THE BLOG
08/10/2012 04:05 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2012

Friday Footsteps: Searching for the Item

Last night the heat still had not really broken, a truly bizarre thing to happen in the middle of summer. After all, this is San Francisco and yes, this week someone did hit me with the old "The coldest winter I ever spent was..." quote. So standing on a corner without shivering at 7 o'clock was a truly mysterious thing for us.

Frankly, we had no idea what to do, so after a moment's hesitation we decided the only appropriate action was North Beach. Now, you have to understand that I have not done a proper North Beach crawl in decades. Part of the reason is, of course, those aforementioned decades, more of them than I will admit in polite company.

The other reason I haven't prowled North Beach in a while is because I do get a little misty-eyed about the North Beach of my past, and all the places that have closed and moved on to the big last call in the sky. This is the downside of being one of those "born and raised" types you hear about... we always have one eye in the present and one eye in the past.

However, Melissa is far less weighed down by the past, so one ridiculous bouncing cab ride later, we were pulling up to Sweetie's on Francisco. Now, I know few people know about this place, but then again that's the whole point. It's the foreign legion outpost to Pier 23, since both are owned by local treasure Flicka McGurrin. Layla was holding down the bar, and the windows were thrown open on a perfect day. At one point the table outside was approached by, well, I am not quite sure. He was dressed as a dandy, replete with tophat, and he recited a long poem to the bemused group. At the end came the inevitable call for donations, but I would like to think they got their money's worth on this transaction as they cheerfully contributed.

But the night was young, we were on the hunt, and suddenly I felt I was channeling my father, out on the town, searching for that elusive story item that had to be out there somewhere. We charged up the street like bloodhounds, just with a lot less slobbering. Original Joe's hove into view and we both had the same thought... Manhattans!

Into the crowd we went. The Right Reverend McCourt was not behind the plank, so we stationed ourselves at one of the booths in the main dining room. Now, these are some of the best vantage points in town for spotting an item, since they sit slightly higher than the rest of the room, providing a stellar view. Not that we were that in the hunt after the food and drinks arrived. I still love the fact that the sign above the kitchen reads "it's better to live rich than to die rich." It's a perfect San Francisco quote, since many of the great characters from our past were able to portray themselves in greater financial shape than their circumstances allowed... starting with just about every gambler in the Tenderloin.

Back out into the night we went, the streets oddly packed as locals joined the clueless tourists, who for once were absolutely right about the weather. Across the street to TonyNiks, where a new generation of dandies and swells pack the bar, a sea of Goorin hats bobbing all the way down the room.

An item, somewhere there is an item. Around the corner we prowl to Amante, but Melissa takes one look at the packed room and the crowd at the bar and carves a smooth uturn back down the street. North Beach Restaurant is off our starboard bow with room at the bar, so in we go, the still hot night air chasing us in. The heat however has met its competition, since parked at the end of the bar is a gigantic slushy machine. We point at the thing to the bartender, Billy. "Ah, that's an Italian slushy, made with grappa."

Ridiculous, right? Apparently not, and to our surprise the place also had dice cups. Dice, frozen grappa, and a hot San Francisco night, is apparently the perfect way to spend the evening, but gets one no closer to uncovering a scoop. (The problem with two writers together is we are always convinced we are Woodward and Bernstein in the chase for the breaking story.)

Over to Bottle Cap we go, the walls now devoid of the place's history, but the mob sitting in front of the bar doesn't seem to mind, and a guitar player and piano man keep us all entertained. On the window in front is a sign to stop the "Big Hole," the proposed exit for the Central Subway boring machines. In perfect San Francisco fashion, there is a plot there too, as I seem to recall reading that the Central Subway had to be pushed that far in order for the ratios of the project costs between the third street corridor and the central subway to pencil out for federal money. Now the excuse is that just maybe there will eventually be a station in North Beach.

Maybe, maybe not. We still are a town that has mysteries late at night on a muggy, damp Thursday. Right now all the local merchants know is that City Hall is about to stick a huge hole in the middle of North Beach, and if local supervisor David Chiu doesn't watch out, he is going to wind up in it too.

But tonight all is calm. Outside the Bottle Cap the little triangle of grass is quiet, the air still, waiting for the machines to arrive and tear the entire place to shreds. But for tonight, we have the place to ourselves. And in the delightful peace is our item.