It was a busy afternoon in North Beach, San Francisco. I had already sketched a lot, but was still going. I sat outside Caffe Trieste, a historic old cafe once frequented by famous beat poets, musicians, actors, artists. Coppola wrote a lot of The Godfather while drinking coffee in here. I’ve sketched outside here before. I have never actually spent any time inside; I don’t drink coffee, and the line was always a bit long for me to figure out what else I might want; another time. I hear they make pastries. The cafe was opened in 1958 by Trieste native Giovanni “Papa” Giotta, who died in 2016; he was known as the “Espresso Pioneer of the West Coast”. I went to the city of Trieste in north-eastern Italy back in 2001, an interesting place, very close to the Slovenian border.
I stood on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, outside the Condor, and looked across to City Lights Books. Behind it to the left, Vesuvio. I’ve sketched this spot a number of times over the years, it never gets old. This area right here might be one of my favourite places on earth. City Lights is pretty famous, though not actually very big, and again has a long history with the beat poets. I must admit I’ve not really read any beat poetry. I’ve heard of all the names and nod knowingly whenever anyone reels them off, but I’ve not actually read any. Maybe I should, perhaps it will mean something, but I always imagined it as someone reading poems while someone else does beatboxing with their hand over their mouth, imagining something like a rap version of Wordsworth, “I wondered lonely as a cloud, yeah”, but it’s probably not that at all. I like poetry, I did well studying it at college, though I’m not sure I could do it myself, and I don’t like poetry enough to actually spend any time with it. I’m like Facebook friends with poetry, I’ll ‘like’ it but pretend to be busy if it wants to meet up for a coffee. Still, I had a look around the poetry room upstairs and nodded thoughtfully at all the titles. There were people sat reading as you’d expect; I thought one of them was Maggie Gyllenhaal sat reading a book by the window, but I never recognize famous people so it probably wasn’t. Although I did see Robin Williams once at the Farmers Market a long time ago (come to think of it, it was my wife who saw him, and I just went “oh yeah! wow.”). I thought I’d better actually look for that Paul Madonna book that was mentioned in the previous post. His first volumes were published by City Lights after all, but I couldn’t find it in here (I think they didn’t publish this one, but likely it was just sold out). I did pick up another book though, “Spirits of San Francisco” written by Gary Kamya, and illustrated by Paul Madonna, and took it across the street to read at one of my favourite bars, Specs. Read about San Francisco stories while sat in a place full of San Francisco stories.
It was however too dark in Specs to read anything. I love Specs. After a day on my feet, this is the place to stop and rest them, with a pint or two of delicious Anchor Steam, the proper San Francisco taste. It’s full name is Specs 12 Adler Museum Cafe, and it was founded by Richard Simmons, nicknamed ‘Specs’ due to the big glasses he wore. I took the seat closest to the window, underneath the orange lamp-shade. Still too dark for my weak eyes to read, it was barely light enough for me to draw (once upon a time, maybe wouldn’t have been an issue) but I was going to draw anyway. I had sketched a lot that day, this was a tired end of the day sketch, and one where I couldn’t really see colours on my page too well so I bathed it in a wash made up of the colours I could see. There is so much to draw in here, and I have done it before. I listened to the conversations of some people sat nearby, one older fellow was a music photographer or journalist telling stories about musicians from over the years, it was interesting. There are always interesting local people in this bar, I remember coming here once and sketching a panorama on one busy evening about a decade ago; the elderly barman that evening (who may have been Specs himself? Probably wasn’t) passed me a free Anchor Steam and told me that this was a place full of artists; away to my right a guy was oil painting on a canvas, behind me at the tables there was an older woman busy scribbling drawings in charcoal and pencil; I was definitely not alone. You never run out of things to look at, and sketch, in Specs. One of my most fun evenings in the city was spent here about thirteen years ago with my friend Simon, visiting from England, where we played a drunken game of chess in there and told silly stories. It’s still my favourite bar in the city, and this was the first time I’d been in since before the pandemic; so glad it’s still there.
Speaking of artists, back to Paul Madonna: I ordered that third All Over Coffee volume (“You Know Exactly”) online and have been enjoying going through all three volumes a lot. Here is a book review of it on KQED. I learned shortly afterwards that he had been in a really bad accident towards the end of 2022, when a driver going the wrong way collided with his vehicle in San Francisco and left the scene, leaving him severely hospitalized and lucky to be alive. I met Paul and his wife Joen in 2016 at the grand opening of the Manetti Shrem gallery in Davis, but I’ve been inspired by his work ever since seeing that first volume in a shop window in Berkeley in 2007 while on a sketchcrawl (when I was drawing a lot with purple pen, if I recall), and immediately getting excited about the linework and detail, as well as the subject, which was every corner of San Francisco (but erasing the people and cars, as I’d been doing). I still love his work, as it has developed over the years, and it reminds me to keep trying to look at the same places again in different ways. So it was a shock to hear of his awful accident which has prevented him from working, though there was an update in the past couple of weeks that he has finally been able to go back to the studio. There is a Gofundme fundraising page set up by the San Francisco Public Library to help Paul during his recovery. I really hope that he has a full recovery soon, and can continue to share his inspiring art with the world.