Specs is a bar in the North Beach area of San Francisco, down a very short alley from Columbus Avenue right next to Tosca and across the street from Vesuvio and City Lights bookstore. If that doesn't tell you where it is, then it's fairly pointless to explain further. (I might also mention that it is underneath the Garden of Eden on Columbus Ave. There used to be a stairway from the men's restroom in Specs to the Garden of Eden, until one night one of the dancers came down the stairs and sat at the bar completely naked and ordered a drink. Specs thought, "This is very nice, but it could get us into some really big trouble." Since then, the staircase has been blocked off.)
Specs, who legal name is Richard Simmons (you read it here!), came to San Francisco from Boston. There is a story to the effect that he is the author of the folk song "And He Never Returned," about the Boston MTA (subway), which used to be very popular in coffeehouses in the early Sixties. In fact, though, this song was written by Bess Lomax, daughter of John Lomax and sister to Alan Lomax. Specs own contribution was to help bring the song to the attention of the Kingston Trio, who had a big hit with it. (See an article from the San Francisco Bay Guardian for a pointer to the details.)
spares no expense
to provide a convenient
for the settling of physical disputes.
Use of the interior premises
for this purpose
shall result in the imposition
of the dread
Specs himself rarely works behind the bar. He fancies himself quite the racconteur, and can be frequently found standing at the bar and expounding on some topic to an appreciative audience. About equally often, though, he can be found in Vesuvio, the bar across the street. (You might also try looking in bars such as Vieni Vieni or Gino and Carlo's.)
Specs is a bar for people who like bars. The short alley (hardly more than a small alcove off the street, really) leading to it used to be called Adler Place, but was recently named William Saroyan Place. Specs, although not a waterfront bar, could have been a model for William Saroyan's play, "The Time of Your Life," which play was in fact performed in Specs during the summer of 1991.
Usually (depending on the bartender) no cocktail napkins are served with the drinks. No bands are featured at Specs, although there was a time when occasionally a small trio playing Irish music was allowed. Now a piano player (by the name Joe) plays and sings several nights a week. But I gotta tell you, this ain't no piano bar!
The walls are covered with faded signs and momentos from around the world. I used to believe that Specs had been in the merchant marine and had collected these artifacts himself, but apparently this is not the case, and it was a customer in the Merchant Marine who donated these signs and mementos.
Somewhere in a drawer under the bar is a drawer containing small cards -- business card size -- to be used by customers wanting to discourage unwanted attention from other customers. I don't have one of the women's cards, so I can't quote exactly, but it says something like, "SIR, THE LADY DOES NOT WELCOME YOUR ATTENTION."
I did make a point of getting one of the cards for men, which says, "MADAM, THE GENTLEMAN PREFERS TO SULK IN SILENCE."