Broadway Walking Tour


1. Broadway

The old Barbary Coast frolic hasn’t completely died out—it limps along here, along Broadway between Columbus and Montgomery Street, where a fleet of XXX stores and go-go houses continue to attract men at all hours. Strange to think of a porno-shop block as having a long and established heritage, but this one does.

Keep walking west on Broadway and a little farther up is the current location of the:

2. The Beat Museum

You can purchase “Howl” and other Beat works and memorabilia at this museum, which has among its collections a $450 first edition of “On the Road” and a replica of Kerouac’s 1949 Hudson. The car was featured in Walter Salles “On the Road” film adaptation (2012) and is on permanent loan from the director. Tickets to the museum within the store are $8 ($5 students and seniors).

Continue along Broadway to:

3. hungry i

Now a strip club (at 546 Broadway), the original hungry i (at 599 Jackson St., which is under construction for senior housing) was owned and operated by the vociferous “Big Daddy” Nordstrom. If you had been here while Enrico Banducci was in charge, you would have found only a plain room with an exposed brick wall and director’s chairs around small tables. A who’s who of nightclub entertainers performed at the original hungry i, including Lenny Bruce, Billie Holiday (who sang “Strange Fruit” there), Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, and Barbra Streisand.

At the corner of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, you will see the:

4. Former Site of the Condor Club

The city’s topless scene got its start in 1964 in this tan building with green cornice and a lower floor of arched brick. The owner, looking for something to liven up his club, asked the chief of police if his waitresses could loosen their bikini tops. They did, and toplessness wasn’t far behind. The mayor at the time tolerated it by saying “fun is part of our city’s heritage.” Within days, every club in the vicinity had also gone topless.

But the person who gets the most credit, to this day, is the copiously chested Carol Doda, who danced a dozen shows nightly at the Condor and was profiled in Tom Wolfe’s “The Pump House Gang.” Only around 20 at the time, Doda is still a fixture on the San Francisco scene, now as a chanteuse and the owner of a store in the Marina district (at 1850 Union St.). What does she sell? Bras.

Note the bronze plaque claiming the Condor Club as birthplace of the world’s first topless & bottomless entertainment.

When you leave the Condor Sports Bar, cross to the south side of Broadway. Note the mural of jazz musicians painted on the entire side of the building directly across Columbus Avenue. Diagonally across the intersection from the Condor Sports Bar is:

5. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

Founded in 1953, this is one of the best and most historic bookstores in the country, a triangular building stuffed with volumes, particularly hard-to-find ones by fledgling presses. Back in the 1950s, its owner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, decided that good books didn’t have to be expensive, and he set about publishing new writers who he thought deserved to be read. One of his choices was “Howl and Other Poems” by Allen Ginsberg. The book’s homoerotic overtones scandalized some, and the resulting obscenity trial (which the poet won) made Ferlinghetti’s bookstore nationally famous among both literary types and civil liberties defenders. By the 1960s, the Beat writers, a restless lot, had moved on, mostly taking their jazz-and-poetry evenings with them, but North Beach was indelibly stamped with their reputation.

Upon exiting City Lights bookstore, turn right, cross aptly named Jack Kerouac Street, and stop at 255 Columbus Ave., where you’ll find:

6. Vesuvio

Because of its proximity to City Lights bookstore, this bar became a favorite hangout of the Beats. Dylan Thomas used to drink here, as did Jack Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and Ginsberg. The building dates from 1913, but maintains the same quirky decor it had during the beat era. It is an excellent example of pressed-tin architecture.

Facing Vesuvio across Columbus Avenue is another favorite spot of the Beat Generation:

7. Spec’s Twelve Adler Museum Cafe

Located at 12 Saroyan Place, this is one of the city’s funkiest bars, a small, dimly lit watering hole with ceiling-hung maritime flags and exposed brick walls crammed with memorabilia. Within the bar is a mini-museum that consists of a few glass cases filled with mementos brought by seamen who frequented the pub from the [‘]40s and onward.

From here, walk back up Columbus Avenue across Broadway to Grant Avenue. Turn right on Grant and continue until you come to Vallejo Street. At 601 Vallejo St. (at Grant Ave.) is:

8. Caffe Trieste

Generally acknowledged to be the king of the North Beach cafés, Trieste makes a mean espresso—in fact, it claims to have served the first one in the neighborhood back in the 1950s when it opened. Its paneled dining area is the kind of place where you’re encouraged to linger for hours, and many do. Some of the Beats hung here, shaking off their hangovers, and Francis Ford Coppola is said to have fashioned the screenplay to his “The Godfather” at the tables.

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