abandoned the whole idea of people having commentaries. It wasn’t a very good environment for writers who might have something to say. So I was gone.” ...

Liam Bigelow
, who used to own the S.N.O.B. Wine Bar, wants it known that he’s changed the name to The Pour House. ... Down the street, the Lush Lounge, since it moved from its digs on the east side of Polk and Post, is going great guns. “Drinks are cheap, the company’s friendly,” sputters a seasoned local. ... I asked my cardiologist, “If I watered down my drinks, then could I thin out my blood?” She did not think that was funny. Apparently blood can be thinner than water. Well, some jokes can wear thin too. ...

Some of us are just downright shellfish. Katie Baker, writing on the S.F. Appeal website, swears she saw something that looked like a lobster painfully trundling itself along the promenade in the northern part of Golden Gate Park. Not so astonishing to me. Surely you recall Gérard de Nerval, the poet who walked his lobster on a leash on the streets of Paris during the early part of the 19th century. Ah, to be a boulevardier once again. Perhaps there are a few of these characters left, brazenly dragging their shellfish pals along the winding walkways of Golden Gate Park. Lobsters, as you know, can be notoriously uncooperative, particularly when they sense they are in the vicinity of a gurgling vivoir in a Richmond District seafood house where their crustacean cousins are awaiting their fiery fate. Besides, lobsters really do not like being schlepped from place to place on a leather tether. Given the chance, they’ll make a run for it. Who could blame them? It is understandable that they long for the halcyon days when lobsters, with their ragged claws, could scuttle freely across the floors of the silent seas. Free the lobsters! Citizens, strike a blow for the Republic! ...

Harry Denton
is delighted to say that the Sir Francis Drake Hotel got a big cash infusion from a corporation, the Pebblebrook Hotel Trust. They bought the operation for $90 million. Someone’s spending money these days. Harry’s about to redecorate his Starlight Room atop the hotel. “I am so excited about this,” says Harry. When in doubt, redecorate. …

Bruce Bellingham is the author of Bellingham by the Bay. His doctors say it
would be a good idea for him to walk his lobster as often as possible these days. Hold
the butter. What do you think? E-mail

Browse Column Archives

Bookmark and Share Print Page

September 2011 Issue


Amici's East Coast Pizzeria

Horse Shoe Tavern Amici's East Coast Pizzeria



Alfred's Steakhouse Gallenberg

Grateful Dog Sf Alfred's Steakhouse

Getting to know the Reillys 10 Questions with Chef Todd English June Top Picks

Copyright © 2005 - 2008 NorthSide San Francisco