Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for North Beach

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe

I walked through North Beach this morning and it’s been a while. Predictably, as it happens, things have changed.  I moved to San Francisco’s North Beach in 1991. My first child was born a year later, and we spent the first year and a half of his life walking and strolling around our neighborhood before we moved to the burbs and his brother was born.

First off, Tower Records is now Walgreen’s.  This is partly just the way it goes, record stores are not profitable enough to occupy two corners of prime real estate in San Francisco.  But Walgreen’s? Bleh. Strike one for charm.

pagoda theater Go Giants!
What’s still thriving? The Chinese laundry and alterations shops, tourist bike rentals and Coit Liquor. The Pagoda Theater is gutted. Once an actual theater, then a blue movie house,  when we lived nearby it was a movie theater specializing in Kung Fu flicks. It's Deco façade is now stripped of neon and the front is boarded up and nicely graffitied. (Go Giants!) The theater was supposed to be renovated, then a parking garage was to be dug out of the basement and the building converted into condos.  Now the plan seems to be about the impending subway and the theater being an entry point. Strike two.

A few doors up Powell is an empty restaurant called Bottle Cap which used to be Ed Moose’s historic WASHBAG.  Erased with periwinkle blue paint. Same with Moose’s across the park. Just another restaurant. Out front Prius cabs and helmeted tourists in three wheeler go-carts, slow as neon slugs, manuver around as if in a San Francisco’s North Beach theme park.

Mario's on Columbus & Union
What’s still around, thank god, are Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and Saints Peter & Paul church. On the east side of Columbus and the north side of Union Street, it is sunny and warm spring weather. On the opposite shady sides, it is down jacket weather with icy gusts of wind.  Inside Mario’s my ambitiously mustachioed barista whips up a double cappuccino and a roasted red pepper and eggplant panini. Unchanged since the first time I order it in high school. The bells of the church chime noon as kids screech and yell in Washington Square Park. This remains the same.

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