"Terrible writers," says McManus rolling his fourth cigarette of the morning, "the whole lot of 'em. Terrible." It is a com-monly held opinion, but not one a person might expect from the leader of the Beatnik Walking Tour.
Of course, McManus isn't your average walking-tour guide. He doesn't like sun-light or the outdoors, or walking for that matter, and he certainly doesn't like beatniks. Mordant humor like his isn't exactly tourist-friendly.
So, why the walking tour?
"Truth is," says McManus standing in Jack Kerouac Alley, squinting through cigarette smoke and the disturbingly bright August sun, "I was right here watching a group of German tourists getting their picture taken under the Kerouac mural, and I thought, 'Right, there's got to be some coin in that.' So, people show up, give me money, and I rant about beatniks. It beats the hell out of hauling sheet rock."
"The tour should really be called 'The Aidan Show,' " says repeat customer Aaron Evans, creator of FlashGuide, a Web-based visual tour of San Francisco. "It's worth coming back a second time just to see who he's going to offend. People walk off the tour all the time. It's great."
A motley group -- a half-dozen of McManus' friends and two young therapists from Florida -- congregates near the front door of Vesuvio's.
"Get some booze down ya," hollers McManus, taking his own advice before explaining his ingenious marketing tactics.
"When I work the door, I try to convince certain people to come down the next morning," says McManus. "I don't want a lot of horrible yuppie fucks coming along. They don't last long; it's important to always get the money beforehand."
He drains his pint glass for courage and slides a pair of dark shades over his liquor-sharpened gaze. "I guess we better get this thing started before I get drunk."
We follow McManus down Columbus to Pacific where he stops to address us.
"Thanks for coming everyone and welcome to North Beach," he says with a smile. "Anyone who loves Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac can go fuck themselves. They have fuck all to do with this area. They came because there was already a scene here, and they stayed for about five minutes each."
That said (and with the knowledge that he refers to his own spiel as Aidan McManus Bullshitters Inc.), McManus moves on to the historical segment of the tour. Which goes something like this:
Once upon a time, ships were moored where the Transamerica Pyramid now sits. Downtown was underwater and North Beach was San Francisco's red-light district. The San Francisco Brewing Company has existed since 1912. (Happy hour: daily 6 to 7 p.m. and midnight to 1 a.m.) Jack Dempsey used to be a doorman and Babyface Nelson got arrested in the bathroom. (According to McManus, Dempsey used to buy jelly rolls down the road at Happy Donuts.) The beautiful, verdant, wedge-shaped building on the corner of Kearny and Columbus was under construction before the 1906 earthquake and is now owned by Francis Ford Coppola. ("All his crap films come out of there.") During the great Barbary Coast days, the intersection of Jackson and Kearny was called Murder Corner because of an exalted daily body count. Whorehouses lined Jackson Street and, if we are to believe McManus, little girls in tutus lured sailors inside. The original Hungry Eye nightclub, which is now a gaping hole in the ground, put Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen on a double bill in 1963 and couldn't sell a ticket. The name is now used by a strip club on Broadway. Louis Armstrong used to play at a joint called Purcell's Just So. 710 Montgomery was the original Black Cat ("Not that yuppie toilet that just opened on Broadway"). It was a bohemian bar in the '30s, and the city's first openly gay bar some time later. It was shut down in 1963 by agents for the state's office of Alcoholic Beverage Control, who were bastards even then, and the owner, Charlie the Butcher, died at the age of 36.
While crawling up Montgomery toward Broadway, McManus removes the cigarette from his mouth long enough to hack a bit, grumble about San Francisco hills, and belch. Then, he launches into another highly amusing diatribe about how yuppies are destroying the city. "I led a group last week on a Tenderloin Walking Tour, and we couldn't find one fucking hooker. No drug dealers. Nothing. The old bill are patrolling the fucking Tenderloin now."
"1010 Montgomery is where Ginsberg wrote 'Howl,' if anyone cares."
The Crowbar used to be Basin St. West, where Otis Redding, Ike Turner, and the Temptations performed. It is the only place Lenny Bruce was ever caught on film. Ann's 440 was a dyke bar in 1958. Bruce used to perform there regularly and then wander over to the Jazz Workshop where the Hi-Ball Lounge now resides to catch John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey.
"See, the beats weren't about literature," says McManus. "They were just a bunch of white guys who wanted to be black jazz guys. It was all about Dizzy Gillespie."
McManus points to a wall across the street, alongside the new Black Cat. "There's a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem painted over there, which is reason enough to stay away."
At the Condor, McManus slides open one of the large windows and leans across some poor guy's lap to point at a white piano hanging from the ceiling. The piano that was once mounted on a hydraulic cylinder, so it could be raised and lowered. The same piano that crushed a 250-pound club manager against the ceiling, killing him while he was fucking one of the waitresses, who remained pinned underneath until help could arrive.
McManus chuckles: "That story chased off two Princeton misses last week."
The rest of the tour is filled with more McManus tidbits: Herb Caen hated the beats because his wife ran away with some junkie jazz player; the Saloon is the second oldest bar in California and is filled with freaks; every Saturday, the staff at Caffe Trieste performs opera, whether you like it or not; North Beach Video was once called the Coexistence Bagel Shop and run by an unreconstructed Stalinist who didn't sell bagels; Bank West used to be the Jazz Cellar.
And because McManus is feeling particularly benevolent this day, he throws in some freebies: a breathtaking view from the top of a supersecret parking garage; the best happy hour in North Beach, which can be found at the Columbus Cafe from 4 to 8 p.m., when it's two-for-one; and O'Reilley's, which serves the best Guinness in town -- a point McManus insists on demonstrating.
After a prolonged drinking session at O'Reilley's, McManus' group is still strangely intact. The therapists are quick to point out that they are not in the least bit offended and wish to stay with the tour.
McManus heaves himself from his barstool and sighs as if to say a working man's day is never done. "Oh well," he says, wiping the Guinness foam from his lip. "Three more stops and we're back in the bar."
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By Silke Tudor