Northside SF  

Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham

An online petition, Save the Tonga Room – – is making the rounds. Word on Nob Hill is the people who run the real estate division of the Fairmont Hotel are about to convert the rooms in the Fairmont Tower into ownership units. There’s talk of shutting down the legendary Tonga Room. Or maybe moving it. The petitioners have collected 1,094 signatures at this writing. They ask locals to call the Fairmont corporate offices in Toronto to protest: 416-874-2600, or send an e-mail to or to

I made a mistake in the April cover story last month when describing the honor at the S.F. International Film Festival bestowed on people who write movies. It’s called the Kanbar Award for Excellence in Screenwriting. …

In an age when we are witnessing the waning influence of daily newspapers, it seems a star has been born in the world of print. It’s Jennifer Wadsworth, a young reporter from the Tracy Press, who broke some of the bigger stories surrounding the murder case of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu.

Jennifer has gained national recognition. She’s writing her updates on the crime, which have riveted people round the country, on The Daily Beast. She also gave a long interview to the ubiquitous and belligerent Dr. Phil, discussing the murky side of the human spirit. Murk always works. …

Is there more bad news these days than usual? Many are asking that. The news has always been bad for someone in this world of suffering. Years ago, when I worked in radio, I was hired to do stories for something called the Good News Network. They quickly went out of business. …

Speaking of business, Police Chief Heather Fong seems to be at odds with Supervisor Bevan Dufty and the Entertainment Commission because the commissioners want the power to extend bar and nightclub hours – on a temporary basis – beyond the mandatory 2 a.m. closing time.

Wouldn’t it help the economy to keep the pubs and clubs in S.F. open 24 hours, as they were before World War II, when the town was an “Open City”? Besides, people don’t have to get to bed early anymore – they don’t have any jobs to go to in the morning. …

The boys and girls at Le Beau, the popular grocery store on Leavenworth & Clay, are certainly working hard these days. “Le Beau is a jewel on Nob Hill,” explains Tom Wolfe, the storied concierge at the Fairmont. The place is a nexus of social activity on the Hill. Owner Joe Omram constantly plays great oldies on the house Victrola. Morgan Hamm and his crew, including Drew Stevenson, have turned the deli into a first-rate charcuterie. I’ve been watching the API – the Angus Price Index. The price of the ground beef at Le Beau has remained at $4.99 a pound, economic crisis notwithstanding. I took my discounted bag of spuds to the checkout the other day. “Recession potatoes,” I said to James Francis Abrams, who was working the register. He quipped, “The Irish do well in a recession.” Let’s hope so. …

I’m happy to report that Rod McKuen has contributed a terrific piece of verse to this issue of Northside San Francisco. I told Rod about an item on page six of the New York Post – another good reason to deport Rupert Murdoch. It asks: “Was Cool Hand Luke a hot-headed drunk and womanizer? Shawn Levy’s new bio, Paul Newman: A Life, out next month from Harmony Books, portrays the late Oscar-winner as a functioning alcoholic who, wearing a bottle opener on a chain around his neck, put away “beer after beer after beer, a case or more a day,” followed by the hard stuff, usually Scotch. … Mort Sahl recalled him filling a brandy snifter with ice and Scotch and sipping it in a steam room.” McKuen notes Newman’s great film work and his extraordinary generosity. He writes:

Of course the day Rupert Murdoch’s rag can give us half as much pleasure as any single Paul Newman film or he personally (with all his wealth) delivers a 10th of the amount of the late actor’s sizeable contributions to charity will be a very cold day in whatever hell Murdoch is headed toward. But wait a minute; hasn’t this blowhard already given us Hell on Earth? I think it’s spelled F O X N E W S.

I only wish I could have had the chance to drink Scotch in a steam room – or anywhere else – with Paul Newman. Though my Mum was from Glasgow, Scotch is the one drink, however – likely the only drink – that I could not stomach. I went back to New Jersey, still in my early 20s, to visit her all those years ago. One evening, I went out with my hometown buddies, and the Scotch and the Drambuie began to flow at the local bowling alley where, as a kid, I thought only derelicts drank. Funny how self-image can quickly change.

I came back to Mum’s house late in the evening, reeking of Johnny Walker Red. (My Scottish grandfather was named Johnny Walker – kid you not. He was a pub musician in Glasgow and reportedly a lifelong teetotaler.)

At the house, Mum heard a crash from the bathroom. She called out, “Bruce, are you all right?”
“Sure, Mum,” I shouted back.

She did not know that I was speaking while standing on my head in the bathtub, where I had landed, upside-down. No more Scotch after that. …

Paula West will be singing with the San Francisco Girls Chorus at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley on June 5, and at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, on June 6. … I don’t know why I think this is a good idea, but I’d love to hear the Girls Chorus sing an evening of Beach Boys songs sometime. Just a thought. … Perez Hilton owes Miss California an apology, regardless of her position on same-sex marriage. “A gentleman is never unintentionally rude,” observed Oscar Wilde. I guess Perez meant to insult her, but he’s still no gentleman. … By the way, where is Paris Hilton? Did the party gigs dry up or did we lose her in the stock market? I thought we’d always have Paris. …

Sharon Anderson says an indictment of Dick Cheney would be a better birthday present for her than dinner at Scoma’s. … We all have a wish list. Norm Goldblatt confesses, “When I was a teenager, I had no self-confidence. I used to fantasize in the third person.” …

Niel Mortensen reminds me that it’s been 40 years since the John and Yoko Bed-in in Montreal. That city is celebrating this summer. Speaking of Montreal, that reminds me of a famous Groucho story.

I was in Montreal. I made a quick exit out of the elevator. A priest comes up to me, puts out his hand, and says, “I wanna thank you for all the joy you’ve put into this world.” I shook his hand, and I said, “And I wanna thank you for all the joy you’ve taken out of this world.”

I can’t top Groucho, so we’ll leave it at that. …



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September 2011 Issue


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