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City Lights (261 Columbus Ave)
In 1953, local poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had a bright idea: to open a bookshop specialising in cheap paperback editions of esoteric literature. He also used the shop as an outlet for books and poetry written by some of his friends (which included Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs).
As the media went into a frenzy about the Beat phenomenon in the mid 50s, the City Lights bookshop rode on the crest of the wave, and became a kind of shrine for American Bohemia. Ferlinghetti still runs the bookshop, which still stocks a very good selection of avant-garde and alternative literature.
Vesuvio's (255 Columbus Ave)
This bar, just a couple of doors down from City Lights, was a favourite of Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac. The young Francis Ford Coppola wrote early drafts of the Godfather at the bar, and Paul Kantner (co-founder of 60s band Jefferson Airplane) still shows up every so often.
Tosca's (242 Columbus Ave)
Another bar favoured by Francis Ford Coppola (who has offices just across the street). Regular customers include actor/author Sam Shepard, the Grateful Dead’s Phil Kaufman, and Irish rock combo U2. However, celebrity is no excuse for bad behaviour at Tosca’s: Bob Dylan was once thrown out of the bar, as was Allen Ginsberg. The bar made its film debut in a brief appearance in Basic Instinct.
Lost and Found Saloon (1353 Grant Ave at Columbus)
This is an easygoing bar that features an eclectic selection of musical entertainment and is best known for an impromptu performance by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
Spec's (12 Jack Kerouac Alley)
Once jam packed full of beatniks, the ghosts of Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg still stalk the darker corners of this little bar.
Six Gallery (3119 Fillmore St)
This unremarkable building was an art gallery in the 50s and before that, a gas station; but it is best known as the location of Allen Ginsberg’s first public reading of his poem Howl, in October 1955. Ginsberg electrified the audience (which included a noisy Kerouac urging Ginsberg to “go” for it) with his biblical and profane visions.
Matrix (3138 Fillmore)
Located just up the road from the old Six Gallery, there is no longer any sign of the Matrix club, which once played a key role in knitting together the 60s San Francisco psychedelic rock scene. The club was managed by New York folkie Marty Balin, who went on to assemble the arch hippy band Jefferson Airplane.
Memorable gigs at the Matrix included the Velvet Underground’s 3-week residency in late 1969. The New York nihilists were reviled by the West Coast’s peace loving flower children. The glamorous New York Dolls made their first San Francisco appearance in 1973 at the Matrix, supported by white dopes on punk, The Tubes.
Longshoremen's Hall (400 North Point)
San Francisco’s waterfront union invested their profits in this excellent example of late 1950s futurist architecture. Today, the Hall stands in the midst of the slightly nauseating tourist dreamscape of Fisherman’s Wharf, and it is hard to imagine the day when, many years ago, the psychedelic hippy community of San Francisco was born under this bulging dome.
The first major psychedelic event at the Hall was held in October 1965, organised by a collective of ex drug dealers operating under the name Family Dog. The event was a dance, appropriately promoted as “A Tribute to Dr. Strange”, featuring Jefferson Airplane and local psychedelic pioneers The Charlatans. The dance was a big success, and the Family Dog followed it with other Tributes: variously honouring Ming the Merciless and the mysterious Sparkle Plenty.
However, the Family Dog tributes turned out to be just a warm up for the Trips Festival of January 1966. The event was organised by a young Stewart Brand (who went on to become an “alternative” magazine publisher and internet guru), and featured The Grateful Dead and LSD evangelists The Merry Pranksters. About ten thousand people attended the festival, which was held over an entire weekend.
These events assembled the previously isolated fragments of San Francisco bohemia (students, artists, hippies and bands) and bonded them into a coherent alternative culture. The new culture reached critical mass under the dome of the Longshoremen’s Hall and the resulting shock wave swept across the city and then the globe.
Anxious Asp bar (528 Green Street)
In the 50s, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were often seen sitting at the bar at the Anxious Asp, and in the 60s, Janis Joplin was a well-known regular.
The Cellar (576 Green St)
Jack Kerouac used the Cellar as a model for a club featured in his book Desolation Angels; the venue still features poetry and jazz nights.
The Cassadys’ House (29 Russell St)
Jack Kerouac lodged with his friends Neal and Carolyn Cassady for 6 months in 1951. It was a productive time for Kerouac: during his stay he put the finishing touches to his novel On The Road, in which he modelled his hero on Neal, and compiled material for his books Visions of Cody and Doctor Sax. He also started a longstanding affair with Carolyn (who later wrote a book, which inspired a movie, about her relationship with both Beat meisters).
Caffè Trieste (601 Vallejo Street, at Grant Avenue)
This cafe was very popular with bohemian San Francisco. It has been owned by the Giotta family since the mid 50s, and is famous for the loud opera music that never leaves the tape deck.
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