Northside SF
North Beach Beat
The return of Big Brother

They’ve gone and installed security cameras at  Caffe Trieste.

In an age where privacy has been eradicated by an Internet that knows your every move, by indiscriminant Facebook posturing, and by intrusive surveillance gadgetry invading the public space, sticking a few cameras in a North Beach cafe – even this venerable North Beach cafe – might seem like small change.

But this is the Caffe Trieste, and that makes it different.

When they tried putting a single camera in there a few years ago (pointed directly at the working baristas, a symbol of mistrust if ever there were one), the reaction was swift. A petition of opposition was circulated among the cafe regulars and presented to the Trieste’s founder, Pappa Gianni, who had nothing to do with its installation. He ordered the camera removed. 

Now it’s back, fourfold. In early August, four cameras were installed; two inside and two out on the street. Ostensibly there to protect this happy kingdom (the Trieste was burglarized in early summer), their placement ensures that nothing and no one will go unobserved by the prying eyes on the other side of those cameras.

And just like the first time, one of them points directly at the baristas behind the counter.

So maybe privacy isn’t what it used to be. It’s true that you can’t walk into a bank or a drug store or any public building these days without being scrutinized by a camera lens.

But the Trieste isn’t a bank – the recent addition of an ATM notwithstanding – or a drug store (ahem). It’s not even just another North Beach cafe. The Trieste is an institution renowned for its iconoclastic habitués and a tolerance for attitudes and behavior well outside the mainstream of 21st century, robotic American thinking.

Sticking spy cameras in there is antithetical to everything the cafe represents.

Still, I’m betting the cameras stay. With a few exceptions there has been little grumbling this time, let alone a full-blown palace insurrection. One longtime regular, at this writing, is boycotting the place, but that will blow over.

Face it. If Orwell wrote 1984 today (presumably under a different title), the book wouldn’t sell. I mean, who cares if Big Brother is watching? No one, apparently.  

Pretty picture on Pacific Avenue: It was sad news several months ago when Artist & Craftsman Supply closed its doors on Columbus Avenue. I’m no artist, but I love poking around in stores that sell paints and brushes and canvases and frames and cool little sketchpads.

Artist & Craftsman was one of the better ones around and then – surprise, surprise – they lost their lease. It was a particularly tough blow, I thought, because the store was within a couple of blocks of the San Francisco Art Institute and directly across the street from one of the Academy of Art’s far-flung real estate holdings, er, I mean campuses. A natural constituency, if you will.

Well, the good news is that Artist & Craftsman has a new home, over on Pacific Avenue heading into the Jackson Square area. To be precise, the store now occupies 555 Pacific, the site of the Hippodrome Theater when Pacific Avenue was the main thoroughfare through the notorious Barbary Coast.

(I miss the Barbary Coast, by the way. Imagine, if you will, some irritatingly inebriated yuppie wandering into “this awesome bar I found, dude, called Shanghai Kelly’s.” The barman slips Chad a Mickey Finn and the next thing the kid knows he’s been gang-pressed and finds himself at the mercy of a cutthroat band of sailors, bound for China aboard a clipper ship. Now that’s an awesome image, dude.)

Anyway, I’m glad the old theater has been taken over by a bunch of “arteests” and all their cool stuff. As Billy Bob would say, if he were still around, check it out.  

The local dark horse: A few weeks back it looked like all Ed Lee had to do to stick around City Hall as mayor was to announce his candidacy. Well, he’s done that, and suddenly things aren’t looking quite so rosy for San Francisco’s latest hizzoner. Scrutiny makes popularity a fickle mistress.

Now the field appears wide open again, and among the hopefuls vying for the top chair is District 3 Supervisor David Chiu. If you pay attention to local politics you’ve probably formed your own opinion of Chiu, but he’s aces as far as one North Beach artist is concerned.

In fact, artist-musician Riki Chen is committed enough to the cause that he’s throwing an art-show-as-fundraiser for Chiu at Live Worms Gallery on Grant Avenue.

“I believe that he’s a man who gets things done,” Chen said in an e-mail. “I like his strong views on pertinent issues. I was so impressed with him that I booked the gallery for this show before he even had enough signatures to get on the ballot.”

Well then.
The show will run three days – Oct. 4, 5 and 6 – and will feature the work of artists Douglas Brett, Luna, Mark Dierkis, Edward Millet, Romalyn Schmaltz, Gregory Martinez, and the aforementioned Mr. Chen.  

Free laughs, free poetry: Stand-up comedy has a long history in North Beach – Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, and other big names of that era all performed here – and with joints like Cobb’s Comedy Club still going strong, it remains a comedian-friendly neighborhood.

Now it’s getting even friendlier. Not to mention cheaper.

The venerable Purple Onion (140 Columbus Avenue), which staged most of those big names back in the day, is hosting a weekly Comedy & Cocktails show in its trippy subterranean cabaret.

The idea is to give established comedians a place to try out new material while giving new talent a chance to bloom in public. The best part for you, the appreciative audience, is that it’s free. The comedy, that is, not the cocktails.  

Showtime is every Thursday at 7 p.m.

If your predilections run more to poetry, check out some of the talent (or provide the talent yourself) at Philip Hackett’s ongoing Poet’s Gallery series. Every Monday night is open “mike” (I refuse to spell it “mic”) at the Caffè Greco (423 Columbus Avenue)

Just show up around 7:30 p.m. to listen, or drop by an hour earlier to sign up to read your own stuff. You can slip next door to the Caffè Puccini for some killer pasta while you wait for the reading to start.

If Monday doesn’t work for you – like, if you really are ready for some football – the Poet’s Gallery also holds readings on Wednesdays at Caffè Sapore (790 Lombard Street at Taylor) from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and Fridays at Caffè Roma (526 Columbus Avenue), same time.

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