In terms of drinking holes going down the drain in San Francisco, the city has managed to band together long enough to save the Tonga Room, and maybe even make some improvements on the Gold Dust Lounge by shipping it over the hill to Fisherman's Wharf. Now Tosca Cafe, North Beach's classic celebrity hangout and alcoholic cappuccino bar, is the city's latest drinking institution to be threatened with eviction in a fight that could possibly involve Frances Ford Coppola, a ragey Sean Penn, and a scheming smutlord.

As the Chronicle reports today, Jeannette Etheredge, who has owned the bar since 1980 is facing hefty rent increases on the Columbus Street space just down the block form the flashing neon of the local nudie bars. Etheredge saw her rent go up to $8,000 in June โ€” already more than the $6,500 she could afford with the jukebox still costing a 25ยข-per-play and all. The landlord is also seeking around $100,000 in arrears from the bar.

In classic North Beach style, that landlord Roger Forbes is predictably shady. Forbes is a major player in Deja Vu Showgirls, which is based in Seattle but owns or operates nine strip joints in San Francisco. (Eight along the Broadway/Columbus strip in North Beach, plus the Market Street Cinema.) Not to mention an entire empire of Deja Vu and Little Darlings clubs around the country.

With famous regulars like Frances Ford Coppola, Sean Penn and countless other Hollywood types who prefer the nip of the NorCal air, it's no surprise that Etheredge and the bar have lawyered up hard. Representing the bar against the smut-peddling landlord is John Keker who recently defended George Lucas, Lance Armstrong and even Ollie North (Note: Keker was on the prosecution in the Iran-Contra case) back when he got involved in that whole mess selling guns to Iranians.

As Keker put it the Chronicle: "What's interesting to me is why this girlie club guy is going to try to take away a San Francisco institution. This stands for a lot of what's wrong with North Beach in general."

For their part, neither Forbes nor Deja Vu reps are speaking to the press about the rent hikes or whether that indicates they will be trying to strip out the deep booths and cheap jukebox for a set of stripper poles and a DJ with an unnecessarily large Def Leppard collection.

[Chron]