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North Beach, San Francisco
Walk through the streets of North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy, on a cool and foggy San Francisco morning, and your senses are filled with the earthy pungent smell of espresso roasting, and fresh garlic sizzling. North Beach, a neighborhood filled with the ghosts of the Beat Generation, Tai-chi devotees in Washington Park, Italian cafes and espresso bars, was once actually a beach, San Francisco’s northeast shoreline. North Beach, its sandy beach filled in years ago, is framed by what was the Barbary Coast, a hangout for debauchery and the rich, now Jackson’s’ Square, and also Chinatown, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill and the Financial District. North Beach is where Coit Tower elegantly watches over the city, and where the curves of Lombard Street can only be matched by the curves once found at The Condor Club, opened in 1964, America’s first striptease club.
North Beach served as the gateway to San Francisco for many immigrants from South America, Europe, and also the Australian penal colonies, all arriving at the North Point docks. Italian fisherman, from seaside villages along the Ligurian sea, made their way to San Francisco, where they were able to do what they loved to do – fish. In 1870 these Italian fishermen were supplying 90 percent of the fish eaten in San Francisco. These early Italian immigrants made North Beach their home, and brought with them the Italian love of food, wine, and sharing a strong espresso with a good friend at the neighborhood cafe. Today, these Italian cafes and restaurants spill out onto North Beach’s sidewalks, where passionate coffee lovers and romantics sit close and experience the true North Beach. From Fior d’Italia, which claims to be America’s oldest Italian restaurant, to Moose’s, Café Trieste, Capp’s Corner, Caffe Sport, Molinari’s Delicatessen, Liguria Bakery, Victoria Pastry Company, North Beach Restaurant, and The Stinking Rose, you will find exquisite Italian cake, a wonderful slice of prosciutto, the perfect bowl of pasta, a beautiful Italian red, and of course, great coffee. Joe Di’Maggio came from this venerable neighborhood, as did Joseph Allioto, the former mayor of San Francisco.
In the early 1950’s, a post-war restlessness amongst the youth, gave way to a fusion of creative expression, experimentation and energy, and the Beat Generation was born. Jack Kerouac, the iconic beat poet and author, embodied the Beat movement. City Lights Bookstore, founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, became a den to thinkers, writers, and poets, creating era defining, cutting edge works, inspired by sweet smoke and jazz, late into the foggy San Francisco nights. City Lights Bookstore, an all-paperback bookstore, is a literary landmark, and is where Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Ruth Weiss, and William S. Burroughs, performed readings, and where live, poetry readings are still held.
North Beach is also home to many San Francisco cultural institutions from the past and present, including; The Purple Onion – S.F.’s famous comedy club, Enrico Banducci’s Hungry I, Vesuvio’s café – famous Beat generation bar, Enrico’s Sidewalk Café, Washington Square Bar and Grill, and Steve Silver’s riotous revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.