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Writer Leaves His Heart

In San Francisco

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Jack Kerouac is just one of many imposing writers of San Francisco's literary yesterday and today. Images by Tom Palumbo and Phillipe L. Photography and used under the terms of Creative Commons licenses.
An Important Moment Of Growth For A Young Writer Turns Into a Weekend Of Introspection Amid The Blissfully Elegant Delights Of The City By The Bay


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 18, 2012 — Several weekends ago I ventured to San Francisco with my wife and a few friends for my birthday. As a young artist in his twenties with the overly indulgent belief that I actually am an artist, this trip seemed like a rite of passage. After all, it is San Francisco — the home of the beat poets and ironic latte drinkers. It felt like an important moment.

I went in pretty much blind. I knew very little about the place in terms of where to visit, how to act, what to eat, etc. In an attempt to absorb the city organically and hit most of the critical spots, we decided to wander the city with frequent input from my friend who is a San Fran (I can say that now) veteran.

The tactic was hit-or-miss. Once in awhile our travels led us into obvious tourist traps, while other times our lack of direction resulted in excellent finds.

After arriving, the reality of my disorientation hit me early as my friends and I wandered the city in search of some late night eats.

Eventually we settled on an anonymous pizza joint on Columbus Avenue. If the place was worth remembering I probably would have. But, as it turns out, the heavy traffic was a facade masking the pizza within.

It turns out that the relative boom in business had more to do with the fact that this place was open at midnight than it had to do with the quality of the pizza. While the slices were subpar, the catcalls shouted by several men with questionable professions outside of the joint were top notch.

While our aimless wanderings did not work out for the best initially, this tactic eventually paid off as we stumbled upon what is now one my favorite spots in San Francisco: Vesuvio.

This bar, located right next to the famous City Lights Bookstore, is a really neat hangout with a unique atmosphere. Like the bookstore, it is forever associated with the Beat movement and San Francisco's artists. The interior and atmosphere reflect this sentiment as paintings and articles and photos line the walls. The old-school wooden interior and windy staircase all give the bar a vintage, yet authentic, vibe.

While the bartenders were a bit stingy, their drinks were not and my party had a great time here. The whole place just made me feel like getting drunk and writing a possibly-not-shitty short story.

For a bar that we randomly stumbled upon after eating shitty pizza a few blocks away, Vesuvio impressed. Despite staying in a city full of watering holes, we still made a point of stopping here again before we left.

Speaking of City Lights, the place is a must visit for any person who really wants to interact with San Francisco on a historical level. The place, while a normal bookstore in a certain sense, has a unique history and enough character to make a stop more than worth it.

The store became exceptionally famous when its founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti faced an obscenity trial for publishing Allen Ginsberg's controversial poem "Howl." The store's beat-related history has endowed it with a certain cache in the writing community. It is a definite must-see for poets, writers, and fans of the beat genre.

However, beyond its famous roots City Lights is an amazing bookstore. Its three stories are packed with an impressive array of fiction, poetry, and special interest pieces. When, in a ‘hair up my ass’ moment, I decided to see if they carried any of the works by Arbereshe writer Carmine Abate, I found out that they did. And I bought it. City Lights has an impressive collection and an impressive history.

While some of the awesome places we visited are known commodities, others simply survive off of rumor, secrecy and theatrics. Thanks to the knowledge of my friend, I got to experience one of San Francisco’s secret bars.

So I am obviously being a bit facetious here, but I have to be. I am not going to be the asshole who goes to a really cool secret bar and then writes about it. Not without a little secrecy, at least.

I know the idea of a secret bar sounds a little too trendy and contrived, but, when done right, it can be a unique and exceptional experience. The place I went played up its exclusivity just enough to make its patrons feel special without making them feel idiotic for playing along.

It felt secret and cool without making me feel like a complete douche for being there.

And the menu. Oh, the menu. The thing is as thick as a dictionary. In addition to an extremely diverse selection of liquors (21 different Scotches, anyone?), the menu included a variety of interesting cocktails with descriptions from centuries-old drink-mixing books. This bar had the perfect mix of theatrics, great drinks and atmosphere.

I know San Francisco, along with most major cities, has its fair share of secret bars. Here's to hoping you stumble across this one on your next trip.

San Francisco is a worthwhile city filled with amazing spots to eat, drink, read, relax, enjoy, and just live. Like anything else worth experiencing, it has its fair share of cliche landmarks, arrogant hipsters, and other elements that don’t even come close to detracting from the city’s positive aspects.

And while I loved my experiences in the city, from my visits to the places above to random wanderings around the bay, there is one more aspect of San Francisco that every overly-romantic newcomer should experience. And that is the spot no one can recommend to you. The spot you find on your own or venture to because of your own fruition.

These places make the trip stick with you. They leave an indelible fingerprint on your memories because they make the trip different.

For me, that was my Aunt’s farm house about an hour outside of the city.

From my limited experience, it is really critical to experience the places just outside of the city while visiting San Francisco because the nature there is beautiful and inspiring. While you can get a taste of this from the massive parks filled with trees in the city, nothing compares to the less-adulterated spaces that lie beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.

You have already made the trip all the way to Northern California, so it is worth it to expand your visit to some of the awesome natural spaces the area has to offer. While the history and atmosphere of the city can do a lot to inspire an artist, these natural spaces are also full of potential.

To me, art is about contrast and recording experiences that give meaning to life and define the human experience. I derived inspiration from this trip for those very reasons. I enjoyed my friends. I drank. I traveled beyond the conventional boundaries. I was happy.

These spots left an impression on me. Some are known, some are secret, and most fall somewhere in between.

While no one can miss seeing the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, the spots I cherish from my trip left an impression on me. They inspired me to write and live and enjoy the city like a true young, overly-romantic artist. I drank and absorbed and just soaked in these parts of the city and left a little more inspired than I was before I arrived.

Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.
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