Last Days in San Francisco

north beach. photo by Andrew Møøre.

AT SOME POINT IN your drinking career, it will happen. You will walk into a bar amid a strange silence – that awkward period between jukebox tracks where everyone realizes how loud and rowdy they’ve been. And then, catching you completely unawares, Journey will boom through the stereo. But by then my friend, it’s too late.

Such is the case for Nick and I as we stroll into North Beach dive up on Green Street. By the time Steve Perry is belting “livin’ in SOUTH Detroooit!” a woman who is phenomenally drunk wraps her arms around both our necks and croons along, urging us to do likewise. I escape from her talons by excusing myself to the bathroom, and come out to find Nick looking both awe-stricken and sincerely pissed as this chick guzzles half his beer.

Somehow he manages to convince her to resume her spot at the bar stool, but by this point we’re really not feeling the vibe. The bartender tells me as she pours a pint of Newcastle that she saw a guy get his head blown off outside her apartment last night. Sweet. Nick and I look at each other wearily, and I drain my beer.

We’d started the night out with the lofty goal of getting wobbly drunk. But we wanted to kick off our bar hopping on a classy note, and so circled several blocks looking for a spot serving great martinis and chilled atmosphere. We come across a waiter taking a smoke break and ask him what he’d recommend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he convinces us to come into where he works – Joe Dimaggio’s. Pricey, yes, but it’s exactly what we’ve been looking for: plush leather booths and strong drinks.

A little alcohol swimming in the belly and we decide that we need some proper drinking food. We stumble upon Golden Boy, a place serving life-changing Sicilian pizza with great beers on tap. I bite into steaming slice and look up at the curved aluminum ceiling, and think that this place almost looks like a small airplane hanger.

We hit the Journey dive after Golden Boy, and I finish my drink as we stand up to leave. Buzzing in the cool night air, we fall back onto the tried and true – Vesuvios. There’s just something about the atmosphere of the place, the stained glass windows, the wooden booths, the dark corners. We order a couple pints of Hoegaarden and grab a seat. Our conversation blurs into the din of the bar. Several German men sitting next to us chat loudly. Nick and I talk about the trip, about life. We order another drink. We feel content, we feel a stir of wanderlust, and finally, we’re slurring. Time to head back to the hostel.


washtington sq park. photo by sneedy.

After observing the strange social life of sea lions down at Fisherman’s Wharf, Nick and I spend the majority of Monday morning and afternoon lazing around Washington Square park. We eat fresh Italian deli sandwiches for lunch, and slowly roll out of our hangovers.

As the sun sinks to lower points in the sky we make our way to the SOMA district to meet my friend Justin at the bike shop where he works. Justin is one of the four people I met who cycled across the United States – they finished their trip back in August, and he’s been getting settled back in San Francisco since and learning how to become a bike mechanic.

I would compare SOMA (or South of Market), to Seattle’s Georgetown. Converted industrial and warehouse space gives the neighborhood a gritty but established character. Messenger bag company Chrome operates there (we passed the shop), and sprinkled along Folsom – the main thoroughfare – are laundromats, thrift stores and dive bars. The Endup, featured in the last shots of the Sundance movie Groove, is on a corner just between SOMA and the Mission district.

Nick and I walk towards the Mission behind a guy who’s wearing Corona shorts and carrying a ghetto blaster playing AC/DC. Awesome. We finally make it to Zeitgeist, a biker (as in bicycle) bar on Valencia with a huge beer garden and delicious burgers served with home fries. Dusk descends, the sky bleeds from a halcyon blue to a milky purple, and finally to a shining black.

Danielle meets us up for one last night on the town – she takes us to a couple bars, including Casablanca, a loud yet cozy, red-lit joint dripping with shadows. The three of us strike up a conversation with a couple Britons sitting next to us, one of whom turns out to be a reporter for The Guardian who’s taking a holiday. We chat up a storm, and I leave the place with some good career advice. Danielle drives us back up to the hostel, and Nick and I say our last goodnight to the city.


The next morning is clear and warm. I take a ride the car – parked several miles away – throw my bike in the trunk, and frustratingly navigate traffic-choked streets back up to the hostel. We check out, find some nearby parking, and have a hearty meal at Mama’s, fabled to be the best breakfast in the city – the fables were true.

We had dropped off our dirty clothes at a laundromat prior to breakfast, and have some time to kill before it finishes We sit outside a small market, reading the newspaper, connecting momentarily with all that has been going on in the outside world. I had been so immersed in San Francisco that thinking about the outside world was almost jarring.

After picking up our clothes we arrive at Twin Peaks, to take in our last glimpse of the city. I try to use one of those self-cleaning bathrooms at the top of the hill, but it’s broken. A breeze carries a chill in from off the Bay, the gleaming city is rolled out like a breathing carpet of steel, glass and human life.

We hop in the car, and make for highway 1.

(Next: Capitola/Santa Cruz)


1 Response to “Last Days in San Francisco”

  1. 1 Kathy Gehrke October 17, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Ben, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I play a computer game that takes me through 30 different locales in San Fran. Much better to actually be there. . .and on a bike. . .well, I’m afraid those days are over for me, (actually never came, since I’ve never been on a bike except in my small town neighborhood of Orting) but I would like to breakfast at Mama’s on your recommendation that it’s the best in town. If I get there in the near future, I’ll let you know. Happy October! Sincerely, Kathy Gehrke

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