BAR CRAWLER: Rediscovering North Beach's plethora of charm at a dozen bars
15 Romolo Place, (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com
It's a grungy sort of tiki vibe at Bamboo Hut. Live surfer bands, kitschy tiki paraphernalia, and tropical drinks (warning: this ain't no Smuggler's Cove) make it a fun, distinctive stop on your crawl for a fruity island escape. And, yes, there are volcano bowls.
479 Broadway, (415) 989-8555, www.maximumproductions.com
If you must do a club, this newest North Beach addition is unlike the rest. With decidedly Hollywood flair, mirrors and artwork of models draped in pearls (alas, no Marilyn) line brick walls over leather and velvet couches in this unexpected den of hip classiness.
473 Broadway, (415) 772-9002, www.monroesf.com
Journeying south down Columbus Avenue, you'll hit a few of the city's great classics. Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe is the dive to trump all dives. Singing around the piano with a Guinness or a shot of whiskey is a favorite pastime, as is soaking in the glowing, musty atmosphere and listening to stories from crusty locals your mother would be nervous around. A maritime SF mainstay since 1968, Specs is more than a bar, it's an institution.
12 William Saroyan Place, (415) 421-4112
In the realm of classic bars, Tosca stands alone. Surviving Prohibition with "house cappuccinos" (hot chocolate with brandy), still its No. 1 seller, Tosca has been a North Beach hotspot for decades, its famed back room a haven for rock and movie stars alike. With a lovingly faded yet romantic interior, red booths and chairs hark back to its early days. The famed jukebox spins out a line of tunes crucial to Italians, from legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso to Dino and Frank.
242 Columbus, (415) 986-9651, toscacafesf.com
Vesuvio is not so much about drink. Libations are an afterthought in a legendary 1950s space like no other. This is the kind of bar where intellectual discussion and reading books are the norm, where inspiration seeps out of the walls. Eclectic, hodgepodge decor is quirky and artsy, just like the clientele. The spirit of the Beat poets who frequented its corners lives on ... with beer.
255 Columbus, (415) 362-3370, www.vesuvio.com
End your long night with a mellow, classy stop recalling Barbary Coast days. Comstock Saloon captures that spirit in a restored turn-of-the-century space replete with antique mahogany bar, Victorian furniture, 1916 rotating ceiling fans, and wood-burning stove. Cocktails are impeccable, classic and expertly-made ... and top-notch jazz musicians play from the upstairs balcony.
155 Columbus, (415) 617-0071, www.comstocksaloon.com