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Vesuvio Cafe - The Bohemian Heart of North Beach

Have a Drink at the Historical Hangout of the Beat Generation

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Vesuvio Cafe - The Bohemian Heart of North Beach
Photo by Ocean Malandra
Although there are many older, more historic bars in San Francisco, some even open continuously since the Gold Rush era, none are as intrinsically linked to the cultural history of the city as Vesuvio Cafe. It was here that the young intellectuals, poets, artists and wanderers who would later be known as the Beat Generation gathered to talk, drink, debate, read poetry and generally rant and rave. Vesuvio is a sort of living museum, and is still a popular place among locals and visitors alike, in fact it may be the best bar in the city for visitors to rub shoulders and make true connections with eclectic San Franciscans.

Visiting Vesuvio Cafe

Vesuvio is located near the intersection of Broadway and Columbus, in North Beach just near the border of Chinatown and across Jack Kerouac Alley from City Lights Bookstore. It is within walking distance from Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf.
  • Address: 255 Columbus Avenue, North Beach
  • Hours: Monday through Sunday 6am till 2am.
  • Prices: Draft Beer $5, Cocktails $5 and up, Happy Hour Daily.
  • Best Drinks: Anchor Steam on Draft, Absinthe, The Jack Kerouac (Rum, Tequila, Orange and Cranberry juice and a Lime).
  • Contact: (415) 362-3370 vesuvio.com

Vesuvio Cafe - The Clientele

Photo by Ocean Malandra
The ambiance of Vesuvio is classy yet bohemian at the same time, and so it draws a crowd from across the wide spectrum of San Francisco's citizens and visitors. Before-work strippers from the gentlemen's clubs of Broadway frequent the joint as do after-work bankers from the nearby financial district. Writers, artists and other creative types still call Vesuvio home and there is a substancial local crowd that gathers in the bar during happy hour. Plus, there are almost always a smattering of visitors from Europe and other parts of the world in Vesuvio, giving the bar a decidedly cosmopolitan air.

Vesuvio is the kind of place that is as perfect for discussing politics and brainstorming a creative endeavor with friends as it is for taking a first date or just grabbing an after work brew, and you will likely see all of these scenarios and more if you visit. Vesuvio is also the kind of bar that you can go to alone, as the long bar is made for striking up a conversation with strangers and both the locals and the bartenders are a friendly bunch.

Vesuvio Cafe - The Decor

Vesuvio has two levels, although upstairs only fills up when the bar is busy or when a couple looking for a romantic perch grabs one of the two coveted terrace-nook tables. Downstairs a variety of tables line the wall, but the corner ones, which look out onto bustling Columbus Avenue tend to be the most popular. Stain glass lamps prevail and the lighting is always dim but warm.

The walls of Vesuvio are lined with photographs of famous North Beach characters and favorite bar patrons of the past, as well as snippets of beat generation poetry and several semi-famous paintings including Homer Ansley's "Double Exposure" which depicts a couple of tourists snapping pics of San Francisco's landmarks while completely ignoring a nude woman boarding a Cable Car nearby.

The exterior of Vesuvio, as well as adjacent Jack Kerouac Alley, is also adorned with beat poetry and politcal murals and is well worth checking out.

Vesuvio Cafe and the Beat Generation

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Vesuvio is the place where beat poetry, if not invented, was brought to the public's attention. It was here that Alan Ginsburg previewed his groundbreaking, and later censored, poem "Howl" to his friends and where Jack Kerouac drank the night away instead of driving down the coast to Big Sur to visit Henry Miller like he was supposed to.

Read my full article on the history of the Beat Generation.

Poetry readings and live jazz music have been a part of Vesuvio Cafe ever since, and the annual Art in Alley Festival, which takes place in Jack Kerouac Alley and is co-sponsored by City Light Books, the major publisher of Beat works, is an event that keeps the beat tradition alive.

The beat-era was America's first counter-cultural movement, and it launched the later and more famous political revolutions of the 60s and 70s as well as the hippie movement, although it is seldom so recognized. The complete story of the beats and their tremendous influence on American culture can be explored at the Beat Museum, located just across the street.

Vesuvio remains true to its roots, however, and as a bastion of creativity and revolutionary thought, over stiff drinks of course, it remains unmatched in the nation. Come for a drink, stay for the conversation.

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