One of my favorite places on earth to visit is Versuvio Cafe an old North Beach bar in San Francisco. North Beach is right up the hill from Fisherman’s Wharf and adjacent to Chinatown. Just standing on the sidewalk is breath taking. The cool breeze from the bay mixes with the foreign smells of authentic Chinese cuisine. Fruit markets bulge with sights rarely seen at your local grocer as third story windows have wet laundry hanging from wires. Next door to the bar is its cousin- City Lights Books, home to the beat poets, writers, revolutionaries, activists, and curious tourists. While sipping an Anchor Steam from the second floor open window, your eyes look at framed copies of Howl under the spell of a street musician playing saxophone jazz and blues. The bar has been around since right after World War II and was a popular watering hole for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and their friends. The bar still opens at six am and is visited by old poets having Old Crow whiskey for breakfast and discussing their lives. I love just being there and feeling the vibe of the many ghosts that have sat here and walked around.
I was privileged to meet one of the last living beat poets in New York several years ago when I was visiting one of my sons. He took me to the Bowery Poetry Club, across from CBGB’s, as Taylor Mead was doing his Friday night set. Mead was also an actor, and had been in Jim Jarmush’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” about that time. Taylor was Andy Warhol’s favorite poet and a regular at The Factory. The old poet was in his mid eighties when I met him and had fascinating stories about Jack Kerouac, Clint Eastwood and a host of others. Taylor was born to a wealthy family and his father got him a job on the Chicago Stock Exchange. When he read “On The Road”, he quit his well paying job, drove to San Francisco and like many others, discovered himself. There is a story of him being so drunk at Vesuvio, he stripped bare naked, climbed up on the bar and read aloud from “On The Road” as the customers clapped and cheered. For you who want to discover yourself, I recommend trying Vesuvio.