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Time Warp: Exploring the Hipster City in 1972 

Wednesday, Oct 31 2012

When you're offered advice like the following, you'd best take it: "The majority of people here are hip. Straights who want to fit in might do well to don an Indian corn necklace and bell bottoms."

Behold the wonder of 1972, when the opposite of "straight" was apparently "hip," and you could read sentences like the above without the voice of Joe Friday pervading your inner monologue. The venue in question was the Coffee Gallery, a great place to meet someone of the opposite sex "during a hootenanny." It's gone now. It's very gone now. But it and a glimpse of the city of yore live on in the pages of The Good Time Manual: 257 Places in the Bay Area Where People Under 30 Are Going.

Since this book was published in '72, those legally allowed to enter the establishments profiled within are now at least 61 years old. For locals of that generation, thumbing through Russell Riera and C.J. Smith's tome — delightfully adorned with Jim Parkinson's faux-R. Crumb Zap Comix illustrations — will, undoubtedly, set off a round of high-decibel nostalgia. It will culminate, as it always does, with the recitation of the stark facts that a young San Franciscan in 1972 could live comfortably for $160 a month in rent; buy cigarettes for two bucks a carton; score pot for $10 to $20 an ounce; and fill up a tank of gas with money gleaned from returning old Coke bottles. But, hey, today we've got iPhones and Facebook and no one is being shot dead by the Zebra killers or wearing Indian corn necklaces.

For a city in which parking a car grows ever more difficult, it's alarming how many thriving establishments of yesteryear have been replaced with parking lots. Victoria Station — a cockamamie bar and rib house composed of old rail cars dropped at Broadway and Embarcadero and crammed full of railway ephemera — is a blacktop. Keystone Korner was a rock club featuring $1.50 shows from Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker, and Boz Scaggs that became a jazz club featuring Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and all the best. Charlie Parker has left the building, and what's left of the building is a parking garage.

The Drinking Gourd on Union Street — where comedian Pat Paulsen used to drop in and deliver 30-minute monologues (young people were enthused by this) — has given way to a designer jewelry gallery. The Family Farmacy on California and Divisidero — home of the 60-cent peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwich and "hip Ed Sullivan" live acts — has been replaced by an upscale restaurant lounge. God knows what became of the "braless waitress in a Wallace Beery tank top" who caught the authors' eye. (In an astoundingly dated reference, Beery, a character actor who specialized in lovable slobs, loaned his name to "the undershirt look." This appears to have been somewhat popular 40-odd years ago, along with reviewers making notes on waitresses' undergarments.)

Not every hangout of the late Nixon era has been replaced by a yoga studio or boutique. Perry's on Union is still there, but you're not going to rub shoulders with Warriors center Nate Thurmond, actor Jason Robards, or "the ad men behind White Dove and Mr. Clean." You can still get drinks at Savoy Tivoli, but attempts to order "Grandma Stein's Stewed Chicken" for $3.40 will likely result in some confusion.

It warrants mentioning that the buying power of a dollar in 1972 is about the same as $5 or $5.50 today. So the "UNBELIEVABLE $3" Basque feast at the Obrero Hotel (gone) the authors rave about would run around $16.50 in today's dollars — though it did come with all the Pedrizzetti red wine you could handle. Meals for $3 to $5 weren't as cheap as modern readers would assume. But booze for a fraction of a dollar — on Tuesdays at The Red Garter (gone) any girl or boy named Sue could drink beer for 10 cents a stein — are an indicator of a lost, golden age.

Forty years back, young folks and families of modest means could not only afford to live in San Francisco, they could afford to live. At some point, evil bastards, market forces, and a combination of both determined that there was simply too much money to be had to continue operating a city this way.

All that's left is the nostalgia. And, perhaps, a few moldering Wallace Beery tank tops.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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