The tucked-away, categorically authentic North Beach dive known simply as Specs', the full name of which is Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, stands nearly alone in its intact, dusty, old-man-bar diveyness despite being open nearly 50 years and being surrounded by the hedonistic, bro-tastic, heavily touristed environs of North Beach. Vesuvio across the street and Mr. Bing's just down a ways may come in a close second and third, but already Specs' next-door neighbor Tosca Café has gotten a makeover and a new life as a trendy Italian restaurant run by a New York chef. Opened in 1968 by Richard "Specs" Simmons, the place is set to celebrate its 48th birthday this Sunday, just as Specs himself will be ringing in his 88th this summer.
As the Chronicle put it on the occasion of his 82nd birthday in 2010, the bar is "an authentic saloon where strangers become friends, politics are debated, anarchy is imagined, sorrows are drowned, triumphs are celebrated and poetry is often spouted." Eater popped in for some photos on a Monday last year, and called it a "heavily-decorated, no-bullshit bar where the priciest drink rings in at $10" and where some "fiercely loyal locals" still come to drink daily, as they have for decades.
Simmons credits William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life with inspiring him to open Specs', and the place is filled with flea market objects and oddities including a petrified walrus penis, Wobbly memorabilia, and marine artifacts like a huge, mounted Alaskan king crab and regulars all say it's pretty much unchanged since the '70's. There are also two framed articles over by the trash can past the bar about a shipwreck and rescue in 1969 that Simmons was involved in, as Found SF tells us. As the story goes, Simmons was among five local bartenders out on a 32-foot sloop that took on water and sank just outside the Golden Gate and were miraculously rescued "visible only because of a single bobbing flashlight" in the dark ocean, as the Examiner reported at the time.
A fierce defender of labor unions, Simmons has always had unionized bartenders and let them refuse to make any drink they didn't want to make. He also famously made business cards to hand out informing customers that they needed to back off when chatting up someone who didn't want their attention.
No doubt if Simmons makes it to the anniversary celebration on Sunday from 5 p.m. to 2 p.m., his attitude will be as wry and no-bullshit as it was at that birthday in 2010.
"I don't have an effing thing to say about the occasion," grumbled Simmons, in his signature timbre, which is akin to whooshing gravel across a metal flatbed. "I just can't wait for the sun to finally go down."Photo: Mike W./Yelp