photo credit: Anna L Conti
Last week, I wrote an eating and drinking itinerary for a Saturday night screening of Moonrise Kingdom in Washington Square Park. I was gratified by the response from friends and SFist readers alike commenting that I really "got" the neighborhood, and had an understanding of what makes North Beach special.
It's a topic I feel strongly about, and a neighborhood in San Francisco that I love deeply. Connecting with others who live or have lived there, I find that we share a similar philosophy of this historic haunt of Italian immigrants, Beats, Barbary Coast trouble-makers, and beyond.
Look past the tourist-clogged streets (and subpar Italian restaurants catering to said tourists) and rowdy crowds of Saturday night fist-pumpers and you'll find a neighborhood with personality, and more than that, with soul — where people still sit around and drink espresso or whisky and talk about art, where family businesses sling the best bread in town, and still grind sausage by hand. Where artisanal cocktail culture can coexist with some of the city's best, and most memorable dives. It's a neighborhood that feels like a neighborhood, and when you discover the spots, your spots, you feel that you're in on a wonderful secret.
One of those spots for me is the Saturday afternoon jazz music at The Savoy Tivoli, one of the more clogged, and crazy, Grant Street bars. Savoy's been around forever — my dad has some eye roll-induced memories of the sticky-floored bar, and I'd be lying if Jager and I hadn't had some moments there (before I knew better). But on Saturday afternoons, the bar's spacious front space plays host to Big Money in Jazz, a Dixieland-style outfit of sharp shooting old timers. They play from 3 to 6 p.m., and the cross generational fan base they inspire is an incredible window into the neighborhood. The bar's indoor-outdoor patio has locals and tourists alike crowding around the windows, snapping to the beat, and partaking in the call-and-response banter from frontman/trombonist Mal Sharpe. It's a weekly tradition that makes you feel like a part of something — a part of a neighborhood that has more stories than most of us can ever hope to acquire to our names.
Or rather, it was a weekly tradition. Jazz at Savoy has been majorly scaled back to once monthly, thanks, of course, to a couple of irritated neighbors who submitted noise complaints about the music.
Okay. I get it. I lived in the neighborhood for a period, on Green Street right next to the now sadly, closed O'Reilly's. My close proximity allowed me the pleasure of hearing bar fights, bottles breaking, incomprehensible drunken yelling, and once, a couple having very loud, very unsanitary sex in the parking lot. Living near a loud bar can kind of suck. But it's part of living in a city, particularly a part of the city that happens to have a very crowded, very dense bar population (and one hell of a Saturday night crowd).
So, complaining about a loud bar on Grant Street strikes me as kind of a moot point — the noise is nothing new and certainly isn't going away. What gets me is that these complaints are about this bar at this specific time — from 3 to 6 p.m. This isn't loud music at 3 a.m. It's not even loud music at 10 p.m. It's the middle of a Saturday afternoon on a street that's generally more known from drunken raucousness than mellow jazz tunes.
And then there's the music itself. It's fantastic. It's lively, it's skilled, and it's exactly what you want to listen to on a laid back weekend afternoon, with a beer in hand or maybe just a soda. It's not the more-loud-than-good cover bands happening just down the street on most nights; it's actually good music with history and weight.
I don't mean to discredit these two neighbors who have submitted complaints — I'm sure, to them, their reasoning feels valid. But I can't agree with it. This is the kind of thing that makes North Beach, and San Francisco, for that matter, great. If there needs to be a conversation about how the music and these neighbors can coexist, let's do it. For now, I'd like to find a way for the music to happen weekly once again, and help introduce a whole new legion of people to one of North Beach's best secrets.
Interested in helping out? There's a petition you can sign at Savoy (1434 Grant Ave., btwn Green & Union) about the music — the owners and staff can fill you in on the details of the current argument and their stance.